• Blog
  • June 28th, 2016

Countering North Korea’s Nuclear advance

North Korean Launch

Frustration over North Korea’s “slow but steady nuclear advance” has reached the point where even its heretofore staunchest ally, China, has taken the unprecedented step of voting in favour of the latest UN Security Council resolution on North Korea.

Resolution 2270 puts in place one of the toughest sanctions regimes ever imposed by the Security Council, and there is already good evidence that China is taking steps to implement the regime, not just rhetorically support it. Some academic experts have even gone so far as to describe the change in Chinese view as a move from seeing North Korea as a “strategic asset” to a “strategic liability”.

There is much hyperbole surrounding this issue, not least from North Korea itself, which is prone to greatly exaggerating its own military capabilities in an effort to maintain domestic support and control as well as to dissuade potential adversaries.

In a Threat Assessment Brief entitled North Korea’s Nuclear Threat: How to Halt Its Slow but Steady Advance (ACA, 19 February 2016), Greg Theilmann argues a deeper understanding of North Korea’s motives is needed in order for the international community to effectively dissuade the DPRK from continuing on its current path. In addition, the international community needs to be flexible in their demands when dealing with that paranoid, ultra-secretive country.

He states:

In order to enhance international support for sanctions and exploit the opportunity strengthened sanctions may offer in the coming weeks, they must be accompanied by an openness to negotiate without requiring North Korea to capitulate on the key issue in dispute [its nuclear capability] as a precondition for starting talks.

Theilmann suggests that the Iran nuclear deal could be used as a template for engaging with North Korea on halting their nuclear weapons program. This means that South Korea and the United States should be willing to make concessions which could include reducing the number of American troops stationed in the South in exchange for the North agreeing to immediately halt all nuclear testing and nuclear enrichment processes.

In other words, the focus would be on freezing current activity backed up by international safeguards, rather than insisting on a total rollback of nuclear capacity.

Recently South Korea’s Ambassador to Canada, His Excellency Daeshik Jo, hosted a Dialogue on the “International Non-Proliferation Regime & the North Korean Nuclear Issue”. Invitees included current and former diplomats and military advisers, academics, and representatives of leading Ottawa-based think tanks, including the Rideau Institute. As part of his talk, Ambassador Jo noted the lack of a multilateral security cooperation mechanism in Northeast Asia.

For those Canadians involved in the North Pacific Cooperative Security Dialogue, launched in 1990 by then Foreign Minister Joe Clark, but which floundered due to bureaucratic opposition after he left the portfolio, we can only imagine what might have been, when all these years later, absent Canadian multilateral innovation, there still remains a void in multilateral diplomacy in the North Pacific.

On June 21st, 2016 North Korea conducted two more ballistic missile tests, reminding the international community that sanctions alone, no matter how tough, will not secure a positive change in North Korean behaviour.

For the full briefing note from the Arms Control Association, click North Korea’s Nuclear Threat: How to Halt Its Slow But Steady Advance (Threat Assessment Brief by Greg Theilmann, ACA, 19 February 2016).


Photo credit: Arms Control Association

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  • Blog
  • June 21st, 2016

Call to Action by Five Former Canadian Disarmament Ambassadors

Nuclear Free NATO

In a Commentary in today’s Ottawa Citizen, Five former Canadian Ambassadors for Disarmament, Douglas Roche, Peggy Mason, Chris Westdal, Paul Meyer and Marius Grinius, under four different Prime Ministers, outline what Canada can do to help eliminate nuclear weapons.

How did the world move from the “downward” trend of nuclear weapons [in the 1990s] to an “upward” shift? … The question that preoccupies us, as former Canadian ambassadors for disarmament, is what can be done to get nuclear disarmament back on track and, particularly, what can the new Canadian government do to move the process forward?

To that end they throw their support behind a recent initiative of the Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (CNANW). The network recently issued a “2016 CNANW Call to Action,” urging the Canadian government to sponsor a resolution this fall at the UN General Assembly “to negotiate a comprehensive, legally binding Convention that prohibits nuclear weapons and requires their verifiable elimination.”

A UN process now underway in Geneva is laying the groundwork for a new international treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. So if Canada acted, it would by no means be alone. A new humanitarian movement of countries deeply concerned about the catastrophic effects of the use of any one of the 15,800 nuclear weapons is growing. The stickler is NATO, which maintains, in its Strategic Concept, that nuclear weapons are the “supreme guarantee” of security.

