OTTAWA — Human rights groups and opposition leaders in Canada were in uproar after the nation's public safety minister this week defended the use of information extracted through torture "if Canadian lives are at stake."

According a directive obtained by Canadian media through an access to information request, Ottawa ordered its spy service in 2010 not to discard information gleaned from torture abroad, after it had publicly insisted it would not use "tainted" information.

Opposition MPs on Tuesday seized on the policy reversal to suggest that the Conservative government was turning a blind eye to torture.

"You are indirectly supporting torture, encouraging torture," said opposition New Democratic Party MP Jack Harris.

Amnesty International also condemned the new policy.

To this, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews responded in the House: "Information obtained by torture is always discounted. However, the problem is whether one can safely ignore the information if Canadian lives and property are at stake."

Canada's public broadcaster CBC, citing the documents, said the Canadian Security Intelligence Service was directed by the minister to "make the protection of life and property its overriding priority."

In "exceptional circumstances" where there is a threat to human life or public safety, CSIS may share information with relevant authorities, "including information based on intelligence provided by foreign agencies that may have been derived from the use of torture or mistreatment."

Ignoring such information would represent "an unacceptable risk to public safety," the document adds.