Richard Colvin (foreign service officer)

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Richard Colvin is a Canadian foreign service officer who gained public attention as a witness in the Canadian Afghan detainee issue. He appeared before the Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan in late 2009 where he discussed a signed affidavit alleging that Afghan detainees turned over to Afghanistan prisons by Canadian soldiers were tortured.[1][2][3][4] The events surrounding this issue, and the Conservative government's response to his testimony, were, according to many opposition politicians, closely related to the widespread anti-prorogation protests.[5]

Early life[edit]

Colvin was born in 1969 in a village near Coventry, Great Britain, where he lived until the age of 16, when his family migrated to Canada, settling near Waterdown, Ontario. He studied international relations and Russian language at the University of Toronto, and in 1992 joined the Canadian foreign service after passing his second attempt at the foreign service exam. In 2002, he was posted to Ramallah in the Palestinian territories, where he served on a new political mission established in the wake of Yasser Arafat's death. He was posted back to Calgary in 2005 where he served before being posted to Afghanistan.[6]

As a witness in the Afghan detainee issue[edit]

On October 6, 2009, the lawyer for Colvin (called to testify at a hearing into allegations of Afghan prison torture) said that the Conservative government was trying to keep her client silent. In a letter sent to the Canadian Department of Justice and obtained by CBC News, lawyer Lori Bokenfohr said the government invoked the national security order in response to Colvin's decision to co-operate with the Military Police Complaints Commission.[7]


During his testimony to a Parliamentary committee in November 2009, Colvin said Canada did not monitor detainee conditions in Afghanistan and that detainees transferred by Canadians to Afghan prisons were likely tortured. "According to our information, the likelihood is that all the Afghans we handed over were tortured", Colvin said. "For interrogators in Kandahar, it was a standard operating procedure". Colvin worked in Kandahar in 2006 before moving to Kabul. He said his reports were ignored and he was eventually told to stop putting the reports in writing.


Colvin’s testimony at the Parliamentary committee was “…politely but steadily chipped away by evidence from other witnesses that included three former Canadian ambassadors to Afghanistan and other senior officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade who were assigned to the Afghanistan file, a representative from the Correctional Service of Canada (who was in Kandahar and made 47 visits to prisons, most of them unannounced) and by a number of serving and retired general officers” (Globe and Mail, C.Blatchford, 14 May 2010).

Ultimately, relatively little weight was attributed to Colvin's testimony by the Military Police Complaints Commission in its final report on the subject of Afghan detainee transfers, tabled on 27 June 2012. Testifying under cross-examination in a quasi-judicial as opposed to a sympathetic political forum, Colvin was judged to have been "out of the loop" with regards to detainee matters in the time period covered by the Amnesty International and British Columbia Civil Liberties Association complaint.[8] Under cross-examination Colvin also admitted that "my understanding of international law is quite sketchy".[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Text of the affidavit signed by Richard Colvin, October 5, 2009
  2. ^ Tonda MacCharles (November 21, 2009). "Richard Colvin: Portrait of a whistleblower; Friends say he's sincere, articulate, discreet. Foes say he's a rogue. Who, really, is Richard Colvin?". Toronto Star. Retrieved 6 February 2010.
  3. ^ "All Afghan detainees likely tortured: diplomat". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 18 November 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-25.
  4. ^ "A who's who of officials named in Richard Colvin's testimony"
  5. ^ CBC News (December 31, 2009). "PM shuts down Parliament until March". CBC. Retrieved 2009-12-31.
  6. ^ "Once the invisible man, now the centre of attention", Sonia Verma, in Globe and Mail, November 20, 2009, updated November 24, 2009
  7. ^ Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (October 6, 2009). "Government trying to muzzle diplomat: lawyer". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 31 January 2010.
  8. ^ Final Report MPCC 2008-42, page 294
  9. ^ MPCC Afghanistan Public Interest Hearings, Testimony of Richard Colvin, Volume 5, 13 April 2010, page 201, line 10

External links[edit]