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Richard Colvin

February 27, 2012


The Diplomat – Posted in Afghanistan from 2006 to 2008, Richard Colvin tried to sound the alarm on prisoners facing torture after Canadian soldiers handed them over to Afghan security forces. Private memos he wrote paved the way for his explosive testimony in Parliament. Mr. Colvin has said the Conservative government smeared him publicly rather than deal with the substance of the detainee issue (Fair Whistleblower)

habitual and copious note taker “…He joined Foreign Affairs 15 years ago, in his mid-20s, with the idea that – in the words of one source close to him – Canada might not be a major player but “we’re a force for good, we stand for something.” His career has been marked by a steady climb through the foreign service ranks in many of the world’s hot spots: Sri Lanka, Russia, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Afghanistan and now the U.S. While in Moscow and Afghanistan, his career crossed paths with Chris Alexander, in Kabul, Canada’s youngest ambassador, and now a candidate for the Conservative party. He could not be reached for comment. Colvin twice briefly worked back at foreign affairs department headquarters in Ottawa, and now serves as first secretary in the intelligence section at the Canadian embassy in Washington. Fluent in English, French and Russian, he was married briefly to a Russian woman, has no children, but does have a circle of friends who are reluctant to speak out publicly, fearing government reprisals against him. International aid workers speak glowingly of Colvin’s performance as a senior Canadian diplomatic official in Afghanistan. He was known as a habitual and copious note taker, quietly absorbing and recording data as he went about the business of getting to know and understand the file. But if Colvin took it all in, he never offered political commentary during his meetings with non-governmental workers. “Richard Colvin is what I would call an old-fashioned Canadian diplomat – mild-mannered, sincere, admired and respected,” said Norine MacDonald, president of the International Council on Security and Development, which operates field offices in three Afghan cities. “He genuinely believes what it says in the civil service manual about representing Canada and Canadian values…” (Richard Colvin: Portrait of a whistleblower)

abuse reports “…In one of the memos, Colvin outlined specific allegations of torture made by a detainee transferred to an Afghan prison by Canadian soldiers. But from the time Colvin arrived in Afghanistan until after he left, the government denied it had any “credible” information that would support allegations of torture. At the time, Prime Minister Stephen Harper described the published reports as “baseless allegations.” Stockwell Day, who at the time was public safety minister and in charge of Corrections Canada staff in Kandahar, said the abuse reports were “false allegations” and accused the opposition in the House of Commons of believing Taliban propaganda. The current public safety minister, Peter Van Loan, who was the government House leader in 2007, was even more adamant when he said, on April 29, 2007: “We have yet to see one specific allegation of torture. If they have one, we’d be happy to chase it down…” (Diplomat flagged Afghan torture allegations)

allegations of torture “…Colvin was not the only potential witness: 22 public servants were subpoenaed by the MPCC. However, after the Department of Justice lawyers sent letters to them, all except Colvin declined to testify. Colvin’s lawyer Lori Bokenfohr asserts that these letters were threatening in tone and designed to deter the recipients from testifying. Colvin’s allegations were explosive because senior members of the Conservative government including Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Prime Minister Harper have repeatedly denied any knowledge of warnings about the risk of prisoners being tortured. Opposition MPs claim that there has been a cover-up. Colvin’s assertions have been in the public domain since his 16-page affidavit was unsealed on October 14, 2009. A result of these revelations, a Commons committee was created to look into the allegations of torture. Colvin was subpoenaed and testfied to the committee on November 18. He described his experience of repeatedly warning senior officials about the risk of torture. He was told to stop putting his assertions in writing and in some cases his reports were censored. He also named several senior people who had received his reports and knew about his allegations…” (The Richard Colvin Case)

Richard Colvin is a Canadian diplomat 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…On December 30, 2009 Prime Minister Stephen Harper sought his second prorogation, which, according to his spokesperson, was to consult with Canadians about the economy. However, “…the move triggered immediate condemnation from opposition MPs who labelled the Conservative government’s move an ‘almost despotic’ attempt to muzzle parliamentarians amid controversy over the Afghan detainees affair.” This triggered a protest of thousands of citizens (Wikepedia).

RELATED READING:
Richard Colvin’s catch-22
A who’s who of officials named in Richard Colvin’s testimony
Government trying to muzzle diplomat: lawyer
Colvin groomed in hot-spots around the world
Meanwhile, at the Federal Court
Afghan abuse was very real
Richard Colvin’s testimony (Audio)
Richard Colvin blackballed? (Video)
Richard Colvin: CTV Interviews FAIR (Video)

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