The federal public safety minister says Canada's spy agency does not make use of information from torture — apparently contradicting a senior CSIS official.
Peter Van Loan said the Canadian Security Intelligence Service has been clear about rejecting information extracted through coercion.
"As a practical matter, they get intelligence from all kinds of sources, a myriad of sources. An important part of their process is to try and identify how credible that is," Van Loan said Wednesday.
"If there's any indication, any evidence that torture may have been used, that information is discounted."
But CSIS lawyer Geoffrey O'Brian said this week the agency will use such statements when lives are on the line.
O'Brian said the spy service would overlook the origin of the information if it could prevent another Air India jetliner attack or a terrorist assault along the lines of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackings in the United States.
"The simple truth is, if we get information which can prevent something like the Air India bombing, the Twin Towers — whatever, frankly — that is the time when we will use it despite the provenance of that information," he told the House of Commons public safety committee Tuesday.
O'Brian said there will be "those occasional, unusual… almost once-in-a-lifetime situations" where such information — even if gathered through force — can be useful for national security.
Van Loan suggested Wednesday that O'Brian was engaging in speculation.
"I've seen what the gentleman said yesterday at committee. I believe he engaged in some kind of hypothetical discussion."
Van Loan said he met with CSIS director Jim Judd on Tuesday night, and the spy service's position was clear.
"They do not practise torture. They do not condone the use of torture. They do not promote the use of torture."
The minister and Judd are slated to appear before the committee Thursday, where MPs are likely to again raise the question of torture.
"The government has not been clear," NDP Leader Jack Layton said Wednesday.
"We understand there may be some who feel that torture is acceptable in certain circumstances. We do not. And we believe that a much clearer denunciation, not only of torture but of evidence derived from torture, is needed from our government."
The Liberals called O'Brian's comments disturbing, saying they send a dangerous message to those who brutalize prisoners.
Human-rights advocates say security officials should shun information from torture because it perpetuates abuse. Ample evidence shows such information is always unreliable, they also say, because victims will tell torturers anything to stop pain.
The Commons committee has been studying the government's response to a federal inquiry into the Maher Arar affair and a more recent commission on the overseas imprisonment of three other Arab-Canadian men.
Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian, was taken by the U.S. government to Syria, where he was jailed in Damascus and tortured into giving false confessions about terrorist ties.
The inquiry into his case found that information supplied by Canada very likely set the stage for his ordeal.