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Former diplomat Richard Colvin testifies at the Military Police Complaints Commission in Ottawa on April 13, 2010. (The Canadian Press)
Former diplomat Richard Colvin testifies at the Military Police Complaints Commission in Ottawa on April 13, 2010. (The Canadian Press)

Globe editorial

The case of the incurious investigator Add to ...

First, a military investigator who did not want to know anything. Next, a diplomat who wanted to know everything. The contrast between the two Canadian government officials at the Afghanistan detainee hearings in Ottawa this week goes to the heart of the issue. The torture issue is all about the Canadian government's willful blindness, an incuriosity that strains belief.

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Lieutenant-Colonel Gilles Sansterre is the investigator who appears to know very little, or to want to. The commander of the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service claimed he had never read the human-rights reports on Afghanistan written by the United States State Department, or by the United Nations or the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. He had never read a 2008 ruling of the Federal Court of Canada that accepted the serious torture concerns of those agencies. Afghanistan? A very nice country, as far as Lt.-Col. Sansterre could tell.

His is the investigative agency set up in 1997 to be independent of the chain of command, following recommendations painfully arrived at after the Somalia military debacle. An investigative agency with no curiosity is a contradiction in terms. When The Globe's Graeme Smith reported in 2007 on the first-hand accounts of serious abuse of 30 Afghans transferred by Canada to the Afghan authorities, his agency filed a three-page report on the matter. Whom did it interview? No one, it appears, Lt-Col Sansterre told the Military Police Complaints Commission. What evidence did it collect? None, it appears, he said. Nor would he second-guess the exoneration, in eight cases, of the feared National Directorate of Security by - who else - itself.

Diplomat Richard Colvin, on the other hand, who was a senior member of Canada's mission in Afghanistan, could not know enough. Soon arriving in Kandahar in 2006, he heard rumours of abuse of transferred detainees, and made it his business to ask questions. Torture in his view was routine, and was typically used on ordinary residents, not Taliban. When he told an Ottawa meeting of government officials that the NDS tortures people, the government's note-taker put her pen down, he recounted yesterday, repeating what he told a Commons committee last fall.

And Canada stymied Red Cross monitors by waiting up to two months to pass on the names of detainees, Mr. Colvin said. By that time, no one knew where they were. Intentionally or not, Canada, which wanted to know nothing, may have contributed to others not knowing.

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