The number of detainees transferred to Afghan forces from the Canadian military now exceeds 400, CBC News has learned.
A November 2009 Defence Department briefing note to Defence Minister Peter MacKay, obtained by the CBC through an Access to Information request, states that "in excess of 350 detainees" had been handed over to Afghan forces since 2007.
The note brings the total number of known transfers to more than 400, given that several dozen detainee transfers were confirmed in 2006.
Paul Champ, a human rights lawyer based in Ottawa, said the records obtained by the CBC are the first confirmation he's seen in government documents about the number of transferred detainees.
This information comes as the Military Police Complaints Commission (MPCC) resumes its public hearings Thursday into allegations that military police failed to investigate senior officers responsible for transfers allegedly involving a risk of torture.
Champ represents the complainants who sparked the MPCC hearings — Amnesty International Canada and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.
'Extremely high number'
Champ calls the 350-figure an "extremely high number."
"It's very troubling given that, in our view, there has been a risk of torture throughout this period," Champ said. "Very likely many of these prisoners have been tortured."
Little information on the number of Canadian-transferred detainees has trickled out over the years.
In November 2009, the Globe and Mail reported 130 detainees had been turned over in Canada's first 14 months of combat operations in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, which began in early 2006.
The Defence Department has refused to release the statistics, saying that it could endanger troops on the ground and benefit the Taliban.
But Champ questions the government's motives.
"It seems the only reason the Government of Canada has kept this number secret is to in some way avoid embarrassment or accountability."
Calling it the "national over-secrecy reach," he explained that Canada's allies, like the United States and the United Kingdom, have openly disclosed the number of detainees their troops have handed over to Afghan officials.
Backs up Colvin testimony
The 2009 briefing note backs up the testimony diplomat Richard Colvin gave to the House of Commons Special Committee on the Mission in Afghanistan, when he stressed the number of transferred detainees was high.
"As of May 2007, Canada had transferred to the Afghan authorities six times as many detainees as the British, who were conducting military operations just as aggressive as ours and had twice as many troops in theatre," Colvin told the committee in November 2009.
Colvin served in Afghanistan for 17 months from May 2006 to October 2007.
Champ said Colvin's statements and the recent documents obtained by the CBC suggest the government did not adjust its capture tactics after 2007.
"We have seen internal government documents where there has been recommendations that the Canadian Forces take steps to try to reduce the numbers of people that they capture," Champ said.
The 350 figure "would show that those recommendations were not followed at all."
The military briefing note also refers to an incident last May in which an Afghan official allegedly bragged to Canadians about "torturing" and "beating" detainees.
The alleged conversation was enough to force Canadian commanders to suspend transfers for several weeks.
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