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BY Bill Rankin, Communications Officer, Communications and Citizen Engagement Sector
Photos courtesy of Thérèse LeBlanc
CSC Assistant Deputy Commissioner Thérèse LeBlanc was high in the sky, gazing down from a Hercules air transport plane at the jagged, granite spine of the Hindu Kush, thousands of feet below. She was on her way from Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, to the city of Kandahar, a Taliban stronghold in the country’s southernmost reaches.
When LeBlanc reached her destination, she would become one of thousands of international workers including approximately 2,500 members of the Canadian Armed Forces currently serving as part of Joint Task Force Afghanistan. They play a key role in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force mission whose goal, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) is “to help bring security and stability, and foster development in Afghanistan.”
As a manager with decades of correctional expertise, LeBlanc’s three-week mission (mid-July to August 2006) was one of the most recent chapters in CSC’s involvement in Afghanistan. It started approximately four years ago when CSC Special Advisor Dru Allen journeyed to Kabul to help develop a 10-year strategy for the Afghan Ministry of Justice entitled Justice for All.
LeBlanc’s goal was to assess the Afghan correctional system in Kandahar: staff training needs, building and rebuilding of facilities, administrative reform and determine what role CSC could play in the future. Before departing for the southern city, LeBlanc made a four-day stop in Kabul, where she met with the Afghan minister of justice; Rick Reiman, Winnipeg Parole Area Director – CSC’s current representative in the capital; the head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan; and representatives from the Ministry of Justice working group on prisons and detentions centres, as well as other international partners involved in the rebuilding of the country.
“This set the stage for me,” commented LeBlanc. “and gave me an overall look at the national strategy, achievements to date and future challenges. I also toured the Pol E Charki Prison outside of Kabul [a multi-nationally funded project]. Old sections have been refurbished and a new maximum-security section area is being constructed as part of the Ministry of Justice’s strategic plan. It’s close to completion. My time in Kabul provided me with an overview and a framework on which to base my assessment of the progress in the prison system once I got to Kandahar.”
LeBlanc’s military transport touched down in the southern city at the Kandahar Air Force Base, home to a multinational security force of several thousand soldiers. During the first 48 hours, she met with Canadian military and Afghan government officials who provided an overview of the situation and challenges faced in the Kandahar region. For living accommodations, she was transported in a Canadian military armoured personnel carrier that threaded its way in a convoy to the smaller Canadian military base, known as the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), located across the city on the grounds of an old canning factory. Engineers had converted the facility to accommodate 250 troops as well as representatives from various federal government departments – the Canadian International Development Agency, DFAIT, RCMP and CSC – who are part of the international effort.
“It was a lot like living in a CSC correctional institution,” LeBlanc comments, “a perimeter wall and guard towers all around. You were free to travel anywhere within the perimeter but leaving the base required a military convoy escort. During those forays everyone’s life was at risk so you didn’t ask lightly to go. It had to be absolutely necessary.”
Sarpoza, the provincial prison, was a 40-minute drive from the PRT base. On atypical journey, with a searing, outdoor air temperature of 58 °C, the personnel carriers quickly heated up. Passengers sweated inside their 30-lb. flak jackets and constantly swigged from their water bottles to stave off dehydration.
LeBlanc toured various correctional facilities, communicating with staff through an interpreter, and seeing firsthand the basic conditions both for offenders and for the extremely dedicated employees. Based on her impressions, she has made numerous recommendations concerning possible training and mentoring opportunities between CSC trainers and Afghan prison staff and cross-training opportunities with the RCMP and Afghan National Police on such topics as search methods and human rights issues.
“The Afghans that I met were very grateful for Canada’s presence and assistance and wanted this to continue,” said LeBlanc. “And the young Canadian soldiers I talked to were extremely committed to the mission. They face the dangers with bravery. The RCMP is also doing great work with the Afghan police.”
All in all, LeBlanc says it was an amazing experience on so many levels and a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make a contribution to global security. Would she go back? “I’d love to,” she says, “but it would take some long conversations with my family in light of the continued security issues faced in the region!”
As a direct result of LeBlanc’s work, in early February CSC deployed two staff to the PRT to begin a training and mentoring program with staff at the provincial prison in Kandahar. ♦