The panel discussion for the 9th annual Ottawa Peace Festival will be starting in about five minutes. The president of the Rideau Institute, Peggy Mason is already here with Omar Sabry, human rights researcher who will be discussing his report titled, "Torture of Afghan Detainees: Canada's Alleged Complicity and the Need for a Public Inquiry. The theme for this year's panel discussion is Torture, Afghan, Detainees and Canadian Accountability.
Omar Sabry says that torture was a routine part of procedures especially during investigation stage of detainees who had been transferred from Canada to Afghanistan, to extort confession from them. He adds that more than a third of conflict-related detainees were tortured.
Sabry cites statistics from the Department of National Defence which show that Canada transferred 335 detainees to Afghan authorities between 2001 and 2009. There are no numbers for 2010 and 2011. Before this period, detainees were transferred to US forces.
Transfer arrangements of 2005 and 2007 contained diplomatic assurances against torture. However, reports from various organizations showed that these assurances were not met by the Afghan government.
The Canadian government stopped releasing information to its public about torture to Afghan detainees who had been transferred after 2008.
In response to a question about possible complicity issues by physicians who worked for the Canadian armed forces, Sabry revisits the essence of the panel discussion. He says that the government's resistance to share information on complicity is the motivation for calling for the inquiry. Sabry doesn't have an answer to this question but revisits the need to get information from the government that shows the extent to which these complicity issues happened. He believes this will result to adequate information about Canada's full respect or lack thereof for international law.
Sabry says that legal scholars he has discussed with have argued that the transfer of detainees to places where possible torture could happen is almost equivalent to breaking International law prohibition of torture itself.
An Afghan citizen in the audience discusses how complex it is for Canada to have ensured that Afghanistan adhered to signed treaties not to engage in torture. However, Peggy Mason explains that this does not absolve Canada. She says transfers shouldn't have been made especially because the government was aware of the threat of torture to detainees.
In response to a question about possible instruments for moving forward the process of getting a public inquiry, Sabry says citizens can play a role by writing to MPs and making it an election issue so that parties can make commitments and the issue gets public attention.
Mason says if there's no change in the government, it will be difficult to take this cause further. However, if there's a change in government, she assures the audience that the new government will be hearing from civil society about the request for public inquiry.
Peggy Mason says launching the report during the election campaign was intentional.
Mason acknowledges that the report is a dense read. However, she believes it will provide basis for discussion in public administration.