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Canadian PM accused of lying about torture allegations

[PoliticsWatch updated 5:05 p.m. April 25, 2007]

OTTAWA  — Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion said Wednesday that Prime Minister Stephen Harper lied to the House of Commons earlier this week about the government's knowledge of torture allegations from Afghan detainees.   
 
Dion made the comments after the Globe and Mail reported Wednesday that it obtained an unedited version of a department of foreign affairs report that suggests the government is aware of "torture and arbitrary detention" by the Afghanistan National Police. 

On Tuesday, the prime minister told the House of Commons there was "no evidence" Afghan detainees' allegations of torture at the hands of Afghan officials were true. Harper was referring to specific allegations 30 detainees made in interviews with the Globe. 

"So far the allegations have not been substantiated," the PM said Tuesday. 

But Dion said Wednesday that the prime minister was not levelling with Canadians. 
 
"Yesterday the prime minister said in the House, 'To date, we have no evidence that supports the allegations.' We know that this was a lie," Dion said in a statement to reporters after the Liberal caucus meeting. 

The Liberal leader went further and also accused Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor and Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay of lying for saying the government had not been informed of abuse of detainees. 

"There is a disturbing pattern of lies and cover up by the Conservative government," Dion said. 

The attacks on Harper continued in question period on Wednesday where the Afghan detainee issue dominated debate for the third-consecutive day. 

Dion accused the Conservatives of conducting a cover up and Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe said the government had told the House "falsehoods."

Harper denied misleading the House and said the foreign affairs report that appeared in the Globe "document general concerns." 

"We have no evidence of specific allegations that appeared this week in the Globe and Mail. but obviously Mr. Speaker we take any such allegations seriously," the PM said. 

The prime minister was also pressed about whether or not the government was concealing the foreign affairs document that includes the torture allegations. 

The Globe independently obtained its copy of the report. Previously foreign affairs denied such a report existed, according to the Globe story. When a copy finally was released from the department it had all the negative information, including the torture allegations, redacted. 

"Who told foreign affairs officials to release only positive sections of this report?" Dion asked Harper in question period. "Who told them to black out those sections that warned about these potential abuses? Who told officials to deny the very existence of this report on human rights issues in Afghanistan? Was it the minister of foreign affairs? Was it the minister of defence? Or was it the prime minister?"

Harper accused Dion of dealing in "conspiracy theories."

"The leader of the Opposition is a former minister of the Crown. He knows what the process is," he said. "These decisions are made by government lawyers. They do not consult politicians or ministers."

After question period, reporters asked Dion in light of the prime minister's clarification if he stood behind his earlier statement that Harper had lied to Parliament. 

"Yes, the prime minister organized a process by which information was not carried to Canadians," Dion said. "When he said yesterday he had no evidence when their report, he had in his hands, said this was common practice, it's very difficult to believe he was frank with the Canadian people."

PoliticsWatch asked Dion if he believed Harper's response that government lawyers, not politicians, make the decisions about what gets blacked out from Access to Information releases and whether, based on his experience in government, political actors could edit documents before they are released. 

Dion did not directly answer the question, but said he wanted to know who edited out the torture allegations from the foreign affairs report. 

: Related Links

> Don't trust Taliban torture tales- PM

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