Federal lawyer rues detainee document remark

A Justice Department lawyer apologizes after telling an inquiry into the Afghan detainee affair that officials would hand over documents when "they are good and ready."

A Justice Department lawyer apologized Tuesday after telling an inquiry into the Afghan detainee affair that officials would hand over documents when "they are good and ready."

Justice Department lawyer Alain Prefontaine, seen last October, apologized for his comment Tuesday but did not say when documents would be released. ((Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press))

Justice Department lawyer Alain Prefontaine would not provide a date for the Military Police Complaints Commission as when it could expect the release of documents relating to the transfer of prisoners by Canadians to Afghan authorities.

Prefontaine told the commission that the "documents will be given to the counsel when they are good and ready."

Glenn Stannard, the acting chair of the commission, responded that he found Prefontaine's remarks "close to offensive, not only to the panel but also to the public."

Following a break, Prefontaine apologized for his remarks but still would not commit to a date as to when the documents can be expected.

Liberal defence critic Ujjal Dosanjh slammed Prefontaine's comments.

"It is reprehensible for anyone to make those kinds of arrogant and offensive remarks to a quasi-judicial body which is engaged in very important work," Dosanjh told reporters in Ottawa.

"I think his apology doesn’t cut it, because this is in keeping with what he has been doing. He is essentially the lawyer for the government, obstructing and hindering the work of this commission every step of the way."

The complaints commission is waiting for reams of documents to clear government censors. The paper jam includes an indeterminate number of a former foreign-service officer's reports of torture allegations in Afghan jails.

Soldier expresses concerns

In other proceedings Tuesday, a former senior official in the Canadian Forces military police, who did two terms in Afghanistan, testified that the speed in which detainees were handed over to the Afghans deprived Canadian interrogators of intelligence.

Maj. Kevin Rowcliffe said he was frustrated by the pressure from the Defence Department that prisoners be handed over to the Afghan security services within 96 hours.

Rowcliffe told the commission that interrogators weren't given time to get actionable intelligence that could have saved lives.

Rowcliffe added that if there was no documentation or intelligence to go with the detainee, the Afghan security service didn't know why they were supposed to be holding the prisoner. Rowcliffe said the security service would often let them go, with the risk that the prisoner would attack and kill Canadian soldiers.

The Military Police Complaints Commission, a civilian-run military watchdog, is investigating an allegation from Amnesty International Canada and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. The groups say Canadian military police did not properly investigate officers who oversaw the transfer of prisoners to Afghan authorities, even though the prisoners allegedly faced torture.

Knowingly transferring a prisoner of war into a situation where they face torture is a war crime under international law. 

Meanwhile, New Democrat MPs Jack Harris and Paul Dewar have written to Gen. Walter Natynczyk, Canada's top military commander, asking him to clarify whether Canadian officials ever transferred Afghan detainees to the Afghan secret police for the purposes of gathering information.

"On April 16, 2010, you stated in a letter to the special committee on the Canadian mission in Afghanistan that the 'Canadian forces do not transfer individuals for the purposes of gathering information.' What is not clear from the statement is whether this has been a practice throughout our mission in Afghanistan," the letter states.

With files from The Canadian Press