Afghan documents debate heats up

Opposition MPs are calling on the House Speaker to rule that the government violated parliamentary privilege in refusing to hand over uncensored documents on the transfer of Afghan detainees.

Opposition MPs are calling on the House Speaker to rule that the government violated parliamentary privilege in refusing to hand over uncensored documents on the transfer of Afghan detainees.

New Democrat MP Jack Harris says three ministers should be found in contempt of Parliament if all unredacted documents are not handed over to the Afghanistan committee within 30 days of an instruction from the Speaker. ((Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press))
Liberal MP Derek Lee, NDP defence critic Jack Harris and Bloc Québécois MP Claude Bachand argued in the House on Thursday morning that the Conservatives' refusal to abide by a House order to hand over the documents flies in the face of parliamentary rights and traditions.

"If we don't stand up, efforts to undermine our constitution will have succeeded," Lee said.

Harris put forth a point of privilege calling for Defence Minister Peter MacKay, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon  to be found in contempt of the House if all unredacted documents are not handed over to the Afghanistan committee within 30 days of the Speaker's instruction.

The opposition has accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper of proroguing Parliament for six weeks in an attempt to thwart a special Commons committee's probe into allegations of torture of detainees transferred by Canadian soldiers into Afghan custody, as well as silence questions over what the government knew of the allegations and when it learned about them.

The government has maintained it can't hand over unredacted documents because of national security, but recently appointed retired Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci to review the material and provide a report.

On Thursday, deputy government whip Tom Lukiwski told the House the government is taking "unprecedented measures" by appointing Iacobucci and doing everything possible to comply with the order and keep MPs "well informed" of its efforts.

He also argued the Dec. 10 House order contains no provision for privacy or security, which he said means the material would now be in the public domain if the government had complied.

Documents solution a 'difficult challenge': Rae

Liberal MP Bob Rae took issue with Lukiwski's contention that the House was demanding the documents be released publicly in their entirety.

"We are looking for a solution to what is without question a difficult challenge," Rae later told reporters outside the House. "That is to say, how do we find a solution which deals with the concerns about security and secrecy and at the same time, respects the privileges of the House of Commons?"

Speaker Peter Milliken said he will consider the opposition motions after he hears from the responsible ministers.

On the weekend, the government released Iacobucci's terms of reference, which included making recommendations as to what information, if disclosed, would compromise national security; deciding whether disclosing information for the purpose of public interest outweighs the purpose of non-disclosure, and whether any information is subject to solicitor-client privilege.