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Military Police Complaints Commission chairmain Peter Tinsley listens allegations of torture regarding Afghan detainees during a hearing in Gatineau, Que., on Oct. 7, 2009. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
Military Police Complaints Commission chairmain Peter Tinsley listens allegations of torture regarding Afghan detainees during a hearing in Gatineau, Que., on Oct. 7, 2009. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Diplomat bucks Ottawa by sending evidence to detainee probe Add to ...

A Canadian diplomat yesterday resisted federal government attempts to stop him from testifying before an inquiry into Canada's Afghan detainee controversy, filing evidence with the probe to prove he's got vital information to impart.

But in an unusual move, Richard Colvin shipped his affidavit to the Military Police Complaints Commission probe in a sealed envelope - a statement that will remain unread by inquiry officials until government censors vet it.

Mr. Colvin, who was previously posted in Afghanistan for Ottawa, sent his statement to the inquiry under virtual lock and key in order to guard against the risk of being jailed for violating national secrets.

The dramatic presentation of evidence came the same day that more legal jousting erupted between the Harper government and the commission, another bout of wrangling that could end up further delaying long-postponed hearings.

The military police watchdog has been trying to probe whether Canadian soldiers were complicit in handing over Afghan prisoners to that country's intelligence service - because they knew, or should have known, detainees were likely to be tortured in Afghanistan's notorious jails.

But government lawyers have repeatedly sought to delay and thwart public hearings.

Yesterday commission chair Peter Tinsley announced the tribunal will appeal a September federal court ruling that severely restricted the scope of the Afghan inquiry. It was a judgment that agreed with Ottawa's arguments that the watchdog had originally overstepped its boundaries.

Responding to Mr. Tinsley, Justice Department lawyers argued a motion calling for a suspension of the hearings until courts settle the question of the scope of the inquiry.

Alain Prefontaine, the lead government lawyer, said such an adjournment could mean a two-month delay in hearings.

And if that happens, it would mean the public portion of the inquiry would not resume before Mr. Tinsley, a Liberal appointee, reaches the end of his single term as commission chair on Dec. 11. The Harper government has refused Mr. Tinsley's request for reappointment, with Defence Minister Peter MacKay advising him in a letter "to start your career planning as soon as possible."

Mr. Tinsley yesterday adjourned hearings and said he would rule next week on whether they would continue during an appeal.

Paul Champ, a lawyer for the human-rights groups that triggered the inquiry, said he's worried the Harper government is trying to run out the clock until Mr. Tinsley leaves, after which time they'd "appoint somebody who's friendly" and would "shut it down."

Mr. MacKay, however, said the Tories have no intention of interfering with the inquiry.

Mr. Colvin, who now works at Canada's embassy in Washington, has been subpoenaed to testify.

He was the political director of an Afghanistan provincial reconstruction team until 2007.

Mr. Colvin's lawyer has argued the diplomat has personal knowledge of what military police knew about the risks of torture.

But federal lawyers have used the anti-terrorism law to bully Mr. Colvin, citing concerns about national security, his lawyer alleged in a letter to Ottawa this week. The law carries penalties of jail time for disclosing national secrets.

That's why Mr. Colvin sent the sealed affidavit to the watchdog, in order that he avoid legal jeopardy even while trying to prove his testimony would be worthwhile. It gives the commission a copy of it while government lawyers not affiliated with the inquiry vet it.

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