Many Canadians will no doubt be shocked by the allegations about torture and cover-up that Richard Colvin made before a parliamentary committee yesterday, particularly in light of the timing.
In the past month, former chief of the defence staff Rick Hillier has been cheered on his book tour across the country. Last week, there was an outpouring of support for the military among Canadians surrounding Remembrance Day celebrations. And the Conservative government's release of a new Citizenship Guide, which elevated the role of the military, was greeted by loud huzzahs.
However, it's important to remember that this is not the first time serious allegations have been made against members of the Canadian Forces. In fact, in the so-called Somalia affair of 1993, the allegations were more serious; namely, that Canadian soldiers themselves had beaten and shot Somali civilians in the back, and that they were directly responsible for the death of Shidane Arone. Nor, is it the first time that a cover up by very senior people has been alleged. In fact, in that latter case, it could be said that the cover-up reached the highest levels of government after Jean Chrétien shut down the Commission of Inquiry before it could complete its hearings.
There's still much that we don't know after hearing Mr. Colvin's allegations. For example, though names of some very senior officials were mentioned, we haven't heard their side of the story; nor do we know whether the cover-up extended to the political level. If it did, we don't know when/whether the Prime Minister was informed, and, if he wasn't informed, why not. Nor do we know why Mr. Colvin did not blow the whistle earlier, while the torture was still taking place and he was being rebuffed by very senior officials. None of these questions is likely to be answered without taking testimony under oath in a public inquiry, which is what the opposition parties should now be pushing for.
Update In replying to opposition demands for a public inquiry during Question Period, Defence Minister Peter MacKay attempted to poke holes in Richard Colvin's "unsubstantiated" testimony. And he stressed the need for due process.
In fact, there could be no better arguments for holding a public inquiry.