Canadian Forces Release Statistics on Afghanistan Detainees

Canada is participating in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan with 47 other nations at the request of the democratically elected government. Our ultimate aim is to leave Afghansitan to Afghans, a viable country that is better governed, more peaceful and more secure.

Since the beginning of our military operations in Afghanistan in October 2001, the Government of Canada has been committed to ensuring that individuals detained by the Canadian Forces (CF) are handled and transferred or released in accordance with our obligations under international law. Respect for the rule of law is an essential aspect of Canadian Forces operations. Members of the Canadian Forces and their civilian counterparts have consistently demonstrated tremendous professionalism in their respective roles regarding detainees.

Canada’s processes for the transfer of detainees to Afghan authorities have evolved over the years of our engagement in Afghanistan. Key to our efforts since May 2007 is a post-transfer monitoring program, a Diplomatic Contingency Plan, and a robust capacity building program for the Afghan justice and corrections sectors. The Diplomatic Contingency Plan is triggered in the event allegations of abuse of a Canadian-transferred detainee are received from any source, including during interviews with transferred detainees. In the event of an allegation, Canada notifies the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), and Afghan authorities, as appropriate. Canadian officials follow up on the investigations.


After more than three decades of civil conflict, the capacity of the Afghan justice and correctional system was seriously eroded. Canada and our allies understood the need to support law and order in Afghanistan by building the capacity of the police, judicial and corrections sectors through targeted capacity-building efforts.

We continue to work with and train the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) to increase the Afghan government’s capacity to handle detainees appropriately. Canada has made significant investments to help build capacity in rule of law functions, including police, judicial and correctional services. Canada also continues to fund and work closely with independent organizations, including the AIHRC, to strengthen their abilities to monitor, investigate, report and act on issues involving the treatment of detainees.

In the early stages of Canada’s engagement in Afghanistan, the Canadian Forces transferred Afghan detainees to U.S. authorities and, while on joint operations supporting capacity building of the ANSF, to Afghan authorities. Since the December 2005 Canada-Afghanistan Arrangement for the Transfer of Detainees was signed, all Canadian Forces detainees have been transferred to Afghan authorities pursuant to specific modalities set out therein. The Government of Afghanistan has primary responsibility for ensuring that the rights of those transferred into its custody are respected.

Recognition of the Afghan government’s sovereign responsibility for all issues related to the rule of law and justice in its territory underpins the formal arrangement of 18 December 2005. This established procedures for the transfer of detainees to Afghan authorities. Canada does not operate permanent detention facilities in Afghanistan.

In addition to setting the framework for transfers, this arrangement reinforced the commitments of both parties to treat detainees humanely and in accordance with the standards of the Third Geneva Convention. This arrangement also specifically prohibits the application of the death penalty to any Canadian-transferred detainee.

On 3 May 2007, Canada signed a Supplementary Arrangement which clarified Canada’s expectations and the Government of Afghanistan’s responsibilities. Importantly, this supplementary arrangement provides Canadian officials with unrestricted and private access to Canadian transferred detainees, and commits Afghan authorities to notify us when a detainee is transferred, sentenced or released, or his status changes in any way. Canada retains the right to refuse transfer to a third party. In the case of allegations of mistreatment, the Afghan Government committed through this Arrangement to investigate and, when appropriate, bring to justice suspected offenders in accordance with Afghan law and applicable international legal standards.

Civilian Government of Canada officials monitor the treatment of Canadian-transferred detainees in Afghan detention facilities up to the point where detainees are sentenced by Afghan authorities, or are released from custody.

Detention Procedures

Detainees are individuals captured by the Canadian Forces in the course of military operations who pose a threat to Canadians, Allies or Afghans – individuals who have either attacked or killed Canadian soldiers and officials, Afghan citizens or our international partners, or in respect of whom there is credible information to suggest that they present a threat.

In accordance with their obligations under international humanitarian law, the Canadian Forces (CF) treats all detainees humanely; as a matter of policy, this includes the standards of protection afforded by the Third Geneva Conventions. Protections include providing detainees with food, shelter and necessary medical attention. Specific training is provided to Canadian Forces members involved in the handling and transfer of detainees.

When a decision is made to hold a detainee, that individual, whether injured or not, is brought to the Role 3 Multinational Medical Unit (MMU) for medical assessment. Non-injured detainees may then be handed over to the temporary detention centre on the Canadian base in Kandahar, while the injured receive necessary treatment. Detainees in Canadian custody are afforded the same medical treatment as CF members and either remain at the MMU for continuous care or are moved to the detention centre with visits to the MMU when necessary.

Detainees remain under treatment in the MMU at Kandahar Air Field until their discharge, and while in detention are provided access to follow-up treatment if required.

Injured detainees who are subject to transfer are held in CF custody until their medical condition permits transfer to Afghan authorities.

Conditions for transfer

The decision to continue to detain, transfer or release a detainee is an operational one that takes into consideration information from a number of Canadian, Afghan and international sources. The Canadian Task Force Commander is the sole authority who can make the determination of whether a detainee will be transferred or released by the Canadian Forces. His decision to transfer is premised on his confidence that there are no substantial grounds for believing that there exists a real risk that the detainee would be in danger of being subjected to torture or other forms of mistreatment at the hands of Afghan authorities.

