Zero tolerance on torture
Original Article from National Post:
Alex Neve, National Post : Dec. 7, 2011
Canada abhors torture. We support all efforts to abolish it and to punish torturers. We insist that our policing and security agencies have nothing to do with it. That's Canada 's public line. Yet every time we seem to reaffirm these fundamental principles, a loophole always presents itself involving the words "national security."
The most recent disturbing example involves a 2008 memo from former CSIS director James Judd to then-minister of public safety Stockwell Day that has just come to light. In that document, Mr. Judd objected to a law-reform initiative spearheaded at the time by Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh. As part of a court-ordered overhaul of the immigration security-certificate process, Mr. Dosanjh had proposed a measure to keep evidence that might have been the result of torture out of security-certificate proceedings. The amendment passed, clarifying the principle that when there are reasonable grounds to believe that information had been obtained by torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, it cannot be used.
It actually wasn't all that ground-breaking. It essentially confirmed existing international and Canadian legal prohibitions. The UN Convention against Torture, ratified by Canada more than 25 years ago, makes it clear that the only time evidence obtained under torture can be used in court is when the torturer himself is the one on trial. But it was necessary to have the principle laid out explicitly with respect to security certificates.
But the issue keeps coming up. Yes, torture is bad. But what if it will help us catch a terrorist, crack a sleeper cell or thwart a terrorist attack? What if taking a strong stand against it makes it more difficult to cooperate with countries where torture is rampant?
In this particular instance, Mr. Judd's primary objection was that he considered the threshold of "reasonable grounds" for believing the information to be the fruit of torture to be too low. He felt it might be interpreted to capture not only whatever the torturer was originally able to extract from his victim, but any further information that was then derived from that torture-tainted evidence. But such fine distinctions don't matter. International law, binding on Canada , is clear on both points: no to torture; no to information gleaned by torture.
Torture itself is never justified, even in the face of security threats such as terrorism. There are many good reasons for that absolute ban. For one, law enforcement and intelligence officers will tell you that you simply do not get good information by torturing it out of people. People will say anything and implicate anyone to end the electric shocks, simulated drowning, brutal beatings and threats to rape or kill loved ones. Sometimes, the information you get may be true, but often it will be false and simply distract police from pursuing more reliable leads.
And once you start using torture, the line keeps shifting. If it is OK to torture the terrorist
mastermind, why not torture someone who knows where he is hiding, or his sister? Someone who goes to the same mosque or was born in the same village? There is no such thing as a little bit of torture. Its use inevitably expands.
Most critically, torture is never justified because it fundamentally violates the very notion of human dignity and integrity that is at the heart of what it is to have human rights in the first place.
Governments understood that when they drafted human rights treaties. Allowing torture, whatever the reason, does not make us more secure. It keeps us trapped in the vicious circle of repression, resentment and reprisal that provides fertile ground for terrorism. We need to break that circle, not further it.
If torture itself is never OK, it can never be OK to take advantage of what the torturer has to sell. If all doors begin to close when the torturer comes calling with the confessions and leads that come out of the torture chamber, the market for torture starts to dry up. As a result, there is that much less incentive to torture in the first place.
So enough with what-ifs and qualifications. Whenever the issue of torture comes up - be it in our intelligence relationships, law reform or around the Cabinet table - there should be no hesitation.
We must make it clear that Canada will have nothing to do with torture. No matter what.
* Alex Neve is secretary general of Amnesty International Canada.