Richard Colvin (foreign service officer)
Richard Colvin is a Canadian foreign service officer who gained public attention as a witness in the Canadian Afghan detainee issue. He appeared before the Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan in late 2009 where he discussed a signed affidavit alleging that Afghan detainees turned over to Afghanistan prisons by Canadian soldiers were tortured. The events surrounding this issue, and the Conservative government's response to his testimony, were, according to many Members of Parliament, closely related to the widespread anti-prorogation protests.
Colvin was born in 1969 in a village near Coventry, Great Britain, where he lived until the age of 16, when his family migrated to Canada, settling near Waterdown, Ontario. He studied international relations and Russian language at the University of Toronto, and in 1992 joined the Canadian foreign service after passing his second attempt at the foreign service exam. In 2002, he was posted to Ramallah in the Palestinian territories, where he served on a new political mission estbalished in the wake of Yasser Arafat's death. He was posted back to Calgary in 2005 where he served before being posted to Afghanistan.
As a witness in the Afghan detainee issue
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On October 6, 2009, the lawyer for Colvin (called to testify at a hearing into allegations of Afghan prison torture) said that the Conservative government was trying to keep her client silent. In a letter sent to the Canadian Department of Justice and obtained by CBC News, lawyer Lori Bokenfohr said the government invoked the national security order in response to Colvin's decision to co-operate with the Military Police Complaints Commission.
During his testimony to a Parliamentary committee in November 2009, Colvin said Canada did not monitor detainee conditions in Afghanistan and that detainees transferred by Canadians to Afghan prisons were likely tortured. "According to our information, the likelihood is that all the Afghans we handed over were tortured", Colvin said. "For interrogators in Kandahar, it was a standard operating procedure". Colvin worked in Kandahar for the Department of Foreign Affairs in 2006 before moving to Kabul, where he was second-in-command at the Canadian Embassy. He said his reports were ignored and he was eventually told to stop putting the reports in writing. However, Mr. Colvin’s testimony had been “…politely but steadily chipped away by evidence from other witnesses that included three former Canadian ambassadors to Afghanistan and other senior officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade who were assigned to the Afghanistan file, a representative from the Correctional Service of Canada (who was in Kandahar and made 47 visits to prisons, most of them unannounced) and by a number of serving and retired General Officers” (Globe and Mail, C.Blatchford, 14 May 2010).
On the other hand in a ruling of June, 2010, the High Court of England and Wales [2010 EWHC 1445] gave Mr. Colvin's testimony considerable weight. Arguments that the High Court did not have benefit of the full Canadian testimony can be balanced against much other corollary evidence considered in the judgement. For example (paragraphs 74, 75) in 2008 the American State Department and the Foreign Affairs Committee of the British House of Commons both asserted that the risk of torture by Afghan "authorities" was real and well-known.
Significantly less weight was attributed to Colvin's testimony by the Military Police Complaints Commission in its final report on the subject of Afghan detainee transfers, tabled on 27 June 2012. Testifying under cross-examination in a quasi-judicial as opposed to a sympathetic partisan political forum, Colvin was judged to have been "out of the loop" with regards to detainee matters in the time period covered by the Amnesty International and British Columbia Civil Liberties Association complaint. Under cross-examination Colvin also admitted that "my understanding of international law is quite sketchy".
And the Final Report of the Military Police Complaints Commission speaks for itself:
Also instructive was the Government’s reaction to the attempts by Mr. Richard Colvin to provide documents to the Commission. Mr. Colvin was compelled under a Commission summons to provide documents to the Commission. He was, as of October 2009, the Deputy Head of the Intelligence Liaison Office at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C. At times relevant to the complaint, however, he was posted to Afghanistan, and served in Kandahar as the political representative on the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team, the sole DFAIT representative in that position. In Kabul, he served as Head of the Political Division and Chargé d’affaires and, as such, was often Acting Head of Mission in Afghanistan. As it emerged, Mr. Colvin had significant evidence to offer on the detainee issue. Indeed, as will be discussed later, Mr. Colvin and his reports were well-known to certain Government officials and to certain people within CEFCOM.
In response to the Commission summons, Mr. Colvin indicated he would willingly attend a pre-hearing interview with Commission counsel and provide the Commission with documents pursuant to that summons. However, Mr. Colvin was prevented from doing so when the Government issued a notice under section 38 of the Canada Evidence Act over the entirety of the information that Mr. Colvin wanted to provide. Government counsel described the effect of that notice in a letter to Commission counsel as follows:
As you are aware, the effect of the notice pursuant to Section 38.02 of the Canada Evidence Act is to prohibit Mr. Colvin from providing information to the Commission, either in a public interest hearing or a pre-hearing interview unless or until the Attorney General of Canada or the Federal Court of Canada authorizes the disclosure of such information.38
Thus, Mr. Colvin was effectively silenced. The Government of Canada took the position that even in the pre-hearing interview context, with security-cleared counsel and behind closed doors, it would be a breach of s. 38 for the Commission even to speak to Mr. Colvin, let alone receive any of his documents. As a result, the Commission was completely precluded at that time from interviewing Mr. Colvin or from receiving any of the documents Mr. Colvin wished to provide. The Commission learned, in the course of the discussions surrounding Mr. Colvin, that as early as April 2009 (about six months earlier), Mr. Colvin had identified documents relevant to the hearings, and had contacted the Department of Justice in order to access those documents. Mr. Colvin was told that the Department of Justice was conducting assessments of those documents internally. However, as of October 7, 2009, Mr. Colvin had not been able to provide any of those documents to the Commission.
As Steven Chase of the Globe and Mail reported at the time:
Franz Kafka would have been proud to have penned an episode from Tuesday's Afghan detainee hearings where the government sought to undermine testimony from one of its own civil servants.
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- 2010 Canada anti-prorogation protests
- Bagram torture and prisoner abuse
- Canadian Afghan detainee issue
- Canada's role in the invasion of Afghanistan
- Canadian Forces casualties in Afghanistan
- Criticism of the War on Terrorism
- International public opinion on the war in Afghanistan
- Opposition to the War in Afghanistan (2001–present)
- Protests against the invasion of Afghanistan
- Timeline of the Canadian Afghan detainee issue
- War in Afghanistan (2001–present)
- Text of the affidavit signed by Richard Colvin, October 5, 2009
- Tonda MacCharles (November 21, 2009). "Richard Colvin: Portrait of a whistleblower; Friends say he's sincere, articulate, discreet. Foes say he's a rogue. Who, really, is Richard Colvin?". Toronto Star. Retrieved 6 February 2010.
- "All Afghan detainees likely tortured: diplomat". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 18 November 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-25.
- "A who's who of officials named in Richard Colvin's testimony"
- CBC News (December 31, 2009). "PM shuts down Parliament until March". CBC. Retrieved 2009-12-31.
- "Once the invisible man, now the centre of attention", Sonia Verma, in Globe and Mail, November 20, 2009, updated November 24, 2009
- Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (October 6, 2009). "Government trying to muzzle diplomat: lawyer". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 31 January 2010.
- Final Report MPCC 2008-42, page 294
- MPCC Afghanistan Public Interest Hearings, Testimony of Richard Colvin, Volume 5, 13 April 2010, page 201, line 10