Kim Mackrael summarizes the implications for Canada of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee report that reveals the CIA has used torture to extract information from suspected terrorists. In another article entitled, “Suspect tortured by CIA figured in Canadian security cases” (December 10, 2014), author Tu Thanh Ha reviews the facts and chain of events around the CIA torture of Abu Zubaydah, resulting in information that the Canadian government tried to use, but Canadian judges ruled the evidence not reliable.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Social studies, history, law, current events

Key Question(s) to Explore:

  • Should Canada use information gained by torture?

New Terminology:

Detainee, hypothermia, counter-terror, rendition.

Materials Needed:

Globe article, the Internet

Time required: 30 minutes

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

Although it was widely suspected, the fact that the CIA has been using torture to get suspected terrorists to provide information has shocked most democratic communities. The United States has received muted approval for producing the Senate report, indicating that its system of justice ultimately does work in this regard, but the fact that the CIA violated U.S. laws and treaty obligations is deeply troubling to civil liberties advocates especially. And the report claims that the information gained from torture was not useful.

Meanwhile, Canada has been receiving information from the CIA but even after the Intelligence Committee report, the Canadian government has not ruled out using  or acting on information gained by torture, according to Jason Tamming of the Ministry of Public Safety.

Students will discuss the difficult issues around the use of information received via torture and will write a short essay defending their position on the use of torture and Canada’s complicity to date.

Action (lesson plan and task):

  • Start by suggesting the following scenario:

You are the Canadian government’s Minister of Public Safety. You receive information that terrorists are planning an attack at a specific location in Canada and that if it is successful a number of Canadians will likely be killed. You are also told that this information was gained by torture.  Yet, according to the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, “The prohibition against torture in Canadian and international law is absolute.” You are also told that, according to a U.S. Senate Committee Report on the use of torture, the information gained from it is not reliable or useful. Would you use this information to prevent a possible terrorist attack?

  • Students will have varying opinions on this issue. Encourage them to imagine the consequences of a decision for or against the use of this information. For example, ask: “How would you feel if your friends or family were killed in such an attack because the information was not used?”
  • Ask students what kinds of torture they think was involved.
  • Ask for volunteers to read the article by Kim Mackrael aloud to class. Ensure that students know the meanings of some of the terms, such as “rendition” (to take a prisoner from a country that does not allow torture to one that does, with the purpose of extracting information by methods not allowed in the original country).  Explain “waterboarding.” (Prisoners are placed on their backs and a cloth is placed over their face. Water is poured over the cloth, which creates the sensation of being drowned.)
  • After the reading, continue the discussion. Ask if anyone has changed his or her opinion on the original question, above, and if so, why.
  • Next, assign an essay entitled, “Canada should/should not a) allow foreign governments to use Canadian air bases as a stopover for cases of rendition, and b) permit the use of information gained via torture.”
  • Students can use both articles supplied, as well as the information supplied on this page of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association website:
  • Consider a later discussion about the issues when you have read and graded students’ essays.

Consolidation of Learning:

  • Discussion following the reading of the article; further discussion after the essays have been completed and graded.
Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

  • Students hold and are able to express an informed opinion on Canada’s official use of information gained by torture.

Confirming Activity:

  • Evaluation of the students’ essays.