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Accountability of private security forces questioned Print
GLORIA GALLOWAY - October 23, 2007

OTTAWA -- Federal opposition critics say there is a questionable chain of accountability governing the team of foreign mercenaries hired to provide security in Kabul for Canadian diplomats and dignitaries such as Prime Minister Harper.

Dawn Black, the defence critic for the federal New Democrats, says the government's decision to pay Saladin Security, a British firm with a long history of clandestine operations, to serve as bodyguards for Canadians in Afghanistan is something she will raise in Parliament's defence committee.

"It brings a lot of questions forward," Ms. Black said yesterday after The Globe and Mail revealed the contract between the government and Saladin. "There is the question of rules of engagement; there is the question of accountability."

The United States has a similar deal in Iraq with a firm called Blackwater USA, whose hired gunmen killed 17 Iraqi civilians last month while protecting a diplomatic convoy.

"We can see what's happened with Blackwater in the States - different firm but same premise - that the accountability factor and the rules of engagement were rather loose and worrisome," Ms. Black said. "So my questions would be around what are the rules of engagement, what is the accountability process with the people who have been hired?"

Saladin has not been publicly implicated in any alleged excesses or crimes attributed to private security firms in Afghanistan.

A spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier said the firm, which is employed by the Canadian embassy in Kabul, is certified and registered with local government authorities. "It operates in accordance with, and is subject to, Afghan law," he said. But it remained unclear whether operatives could be spirited out of the country in the event of a shooting.

Ms. Black says the fact that the firm was hired in a country where there are 2,500 Canadian troops is telling. "We've know for some time that the Canadian military is pretty stretched with this combat mission in Afghanistan," she said.

Bob Rae, the new foreign affairs critic for the Liberals, agrees that the critical questions in the hiring of Saladin are those around resources and accountability. "When I was in Iraq a couple of years ago on a contract with the National Democratic Institute I was protected by a private security company, so I am not about to say that there should not be private contractors," he said.

"But we need to ensure that all contracts in this area are public, and that the history and bona fides of anyone providing service are clear and transparent, and that there is full accountability for contracts."
 
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