The new Canadian government, which clearly wants to advance the broad UN agenda, will have to decide if its allegiance to an outmoded NATO policy is stronger than its commitment to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, whose members have made an “unequivocal undertaking” toward the elimination of nuclear weapons.”

For the full article on how Canada can expand its nuclear diplomacy to forge a path to a nuclear weapons-free world, click Disarmament ambassadors: Here’s how Canada can help eliminate nuclear weapons (Ottawa Citizen, 21 June 2016).

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  • Blog
  • June 17th, 2016

GOC shirks responsibilities under International Law

Canadian soldiers leading detaineesGOC denies e-70 Petition request for a Public Inquiry into Treatment of Afghan Detainees

The government of Prime Minister Trudeau [through Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan ] has just responded to e-petition E-70, which calls for a commission of inquiry into the treatment of Afghan detainees by Canada. Notwithstanding that the Liberal Party, while in opposition, voted for a motion in the House of Commons calling for just such a commission of inquiry (a motion which passed), the Liberal government has now rejected this call.”   – Craig Martin Scott, e-petition initiator

The text of the government response can be found here. (Scroll down the page to the section called “Government response” and click on the embedded PDF link OR click Govt Response to E70-421-00217_DND_E-date June 17 2016 to go directly to a copy of the response.

While its forces were deployed in Kandahar, Canada routinely transferred detainees to Afghan custody in full knowledge of the extremely high risk of torture. In so doing, Canada failed utterly to prevent the torture of many of them, thus flouting one of the most basic legal and moral obligations: the prohibition of torture, enshrined in customary international law, international human rights treaties, international humanitarian law and Canada’s own Criminal Code.

Yet, the Minister of Defence concludes the official response as follows:

Throughout Canada’s military operations in Afghanistan, the Government of Canada ensured individuals detained by the CAF were treated humanely and handled, transferred or released in accordance with our obligations under international law.”

Says Craig Scott:

These words could have been penned, word for word, by the previous Conservative government…. It is deeply disappointing that the Liberal government has chosen to add another link to a chain of complicity that for over a decade has seen non-stop efforts on the part of various Canadian government actors to hide the truth and block any form of accountability.”

On the issue of the government’s response coming from the Minister of National Defence, only one of the departments and agencies of government implicated in the matter, Craig Scott states:

I wish to be clear that it is wholly inappropriate that Minister Sajjan has headed this decision process, given the possibility he may have relevant general knowledge (and possibly also specific knowledge) arising from his command and military intelligence roles in Afghanistan at relevant times. Minister Sajjan should have recused himself from this decision.

I do not believe Canada can seriously promote human rights and rule of law values, let alone try to project a “Canada is back” sunny virtue, around the world when we are not prepared to account for Canadians’ concern about our own complicity in torture, disappearances and extra-judicial killings – by way of our policies and practices of transferring captives to Afghan agencies known to engage in frequent and/or systematic perpetration of these violations – and our own alleged direct involvement in abusive treatment of detainees while simultaneously setting up a system to hide the fact those detainees were in our custody (as just revealed in the La Presse reports).”

Click June 17 2016 – statement_by_C_Scott on govt e70 responsefor the full text of the remarks by Craig Scott.

The Open Letter from over 40 prominent Canadians including the Right Honourable Joe Clark calling for a Public Inquiry can be found Afghan_OpenLetter-Jun7-2016_EN.

Recent CBC news coverage of the government’s response can be found here.

Photo Credit: Canadian Forces

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Follow up to Open Letter on Afghan Detainee Transfers to Torture

Canadian soldiers leading detainees


Our June 8th blog post highlighted the Open Letter from 41 distinguished Canadians to Prime Minister Trudeau urging him to launch a Commission of Inquiry into Canada’s policies and practices relating to the transfer of hundreds of detainees to Afghan authorities during Canada’s military mission in that country despite the substantial risk of torture upon transfer.

The Open Letter was released at a press conference in the Charles Lynch Room, Centre Block, House of Commons.

The panel of speakers included Peggy Mason, President of the Rideau Institute and coordinator of the Open Letter; Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada; Paul Champ, human rights lawyer; and Craig Scott, Professor of Law at Osgoode Hall Law School and former Member of Parliament.

Said Mason:

The Open Letter recalls the systematic blockage by the previous Harper government of all efforts to investigate this matter. It further recalls the dogged efforts of then Liberal Opposition MPs Stéphane Dion and Ralph Goodale to convince the Harper government to establish a public inquiry.

