New Ministerial Directions against Mistreatment a Positive Step, but Concerns Remain
The new Ministerial Directions announced today by the Minister of Public Safety to avoid complicity of Canadian law enforcement and intelligence authorities in torture and other mistreatment by foreign entities are a significant improvement on the previous Directives issued in 2011. However, loopholes and lack of clarity in some areas may still leave the door open to complicity in abuses and the tacit promotion of torture at the hands of foreign officials, warns Amnesty International Canada.
“The revised Ministerial Directions are a welcome advance on earlier versions which had taken a reckless and unlawful approach to Canada’s international obligation to prohibit and criminalize torture and had been criticized by the UN Committee against Torture. In particular, it is welcome news that Canada will no longer share with or request information from other states if that gives rise to a substantial risk of torture,” says Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada.
The new Directions establish that in almost all instances “exceptional circumstances” cannot justify Canadian complicity in mistreatment, which is a significant and long-overdue step forward. However, Amnesty International remains concerned by several shortcomings in the Directions, which could have been addressed had the government provided opportunity for consultation with civil society organizations, many of which – like Amnesty International - have extensive expertise in this area and have been actively engaged in discussions around the previous Ministerial Directions.
Of particular concern to Amnesty International is an allowance in the Directions for Canadian law enforcement and intelligence agencies to cooperate with foreign entities, even in instances where a substantial risk of torture is observed, so long as those parties provide assurances against mistreatment. In Amnesty International’s view, such assurances are never a reliable means of mitigating concerns about torture and should not be relied on or used in any circumstances.
“Promises not to torture from those who already break clear international and national laws by torturing in the first place are virtually worthless. Assurances received in these circumstances should not give a green light for Canadian officials to collaborate with likely torturers. The provisions allowing Canadian officials to rely on assurances should be withdrawn from the Ministerial Directions,” said Neve.
Also of concern is the fact that the Directions allow, in limited circumstances, for Canadian security and intelligence officials to use information obtained under torture or other mistreatment – subject to certain conditions – so long as the information was not actively requested by Canadian officials. Of particular concern is that there is no clarity as to whether such intelligence would be retained, even if not immediately used, and if so, for how long. Any use of information obtained through mistreatment threatens to encourage further abuse by creating a ‘market’ for torture-tainted information.
“Using any torture-tainted information almost certainly encourages torturers to continue with their crimes, knowing there are intelligence agencies and others ready and willing to receive and use it,” said Neve. “Canada ought to be embracing a firm stance against any actions that may threaten to foster – directly or indirectly - a market for torture-tainted information. While they do represent important progress, unfortunately the provisions in the Directions released today do not go the full distance in that regard.”
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