On Thursday morning, to the apparent surprise of some observers, I argued on this blog that Canadians needed a public inquiry to get to the bottom of the allegations of torture and cover-up that Richard Colvin had made the day before in front of a parliamentary committee. After watching the Conservatives' performance for the past two days, I'd say that Prime Minister Stephen Harper also needs a public inquiry--only more so.
Legitimate questions can be asked as to why Mr. Colvin did not blow the whistle earlier, which would have saved anywhere from 220 to 600 Afghans from allegedly being tortured. However, to attack his credibility, as Conservative ministers have been doing, is both pathetic and reprehensible. And to demand first-hand evidence, as they've also been doing, is precisely the same dodge that bureaucrats used to cover their asses in the Maher Arar affair.
Let's face it: Even the government recognizes that its defense is in tatters and that it is looking mean to boot, which may explain why it is re-calibrating its strategy. However, to parade senior officials before a parliamentary committee, as a report in today's Globe suggests is what we're about to see, is unlikely to work very well either, based on my experience in similar situations.
Mr. Harper has been out of the country while all this has been going on. He will have an opportunity, but only one, to wipe the slate clean on this first day back in the House of Commons. He'd be wise to punt the issue to a judicial inquiry, a forum that is more likely to give ministers and officials a fair hearing. Unless, that is, his government truly has something to hide, and figures that having Conservative MPs stonewall, obstruct and obfuscate is the only way to try to save his skin.
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