CSIS policy unacceptable

Information gathered through torture can be used by Canadian security officials, thanks to a directive that allows for flexibility in particular situations.

On Feb. 8, CBC reported that Public Safety Minister Vic Toews wrote a letter to Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) Director Richard Fadden. The letter, written in December 2010, stated that “a threat to human life or public safety” constitutes an “exceptional circumstance.”

The order is a reversal of policy. Prior to this, CSIS would discard information if there was any inkling that it was tainted by torture.

CSIS’s new policy is a step back for Canada. Torture is a tactic prohibited by international law and Canada needs to take a strong stand against it.

It’s something we can’t accept in any form.

If Canadian security services are using information extracted by means of torture, it amounts to an implicit acceptance of inhumane interrogation practices.

Using information gathered through torture perpetuates an intelligence market where it’s acceptable.

The justification for the policy is to ensure public safety, inciting the long-standing fear of terrorism that is perpetuated by government officials and media. We can’t be working with people who discard the value of human life in order to protect it.

We should expect our government to take a firm stance on this issue, rather than shape policies that accommodate fear.

CSIS has been ordered to make the protection of life and property its overriding priority, but if this guiding principal leads to a contradiction of the Geneva Conventions, then priorities need to change.

As well as being morally reprehensible, the policy is misguided from a practical standpoint. A wide variety of experts agree that torture is often an unreliable source for information. There have been numerous accounts where people admit to crimes that they never committed while under duress. Using torture to acquire unreliable intelligence is counter-productive to a security apparatus.

Working with people, rather than hurting them, has proven to be a more effective method of collecting information, and should be standard practice.

We live with the fear that terrorist attacks are imminent, but it’s a fear that shouldn’t govern our actions. In protecting ourselves against those who seek to harm us, we can’t discard our values.


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