Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The epic document struggle rolls on

The detainee document fight lives on to Friday with one major issue left to be resolved (below):
"House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken has agreed to a request from MPs for more time to reach a deal on releasing uncensored documents regarding the Afghan detainee controversy.

Conservative House Leader Jay Hill made the request on behalf of all the parties, shortly before question period Tuesday.

The parties asked for an extension until Friday at 1:30 p.m.

The Speaker agreed, saying he will 'wait patiently.'"
On behalf of "all" the parties. Huh. Further information on that point:
Goodale indicated he was not keen on an extension beyond Friday. Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff later echoed those sentiments.
The major procedural sticking point seems to be this:
What remains to work out is how the MPs would settle disagreement about which documents can be made public.

"The real issue is what happens in the event that the majority of this group wants to use this document to pursue our obligation as parliamentarians to hold the government to account and the government ultimately says, 'Oh, no, that is too secret to be able to do that.' How do you deal with that?" said NDP MP Jack Harris after Tuesday's meeting.
This seems to be the crux of it all, that the Conservatives want a unanimity standard to apply, that all have to agree to go forward with a document, for example. Here's a suggestion from Professor Mendes which recognizes the majority versus unanimity difficulty and recommends the Speaker be inserted as a resolution:
...there is a need for someone, if not, Iacobucci, to be an arbiter if the committee members do not agree on which documents can be publicly disclosed if there are alleged national security interests at stake.

The need for an arbiter, if the committee does not operate on a majority voting basis, is the second and perhaps the most challenging sticking point. There is nothing in the Speaker's ruling and Parliamentary authorities and procedures that would require unanimity on the committee. If the requirement for unanimity is insisted on, one solution to save the country for an unwanted constitutional confrontation, could be for the Speaker to play a second vital role as arbiter after consulting with the committee and his own security cleared advisors. (emphasis added)
So basically everyone is in agreement that MPs get to see the documents. It's whether there are any teeth in the seeing that is the remaining question. What good is it, after all, to be permitted into the room if you can't really do anything accountability wise with information that comes to light? If there's no accountability to be had, the process is a sham.