Tories focused on message as detainee issue grew

The Conservative government was focused on communications as it tried to deal with the growing questions about the treatment of Afghan detainees back in 2007, a document obtained by CBC News indicates.
An Afghan prisoner leans against a doorframe at a prison in Kandahar. A PowerPoint presentation obtained by CBC News shows the Conservative government was focused on communications as it dealt with questions about the treatment of Afghan detainees. ((Dene Moore/Canadian Press))

The Conservative government was focused on communications as it tried to deal with growing questions about the treatment of Afghan detainees in 2007.

Staff in the Privy Council Office created a PowerPoint presentation for former foreign affairs minister Peter MacKay to give to the Conservative government's high-level cabinet operations committee.

Obtained by CBC News, the presentation is a draft dated for the May 7, 2007, meeting. It is unclear if MacKay actually presented this version of the document at the meeting.

The meeting came just weeks after the Globe and Mail published an article detailing allegations of torture and abuse of Afghan detainees.

The PowerPoint presentation was prepared for former foreign affairs minister Peter MacKay. ((Canadian Press))

The presentation says the "last two weeks have been very difficult for our government," and goes on to note the government was being "criticized for conflicting messages and changing our story."

"There is also a perception of cover-up and a lack of openness and transparency," the presentation says.

The document also says the government needed to "regain control" of the issue and "stick to its story."

The document included a suggested plan for handling the issue, such as sending MPs out to spread the government's message, and changing the government's Afghanistan mission website.

"They obviously were feeling they were losing support," Liberal defence critic Ujjal Dosanjh said Tuesday.

"Sad to see that they were spending more time and energy, and the government's expense, on controlling the message, and sending the message, rather than actually controlling the reality on the ground and figuring out how do we prevent abuse and torture from happening," he said.

Catherine Loubier, the spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, told CBC News this week: "The events in question happened three years ago, and have been covered at length."

Just a few days prior to the date of the meeting, the Conservative government was forced to implement a new detainee transfer memorandum of understanding with the Afghan government.

The new agreement allowed Canadian officials to visit Canadian-transferred detainees in Afghan prisons.

As reported by CBC on Monday, another document shows the government was formulating a plan for dealing with accusations of torture of prisoners in Afghanistan as early as March 2007 — well before the allegations first came up in the media.