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Canada has been complicit with torture overseas and within its own borders, the secretary general of Amnesty International Canada says.
Alex Neve was on campus to give his talk, “Clean hands? Canadian complicity in torture abroad,” as part of a torture symposium held last Wednesday and Thursday at St. Thomas University.
The St. Andrew’s native has been an Amnesty International member since the mid-1980s and earned degrees in law with specialization in refugee and immigration law.
“What is at stake with torture are the very notions of integrity and dignity that are in the core, the very heart of what it is to have human rights,” Neve said during his lecture.
“Allowing torture destroys that.”
In his speech, Neve defined torture as the intentional infliction of severe, physical or mental pain, or suffering when it is inflicted. People sometimes do this to try to force information out of someone, to punish them, to force them to do something. Torture can often be linked to discrimination.
Neve gave the 2010 G20 protests in Toronto as an example. Many reports, along with some videos, allege excessive policing.
“Many of those instances clearly involve beatings and violence which was motivated by a desire to punish people and that brings you into the world of torture.
“I think any time you hear a report about police violence and arrest – [it] doesn’t mean torture is in play – but we should at least be asking the question.”
After 9/11, Neve said, many Western governments, including Canada, who had traditionally been global champions in the effort to make torture illegal, were now committing, contributing to or countenancing torture. There were secret flights, transfers, deportations and information sharing.
Although these Western nations aren’t actually torturing people, they’re nonetheless allowing torture to happen.
“Without those who provide the training, the tools, the cover, the encouragement; the ones who take care of the logistics, fight off criticism at the United Nations or hand over the victim – without all of that torture, plain and simple, would very often just not happen.”
Canadian complicity concerning national security-related torture has also risen, Neve said.
International law clearly says no one should be deported when he or she could face a serious risk of torture. Besides, there must be a fairness in legal proceedings, especially in deportation cases, he added.
“Not only [is] a deportation with the risk of torture…possible under Canadian law, but the process of making decisions in such cases is likely to be fundamentally unfair.”
There is a complete unwillingness on the government’s part to take the steps necessary to help victims, he said. Instead of protecting the rights of certain individuals and providing remedies, the government is unwilling to lift one finger.
Five Canadian governments had the chance to address the concern of Canadian troops being complicit in torture in Afghanistan 10 years ago, Neve said.
In the first four years, war prisoners were handed over to the U.S. troops and some ended up in Guantanamo Bay. Then, prisoners were handed over to Afghan authorities, even though it was clear prisoners would be tortured.
“The longer we wait…the longer and greater the risk of further complicity in torture.”
And the impact on those facing torture, Neve said, can last for a lifetime.
“We have to think of that when we are thinking about this question of our own complicity in this horrible practice.”