Saturday, March 06, 2010

Notes on the Afghan issue

On the Afghan detainee document issue that is coming to the fore again, a few things today for consideration.

Regarding this Globe report: "Retired judge asked to review documents in detainee affair." The report frames Nicholson's announcement of Iacobucci's involvement to review documents as effectively neutering the opposition's "attack." That's quite a conclusion given that the issue seems to be in a holding pattern. Liberal MP Derek Lee, for one, quoted in the same story, is described as being "undeterred" by Nicholson's announcement and is waiting to see just what it is exactly that the government is putting forward (and see below). Further, Ujjal Dosanjh tweeted last night that there should be a judicial public inquiry or the documents should be released. Then the NDP are putting forward a March 19th deadline to bring their own contempt motion if the parliamentary vote is not satisfied. So to say that the issue is "neutered" is off.

Also in that Globe report, the information that Iacobucci "was out of the country and unavailable for comment Friday." This might explain the lack of terms of reference and underscore that the government has scrambled to come up with his involvement as an answer to Lee's prospective motion in the first place. As Nicholson stated in the House of Commons yesterday: "We are putting this together in our discussions with Mr. Iacobucci. This is something that has just come together in the last little while." As they are "putting this together," they should take note of the points made by Lee in response to Nicholson:
There are two or three things missing and I think the House should be aware of them. I realize we are not in a debate, but I want to point out to the minister and the government that at no point in his remarks today, as far as I could tell, has the minister acknowledged the power of the House to subpoena these documents, to send for persons, papers, and records. At no point did the minister acknowledge that.

Second, in asking a third party to do the government's work, no one could take objection to that, but I would have thought the government would already have people capable of determining which documents needed protection before or after a parliamentary procedure.

The government has not asked Parliament to do this. The government has not asked Parliament to ask Mr. Iacobucci to do this work. There is a very important element missing in this. I invite the government to come forward with something that has a bit more permanence and is more parliamentary.

From my point of view, the minister's statement this morning does not address the fundamental problem of the government having failed totally to acknowledge the power of the House and its committees. If the third party doing this administrative review of the documents that are in need of protection is not informed of this, and it is not made part of his mandate, members will end up having the same problem during and after the exercise.

I invite the minister even now to rise and acknowledge the full, unabridged power of this House to send for persons, papers, and records, the way it has always been for over 300 years.
Nicholson's response:
Mr. Speaker, I want to acknowledge the interest the hon. member has taken in this subject. As a matter of fact, it goes back many years. For a couple of decades the hon. member has taken on this challenge. I have read with interest a number of the comments he has made.

One of the things all members agree on is that nobody wants to do anything that would in any way endanger public security or indeed put in danger individuals who are serving our country, be they in Afghanistan or in another place.

I did rise on the point of order. As I indicated to the hon. member for Wascana with respect to the terms and parameters, I will make those available as quickly as possible.

Again, I believe I am among those who have a clear understanding of the power of Parliament and the responsibilities members have. I believe the hon. member and other members of the House will look at what the government is trying to do.

The government is trying to make information available, but at the same time it recognizes the legitimate interest we all have in the protection of the men and women who serve Canada in Afghanistan and also serve the public interests of the country.

I hope that is of some help to the hon. member.
Also today, the CBC report from last night is a must read:
Federal government documents on Afghan detainees suggest that Canadian officials intended some prisoners to be tortured in order to gather intelligence, according to a legal expert.
That CBC report follows a similar item from Jim Travers over a week ago about Canada possibly being involved in rendition and disappearing detainees.