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Colvin: ‘I am not a whistleblower’

Richard Colvin has counterattacked his political and military critics.

In a 16-page letter released today by his lawyer, Colvin responded to attacks on his credibility:

Following my testimony to the Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan, a number of other witnesses have testified before the Committee. Some of their evidence, with respect, was inaccurate or incomplete. This supplementary written evidence to the Committee aims to clarify some of these issues.

The letter specifies 17 assertions and refutes each of them, often at length. Point 13: "Colvin has no credibility." Colvin's response:

When working overseas as representatives of the Department of Foreign Affairs, we do not do so as individuals. Instead, we represent the Government of Canada. When we send reports to Ottawa, it is the institution ‐‐ in Kabul, the embassy; in Kandahar, the Provincial Reconstruction Team – that drafts, approves and sends the report.

For example, the key reports from the PRT ‐‐ the May 26, 2006 and June 2, 2006 reports – were collective products, co‐drafted and/ or signed by DFAIT, DND and the RCMP. The PRT was the ‘whole‐of‐government’ vehicle for the province and those reports expressed the authoritative voice of the Canadian government in Kandahar. Similarly, any reporting sent from the embassy in Kabul expressed the views of the whole embassy, not one individual.

On the question of credibility, some officials have suggested that I only left the PRT once and was mostly confined to compounds. For the record, I went “outside the wire” in Kandahar at least eleven times, including attending a shura of 300 elders in northern Kandahar (which was widely covered by the media), visiting villages in Arghandab, and spending the night at a forward operating base in Panjwayi. In Kabul, I left the protected embassy zone (presumably “the wire”) an average of twice a day ‐‐ probably 500 times in total. I also travelled to other provinces.

The argument also suggests a misunderstanding about the PRT. We received a constant stream of visitors, including the governor, tribal elders, international officials, aid and counternarcotics workers, and Afghan government officials and Provincial Council members. We also had many indigenous sources of information, including Afghan staff; CIDA, RCMP and USAID officials; a tactical operations centre; civil‐military officers; intelligence capabilities; and diplomatic and military reporting from Kandahar airfield (KAF) and Kabul. These collectively provided better information than trips into the field.

Point 17: "Why did he speak up then? What was his motive?"

Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon has suggested that I “availed myself of the prerogatives of a whistleblower,” and that the government accordingly granted me whistleblower protections.

I am not a whistleblower. Rather, I am a loyal servant of the Crown who did his job in Afghanistan to the best of his abilities, working through internal and authorized channels.

In April 2009, long after I had left Afghanistan, I was subpoenaed by the MPCC. Following this subpoena, which was renewed in July after MPCC hearings were delayed, Department of Justice (DoJ) officials made a number of inaccurate statements about my role in Afghanistan.

DoJ moreover sent a letter demanding that I prove whether I had in fact spoken to any Military Police in Kandahar –‐ and, if so, to whom and when. (The MPCC’s mandate was limited to Military Police. DoJ claimed that my testimony would be irrelevant to MPCC and therefore moved to quash my subpoena.)

In response to DoJ’s inaccurate statements and their written request for clarification, I filed an affidavit with the MPCC to demonstrate that my reports had in fact reached the Military Police.

At the same time as I was filing my affidavit, MPCC chair Peter Tinsley was adjourning the MPCC in the face of systematic government challenges. With the MPCC process on hold, the Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan decided to investigate the detainee issue. The Committee ‘invited’ me in writing to appear and testify. My lawyer confirmed with the Committee that this ‘invitation’ has the force of a subpoena. Attendance is compulsory and testimony must be truthful.

Contrary to Minister Cannon’s suggestion, I testified in Parliament because I was summoned by the Committee and legally compelled to speak the truth.

I feel it is my duty as a public servant, when commanded to appear before the Parliamentary Committee, to give evidence that is full, frank and fair. I feel duty bound to be frank and thorough in responding to the Committee’s inquiries.

Media response has been swift in the Globe and Mail (which still calls Colvin a “whistleblower”), The Star (also sticking with “whistleblower”), and the CBC.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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