Canada ended handover of Afghan detainees months ago
Policy change prompted by 'credible allegation' of abuse
Amid claims of torture, the federal government has quietly disclosed that Canadian troops stopped handing over detainees to Afghan authorities months ago.
"Canadian authorities were informed on Nov. 5, 2007, by Canada's monitoring team, of a credible allegation of mistreatment pertaining to one Canadian-transferred detainee held in an Afghan detention facility," a Justice Department lawyer, J. Sanderson Graham, said in a letter responding to questions posed by human rights groups in a Federal Court hearing.
"As a consequence there have been no transfers of detainees to Afghan authorities since that date."
The letter, dated Tuesday, was sent to Paul Champ, an Ottawa lawyer representing Amnesty International Canada and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association. An Amnesty official provided a copy Wednesday to CBCNews.ca.
The two rights groups have joined forces to take the federal government to court, arguing that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms bars Canadian Forces operating abroad from transferring prisoners of war to custody in which they could be tortured.
According to a previously secret report made public this week, one detainee interviewed by Canadian diplomats while in Afghan custody showed them fresh welts on his body and led them to a hidden electrical cable and rubber hose he said were used to strike him.
The letter, which appears to refer to that incident, goes on to say that the matter is under investigation by Afghan authorities.
"Canada will resume transferring detainees when it believes it can do so in accordance with its international legal obligations," it read.
Jason Gratl, president of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said the policy change had been kept secret until now.
"They've admitted that they stopped transferring detainees on Nov. 5, 2007, more than 2½ months ago," he told CBCNews.ca.
"They didn't bother telling us and they didn't bother telling the Canadian public."
BCCLA and Amnesty plan to pursue case
The BCCLA and Amnesty said they will continue their legal action because the government has refused to stop the transfers indefinitely and refuses to give notice when it resumes them.
They are suing the minister of national defence, the chief of defence staff and the attorney general of Canada.
Champ, the lawyer representing the two groups, said Justice Anne Mactavish is to hear arguments Thursday about the risk of torture in Afghan custody and whether an injunction should be issued barring transfers until the full case is heard.
The government said the matter is moot because transfers have ceased, but rights groups said it is still important because the government refuses to give notice before any possible resumption, Champ told CBCNews.ca.
In light of the new information, the judge has ordered a government witness, Brig.-Gen. Joseph Paul Andre Deschamps, to return for live testimony before the arguments are heard, he said.