12/14/2017 17:20 EST | Updated 12/14/2017 17:48 EST

Canada's Military, Diplomats Can Only Use Torture-Tainted Info To Save Lives: Liberals

Feds have released new guidelines on the use of foreign intelligence.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan speaks at an announcement on fighter jets at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Dec. 12, 2017.
Sean Kilpatrick/CP
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan speaks at an announcement on fighter jets at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Dec. 12, 2017.

OTTAWA — The Liberal government has expanded its directions covering the use of foreign intelligence likely obtained through torture to include the Canada's military, diplomatic service and electronic spy agency.

The move means the Canadian Forces, Communications Security Establishment and Global Affairs Canada are being prohibited from using information gleaned from torture, unless it means saving lives.

That includes preventing a terrorist attack or protecting Canadian soldiers on overseas missions.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland say the directives are designed to ensure Canadian officials have clear guidelines and are not complicit in any abuse.


The directives "clarify and strengthen the measures on the disclosure or requesting of information that would result in a substantial risk of mistreatment," Sajjan said in a statement issued Thursday.

"They also prohibit certain use of information likely obtained through mistreatment, except when it is absolutely necessary to prevent loss of life or significant personal injury."

The measure has sparked mixed reactions, with NDP defence critic Randall Garrison describing it as a "public-relations exercise" that will have little real effect because of the exception allowing torture-tainted intelligence.

"In the end, the Canadian government remains complicit with torture," he said. "The prohibition on the use of torture. It's not: sometimes we do, sometimes we don't."

Amnesty International Canada called the new directives a welcome change from those issued by the previous Conservative government, although the group expressed concern with the fact that some torture-tainted info would still be allowed.

Amnesty International wants 'absolute ban'

That concern was particularly acute when it came to the military, said Alex Neve, Amnesty Canada's secretary-general, given its recent history in Afghanistan and Iraq of partnering with groups that have questionable records.

Canada soldiers "may therefore be faced with decisions about what to do with information that bears the taint of torture on a regular basis," Neve said, so "the need for extra vigilance to ensure that the Canadian military is not implicated in torture is all the greater.

"That is why there should simply be an absolute ban on using any such information."

Both Amnesty and the NDP have repeatedly called for an inquiry into the Canadian military's role in the handling of detainees who were later tortured by Afghan security forces during the last decade.

The Liberal government, and the Conservatives before them, have refused.

Similar to directives issues to RCMP, CSIS, CBSA

The directives issued by Sajjan and Freeland and published Thursday are similar to those issued to the RCMP, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Canadian Border Services Agency in September.

They partially reverse instructions from the previous Conservative government that allowed international exchanges even when there was a real risk of torture.

Human rights groups and the federal NDP had called on the Liberals to repeal the Conservative government's instructions, saying they effectively condoned torture and flouted Canada's international obligations.

Torture victims will say anything to stop the pain, making their information unreliable, they argue.

The new versions forbid officials from disclosing or requesting information when doing so would result in a "substantial risk" of torture that could not be managed through assurances from a foreign government.

Chris Wattie / Reuters
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland speaks in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Dec. 12, 2017.

They also prohibit use of information likely obtained through abuse in any way that creates a risk of further mistreatment, as evidence in a court proceeding, or to prevent risks to property such as a building.

However, the directives allow the use of information gleaned through torture "to prevent loss of life or significant personal injury."

The directions cite an impending terrorist attack as one scenario in which such information could be used, but officials indicated in a background briefing that a pending attack on Canadian soldiers in the field could also qualify.

In such cases, the information must be accurately described and characterized, and it must be clear that it is being used solely to try to prevent an attack.