For a video of the June 8th press conference releasing the Open Letter, click here.

For recent media reaction to the Open Letter, see: Canada urged to probe role in Afghan detainee ‘torture’: Rights advocates and politicians say public inquiry would help prevent similar abuses from happening again.  (Jillian Kestler-D’Amours, AlJazeera.com, 9 June 2016).

A June 8 news story in iPolitics reports that:

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan refused to say Wednesday whether he believes there should be a public inquiry into the Afghan detainee scandal.

It is important to note that the Open Letter is addressed to the Prime Minister of Canada because the allegations of complicity in torture involve not only the Department of National Defence, but also the then Foreign (now Global) Affairs Department and the Department of Public Security, as well as potentially the PCO and PMO.

In these circumstances only the Prime Minister himself can take effective action.  We urge him to do so.

For a further comment on the role of the Minister of Defence, see the Facebook post by Craig Scott here.

How can Canada hope to credibly champion human rights abroad if we are unwilling to hold ourselves to the same standard?


Photo credit: Canadian Armed Forces

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Open Letter to PM urging Public Inquiry on Afghan Detainee Transfers



Signed by 41 human rights experts, former and current parliamentarians and other eminent Canadians, an Open Letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was just released by the Rideau Institute, further to their earlier report, entitled: Torture of Afghan Detainees: Canada’s Alleged Complicity and the Need for a Public Inquiry, (Omar Sabry, September, 2015, Rideau Institute and Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives publishers). For the French Executive Summary of the Report click Sommaire executif.

“We write to you today to urge you to launch a Commission of Inquiry into Canada’s policies and practices relating to the transfer of hundreds of detainees to Afghan authorities during Canada’s military mission in that country.”

This Open Letter comes just days before the Government of Canada must formally respond in writing to e-70 (Afghanistan), an electronic petition to Parliament calling on the Government of Canada:

“to establish an independent judicial commission of inquiry to investigate the facts with respect to policies, practices, legal and other opinions, decisions, and conduct of Canadian government actors, including Ministers and senior officials, concerning Afghan detainees throughout Canada’s involvements in Afghanistan from 2001”.

The Open Letter recalls the systematic blockage by the previous Harper government of all efforts to investigate this matter. It further recalls the dogged efforts of then Liberal Opposition MPs, Stéphane Dion and Ralph Goodale, to convince the Harper government to establish a public inquiry.

In the words of the signatories to the Open letter: “As a result of the previous government’s stonewalling, there were no lessons learned, and no accountability. In a future military deployment, the same practices could reoccur.”  Accordingly, they call on Prime Minister Trudeau to establish a commission of inquiry that could make recommendations with a view to ensuring that Canadian policy and practice going forward is fully in accordance with the universal prohibition of torture.”

Click Afghan_OpenLetter-Jun7-2016_EN for the full English text of, and signatories to, the Open Letter to Prime Minister Trudeau and Afghan_OpenLetter-Jun7-2016_FR for the French version. See also the report: Torture of Afghan Detainees: Canada’s Alleged Complicity and the Need for a Public Inquiry, (Omar Sabry, September, 2015, Rideau Institute and Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives publishers).

The electronic petition to parliament  e-70 (Afghanistan) to which the government must respond in writing by 17 June 2016 is available at: https://petitions.parl.gc.ca/en/Petition/Details?Petition=e-70.

At the June 8th press conference launching the Open Letter, Alex Neve of Amnesty International outlined the reasons why a Commission of Inquiry into the approach Canada took to handling detainees in Afghanistan is so very important:

“Every time a prisoner was transferred from Canadian hands into Afghan custody – transferred despite a well documented, well known risk of torture – every time that happened, the Canadian soldiers and military police on the ground, their senior and commanding officers, and the military brass and responsible ministers who gave the orders and set the policy, all became complicit in torture.”

For the full text of his remarks click: Alex-Neve-Afghan prisoners-June-8.

For the full text of remarks by  Craig Scott click: Craig Scott remarks June 8 on release of Open Letter.

For recent media reaction to the Open Letter, see: “Trudeau urged to reopen Afghan detainee investigation” (The Canadian Press, June 8, 2016)

And see the initial non-responsive comments by Defence Minister Hajit Sajjan here: Defence Minister deflects call to action by humanitarian leaders.  Note that several Ministries are involved – Global Affairs, National Defence and Public Safety – so action by the Prime Minister is required.

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