In accordance with ISAF guidelines, the Canadian Commander makes every effort to hold detainees no longer than 96 hours, during which time the CF reviews all available information and assesses whether further detention, transfer or release is the appropriate course of action.

Operational decisions to hold detainees longer than ISAF guidelines can and do occur for a variety of reasons from medical to administrative to security. This decision is made by the Commander of Canadian Expeditionary Forces Command (CEFCOM) based on a recommendation from the Commander in Theatre and takes into consideration the facts on the ground and input from other government departments, including Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT).

Canada’s detainee monitoring process

The December 2005 and May 2007 Arrangements clearly outline the Canadian and Afghan governments’ roles and responsibilities with regard to the transfer and monitoring of Canadian-transferred detainees to Afghan authorities. The 2007 Supplementary Arrangement ensures unrestricted and private access to Canadian-transferred detainees. To track and monitor detainees once they have been transferred, the Arrangement limits the number of facilities where Canadian-transferred detainees can be held. The 2007 Arrangement also commits the Government of Afghanistan to investigate allegations of abuse and inform the Government of Canada, the AIHRC and the ICRC of the steps it is taking.

Civilian Government of Canada officials conduct post-transfer monitoring visits to assess the conditions of detention and treatment of Canadian-transferred detainees held in Afghan facilities.

Canada has a robust detainee monitoring regime, with regular, unannounced visits at a limited number of designated detention facilities in Kandahar and Kabul at varying times. However, the vast majority of detainees transferred by Canada remain in Kandahar and are held at either the National Directorate of Security (NDS) detention facility or the Ministry of Justice-run Sarpoza prison.

Since May 2007, when monitoring began, Canadian officials have conducted more than 260* visits to detention facilities, conducting more than 265* interviews with detainees.

Responding in the event of an allegation

Should allegations of abuse arise during interviews with Canadian-transferred detainees, the Diplomatic Contingency Plan is activated, which includes the notification of the Afghan authorities, the ICRC and AIHRC as well as senior Canadian officials from across government. It requires situation-dependent follow-up actions, including an investigation by the Afghan government, where appropriate, and may include more frequent follow-up visits or the suspension of transfers.

Suspension and resumption of transfer

In the event of an allegation of mistreatment of a Canadian-transferred detainee, or if Canada has any concerns that Afghan authorities are not abiding by the Arrangements, the Canadian Forces Task Force Commander may decide to pause or suspend transfers.

Since May 2007, detainee transfers have been suspended on one occasion (Nov 07 – Feb 08) and have been temporarily paused by the Canadian Commander of Task Force Kandahar on three separate occasions in 2009.

Individuals detained by the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan since 2001

Since the beginning of the Afghanistan mission in 2001, there has been a need to protect data related to the number of persons detained by the CF based on the need to maintain a high level of security for military operations in Theatre, to ensure that the lives of civilians, allies and Canadian Forces personnel in Afghanistan are not put at risk by the release of information of an operational security (OPSEC) nature. OPSEC is essential to maintain security and freedom of action by denying the enemy any information that would indicate the disposition, capabilities and intentions of the Canadian and allied forces, which could endanger the lives of CF personnel, allies and civilians.

A recent military review has led the CF to conclude that historical statistics pertaining to the number of individuals detained by the CF in Afghanistan no longer pose an immediate threat to current or recent operations because they do not indicate a particular pattern that the enemy could use against future operations.

Although some types of Afghanistan detainee-related information remain OPSEC in nature, basic statistical information such as number of persons detained, released, transferred and deceased, does not pose OPSEC concerns. Additionally, the CF has determined that releasing cumulative detainee-related statistics would not pose a threat to Canadians or our allies in the field. In light of these considerations, and in the interest of accuracy and transparency, historical detainee data will now be released on an annual basis – once per calendar year after being protected by the CF for a period of 12 months.

Individuals detained by the CF since 2001


In 2001 there were no individuals detained by the Canadian Forces.


In 2002, the CF detained 17 individuals. 5 were released by the CF, while 12 were transferred.


In 2003, the CF detained four (4) individuals. All were released by the CF.


In 2004, the CF detained 39 individuals. 18 were released by the CF, while 21 were transferred.


In 2005, the CF detained eight (8) individuals. One (1) was released by the CF, while seven (7) were transferred.


In 2006, the CF detained 142 individuals. 11 were released by the CF, while 129 were transferred. Two (2) individuals died of wounds as a result of injuries suffered on the battlefield. Both individuals passed away at the Role 3 hospital while receiving medical care.


In 2007, the CF detained 142 individuals. 43 were released by the CF, while 96 were transferred. Three (3) individuals were detained near the close of 2007, but were not transferred until 2008. These individuals are counted as “detained” in 2007 and “transferred” in 2008.


In 2008, the CF detained 87 individuals. 71 were released by the CF, while 18 were transferred. One (1) individual was detained near the close of 2008 and is included in the 2008 “detained.” His transfer will be accounted for in the 2009 statistics.

The data above is based on a thorough review of all available records dating back to 2001.

Since May 2007, when monitoring began, Canadian officials have conducted more than 260* visits to detention facilities, conducting more than 265* interviews with detainees.

*Current as of September 2010

Department of National Defence, Canada

More news and articles can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Follow on Facebook and/or on Twitter