A Vancouver human-rights lawyer says she “can’t believe” that Canada is about to pass a law that authorizes violations of an international convention against torture. It also won’t allow Mounties to question intelligence information that has been obtained illegally.
Gail Davidson’s concern about the use of information possibly extracted through torture is shared by current and former RCMP officers who oppose Bill C-42, or the Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability Act.
“We’re authorizing the police to use their special powers to break the law,” Davidson told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.
Members of the Mounted Police Professional Association of Canada (MPPAC) have raised a number of issues about the legislation and its provisions tied to national security. One states that an RCMP officer is “not entitled to present a grievance relating to any action taken under any instruction, direction or regulation given or made by or on behalf of the Government of Canada in the interest of the safety or security of Canada or any state allied or associated with Canada”.
Another section mandates that “an order made by the Governor in Council is conclusive proof of the matters stated in the order in relation to the giving or making of an instruction, direction or regulation by or on behalf of the Government of Canada.”
These make Bill C-42 “very dangerous”, according to Davidson, executive director of Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada. “Police officers have special powers,” she explained. “They have more powers than you or I to use force and to deprive people of their liberty, and the reason they have those powers is to keep the public peace. And keeping the public peace means ensuring that the law, and that is the legitimate laws and the rule of law, are upheld.”
In November this year, Surrey RCMP officer Lloyd Pinsent circulated a paper he wrote with the provocative title “The Terrorists Have Won. RCMP Ordered to Accept Torture-Tainted Information”.
Pinsent’s paper cites Bill C-42 and a CBC report citing a Canadian Press story indicating that Public Safety Minister Vic Toews had directed the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency to use and share information that may have been obtained through torture. This order follows a similar directive issued in 2011 to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
“While the direction from Minister Toews is in contravention of existing Canadian and international law, under [Bill C-42’s] section 31. (1.4) the order is to be viewed as conclusive proof and questions about the legitimacy of the order are not allowed either,” writes Pinsent, a member of the MPPAC executive in B.C.
The Surrey RCMP constable also notes that although use of information produced through torture violates Canadian and international law, Bill C-42 lays out the sanctions for those who question this practice, including dismissal.
Public Safety Canada did not make a spokesperson available for an interview with the Straight before deadline.
Rob Creasser, a retired RCMP officer and a national spokesperson for the MPPAC, said the proposed legislation puts officers in a damned-if-they-do, damned-if-they-don’t situation when confronted with information derived from torture.
“It places RCMP members in an untenable situation where they’re being directed, it would seem, to break Canadian and international law,” Creasser told the Straight in a phone interview. “And if they complained about it, the new bill, C-42…will also hold them in jeopardy if they voice those concerns publicly, because there’s a provision in that bill where you could be sanctioned for speaking out.”
In June this year, the UN Committee Against Torture released its report on Canada’s compliance with the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The panel expressed “serious concern” about Toews’s ministerial direction to CSIS, noting that it “could result in violations of article 15 of the Convention in the sense that it allows intelligence information that may have been derived through mistreatment by foreign States to be used within Canada”.
The UN committee was also concerned that the ministerial order “allows CSIS to share information with foreign agencies even when doing so poses a serious risk of torture”. It recommended that Canada modify this ministerial direction to bring it in line with Canada’s obligation under the international convention against torture.
Bill C-42 has passed two of the three required readings in the House of Commons. Considering the UN’s direction for Canada with respect to information gathered from torture, Davidson is shocked that the measure may soon become law. “Instead of saying, ‘Yes, we’ll now take measures to comply with the recommendations so we’re acting in compliance with our convention obligations,’ they’re saying, ‘We’re going to pass a law that authorizes violations.’ I can’t believe that.”