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Detainee questions 'spear the Canadian Forces,' opposition told

Defence Minister Peter MacKay responds during Question Period in the House of Commons on Thursday, December 10, 2009.

Sean Kilpatrick

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff today accused the Conservative government of bullying and intimidating witnesses involved in the Afghan detainee scandal.

"When they cover things up, they hid evidence and they intimidated and bullied witnesses, they sullied the reputations of officials, they censored documents," said Mr. Ignatieff in Question Period today. "The Prime Minister is responsible for this behaviour. What does he have to hide?"

He demanded a public inquiry.

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Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe, frustrated by the changing stories and facts, accused the Prime Minister of making a "mockery of the public, the military and this house."

He said Defence Minister Peter MacKay is not credible and demanded the minister resign.

And NDP Leader Jack Layton called on Mr. MacKay to resign and for the Prime Minister to call a full public inquiry.

To each and every demand, question and accusation, Stephen Harper did not stray from his line that the opposition's probing was a direct criticism of the Canadian military.

"Members of the Canadian Forces and the Canadian department of Foreign Affairs have conducted themselves with extraordinary valour in a very difficult situation in Afghanistan," the Prime Minister said. "Whenever faced with difficult situations, they have responded and taken corrective actions and they should be praised for those actions.

This was the last Question Period that the leaders were expected to attend before the Christmas break. The House may rise later today or tomorrow. It will return Jan. 25.

The opposition was not letting up on the Afghanistan detainee controversy, especially since the stunning revelation by Chief of Defence Staff Walter Natynczyk that a Canadian-captured detainee was abused. This contradicted the Conservative government's claims that there was no credible evidence of torture.

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In fact, it didn't matter how many times Mr. Ignatieff and others said they supported the military, Mr. Harper and his Defence Minister continued repeating that questions about the detainee crisis constituted an attack on the Forces.

Mr. MacKay was especially creative in finding new ways of saying the same thing, including this phrase that later landed in him hot water when the MP accused him of being sexist: "Mr. Speaker," said Mr. MacKay, "more of the same implicit contradictions; wash me but do not make me wet."

He was answering a question from Newfoundland Liberal MP Judy Foote in which she asked him to appoint a public inquiry "rather than stonewalling and censoring everything in sight?"

And Mr. MacKay faced particularly aggressive questioning from Toronto area MP Mark Holland, who asked the minister if he was "incompetent or dishonest" in repeatedly telling the House that there was no evidence of a Canadian-transferred detainee being tortured.

How do you answer that?

Mr. MacKay said that he found out the truth after he was informed of it yesterday by the Gen. Natynczyk.

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"The honourable member may want to play politics with this issue," Mr. MacKay said. "He may want to, by implication, spear the Canadian Forces. We are not going to do that. We are going to continue to support them, give them the resources they need and back them 100 per cent."

Meanwhile, nothing new was learned or unearthed today in the daily Question Period regarding the Afghanistan affair.

(Photos: Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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