The Richard Colvin Case

Richard Colvin
Richard Colvin

Richard Colvin was a senior diplomat posted in Afghanistan from April 2006  to October 2007. Starting in May 2006 he repeatedly raised concerns about the potential for torture of prisoners handed over by the Canadian military to Afghan police.

He raised these concerns to senior officials at Foreign Affairs and National Defence, copying 79 different people across government.

An inquiry into the actions of the Canadian military in Afghanistan was launched in February 2007 by commissioner Peter Tinsley, head of the Military Police Complaints Commission (MPCC), who has since complained about obstruction and interference by the government.

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.

Government ministers responded immediately to Colvin's testimony with an all-out attack on his credibility, claiming for example that his evidence (obtained from organizations such as the Red Cross) was just hearsay – because Colvin had not personally witnessed prisoners being tortured.

Key evidence

Testimony to the Commons committee  – November 18, 2009
Colvin's opening statement (20 minutes) and questions put to him by the committee members (1 hour 10 minutes) -- audio plus transcript.

Affidavit to the MPCC – October 14, 2009
Colvins main allegations: the first significant evidence from him to become public -- pdf document.


PMO issued instructions on denying abuse in '07 – Toronto Star, November 22, 2009

Portrait of a whistleblower – Toronto Star, November 21, 2009

Whistleblower under attack – Toronto Star, November 20, 2009

Critics want Afghan torture case inquiry – Toronto Star, November 20, 2009

Canada turned blind eye to Afghan abuses: diplomat – Reuters, November 20, 2009

Feds refuse legal funding to whistleblower diplomat – Canadian Press, October 26, 2009

Another courageous DFAIT truth-teller at risk? – FAIR newsletter, October 26, 2009

Canadians warned early that Afghan detainees faced torture – Globe & Mail, October 14, 2009

Federal lawyers pressure diplomat at detainees probe: lawyer – Globe & Mail, October 13, 2009

Ottawa leaned on diplomat to stop Afghan testimony: lawyer – Globe and Mail, October 13, 2009

Canadian diplomat reported Afghan prisoner abuse in 2006 – Canwest, October 13, 2009

Tories try to block witnesses at military commission –, October 13, 2009


Hillier didn't see memos but knew about abuse – by TicToc, November 20, 2009

Justice Department vs. truth-tellers – by Editor, October 27, 2009