Thursday, May 21, 2009

Canada Shifts Course on Piracy

But will Michael Byers finally be happy about it?

Speaking on a controversy dealing with Canadian handling of pirates captured off the coast of Somalia, Defense Minister Peter MacKay has announced that Canada is in negotiations with Kenya to secure an agreement that would allow Canadian sailors to turn captured pirates over to a tribunal in Kenya for trial.

Previously, Canada had been disarming captured pirates before releasing them.

Questions had been raised over how seriously Canadian forces take piracy in that region. MacKay stated in unequivocal terms how seriously Canada takes this.

"Let's be clear — this is financial terrorism," MacKay announced. "This is not unlike acts of terrorism that we see in other parts of the world, whether it be kidnappings, whether it be issues related to fanaticism and extremism in places like Afghanistan."

One would wonder how Michael Byers would react to this news. Byers had previously denounced the government policy on piracy as "ludicrous".

"Its ludicrous for the Harper government to claim that it can't arrest and prosecute pirates,” Byers said. “Canada has a legal obligation under the United Nations and international law to bring pirates to justice.”

“The more interesting question is whether we have the authority to release,” Byers insisted.

But one may think back to Byers' stance on another issue -- the alleged torture of Taliban militants by Afghan authorities -- and realize that Byers' attitude toward this issue is actually rather hazardous.

Byers had denounced Canadian troops turning prisoners of war over to Afghan authorities as illegal in the wake of allegations that some of them had been tortured (the Al Qaeda training manual instructs captives to falsely claim they had been tortured, but that's another matter).

One would wonder how Byers would react if Canadian sailors turned captured pirates over to Kenyan authorities who tortured them. Kenya, like Afghanistan, has a history of torturing prisoners.

In fact, negotiating a deal with Kenya similar to the one negotiated with Afghanistan in the wake of torture allegations is actually the right thing to do.

Canadian officials should retain access to any prisoners turned over to any other state so we may ensure that they aren't being tortured. While some claims of torture will naturally lack credibility -- those of aforementioned Taliban or Al Qaeda militants -- they all must be investigated fully. Canada cannot allow itself to be willingly complicit in torture.

However Byers would have reacted to the torture of Somalian pirates by Kenyan officials, one would have to imagine that he wouldn't have reacted favourably. Moreover, one can assume he would have blamed the Harper government for that torture.

Fortunately for Byers, nothing of the like has come to pass. Considering that it's been his stance that Canada must seek the prosecution of captured pirates, he would have been complicit in that torture.

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