New poll finds half of Canadians believe diplomat Colvin’s testimony
Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin, who last week gave explosive testimony about the possible torture of detainees captured by the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan, sent reports about the issue to the office of the minister of foreign affairs, the CBC has learned.
Colvin alleged before a House of Commons committee last week that all prisoners handed over by Canadian soldiers to Afghan authorities were likely subsequently abused and that government officials were well aware of the problem.
Colvin said he began sending warnings about the detainee mistreatment in May 2006 while serving as a senior diplomat in Afghanistan, but in his testimony before the House’s special committee on the Canadian mission in Afghanistan, he could not say whether he had copied his reports to the minister’s office.
But multiple sources have told the CBC that Colvin has revised his statements before the committee in a letter and now confirms some of the reports did go to Foreign Affairs.
MacKay denies seeing reports
The news comes as three generals are scheduled to appear before the committee Wednesday to give their version of events, and on the same day a new survey suggests Canadians are more than twice as likely to believe Colvin than to view his testimony with skepticism.
Laurie Hawn, the parliamentary secretary to Defence Minister Peter MacKay, told CBC News he hasn’t seen the letter clarifying the testimony and said the timing of when Colvin’s emails were sent would play a role in whether MacKay, in his former role as foreign affairs minister, would have seen them.
MacKay served as foreign affairs minister during much of Colvin’s time in Afghanistan. Maxime Bernier took over the position in August 2007.
Canada began turning over detainees captured by the Armed Forces to Afghan security services in late 2005 but briefly halted the transfers after receiving a report in October 2007 that said there was evidence the prisoners were then being tortured.
MacKay says he never saw Colvin’s reports and never received a credible report on torture apart from the October 2007 one.
Canadians more likely to believe Colvin: poll
A Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey released Wednesday suggests twice as many Canadians believe Colvin’s testimony than believe, as the government does, that his statements lack credibility.
The survey found 51 per cent of respondents believed Colvin’s statement that prisoners handed over by Canadian soldiers to Afghan authorities were likely abused and that the government knew of the problem.
By comparison, only 25 per cent said they believed the Harper government’s assertion that Colvin’s claims are flimsy and not credible.
Harris-Decima chairman Allan Gregg said the results suggest the government’s strategy of attacking Colvin’s credibility has backfired.
"You don’t need to be a rocket scientist or a pollster to know that there’s something unseemly about taking an allegation that appears to be heartfelt and twisting it around and throwing it back in someone else’s face," Gregg said in an interview.
Hawn said he was unsurprised by the poll results, since it followed after Colvin’s testimony.
"Let’s not go rushing off with our hair on fire based on the testimony of one individual," Hawn said.
"Canadians have only heard one side. Of course they are going to believe that side. Let all the stories come out and then let Canadians decide, and then that will be the more meaningful poll."
The Harris-Decima poll involved telephone interviews with 2,036 Canadians from last Wednesday to Sunday and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points 19 times out of 20.
Government pins hopes on generals
The government’s efforts to get other versions of events heard begins Wednesday when Rick Hillier, the former chief of defence staff, is scheduled to testify at the Commons special committee.
Also scheduled to appear are Maj.-Gen. David Fraser, who led troops on the ground in Kandahar, and Lt.-Gen. Michel Gauthier, who was responsible for overseas deployments in 2006.
David Mulroney, a former senior adviser to Harper on Afghanistan and now Canada’s ambassador to China, wants to appear before the committee on Thursday to tell his side of the story, after Colvin named him last week as one of the officials he reportedly spoke to about the torture allegations.
But opposition parties are threatening to delay Mulroney’s appearance before the committee until they have had a chance to pore over the relevant documents.
Liberal defence critic Ujjal Dosanjh said he does want to hear from Mulroney, but said the opposition parties need information in order to ask Mulroney the right questions. He said the Harper government’s push to schedule an impromptu hearing day on Thursday to hear Mulroney is an attempt to hijack the committee.
"The government wants to change the agenda of the committee and impose witnesses on the committee this government wants," Dosanjh said.
Hawn told the CBC that some of the government documents detailing correspondence would be released today to the committee.