Afghan records deal reached without NDP

The NDP is refusing to endorse a deal reached between the Conservative government and other opposition parties regarding access to documents relating to detainee transfers.

The NDP is refusing to endorse a deal reached between the Conservative government and other opposition parties to grant MPs access to uncensored documents relating to Afghan detainee transfers.

A man Afghan authorities suspect of insurgency-related activities is interrogated during a joint Canadian-Afghan army patrol in the Panjwaii district of Kandahar province in July 2009. ((Colin Perkel/Canadian Press))

Government House leader Jay Hill rose in the Commons on Monday morning to announce he expected Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe to sign the agreement "in very short order."

It came shortly after New Democrat representative Jack Harris emerged from a Tuesday morning all-party meeting and said the deal reached between the other three parties is too narrow and his party can't support it. Harris also reiterated his party's calls for a full public inquiry.

"We're not part of it," Harris told reporters on Parliament Hill. "This will not get at the truth. This will not allow parliamentarians to see all unredacted documents."

Liberal House leader Ralph Goodale told the Commons the success of the agreement will depend on the "honest behaviour" of all parties involved and vowed the Liberals "will continue to be alert and vigilant in the process."

Last month, House Speaker Peter Milliken ruled the Conservatives breached parliamentary privilege by denying MPs access to uncensored material pertaining to detainee transfers by Canadian soldiers. A special parliamentary committee on the Afghanistan mission is examining allegations detainees were tortured after they were handed over to Afghan officials. 

The Conservatives and the Canadian military have steadfastly denied that Canadian officials were aware of allegations the Afghan security forces tortured detainees, but the government has refused to make public thousands of pages of documents related to the transfers without major redactions.

In his ruling, Milliken called on all parties to reach a compromise regarding the documents that would respect Parliament's right to review the material, while also ensuring national security concerns are addressed.

Bloc House leader Pierre Paquette said the deal respects the Speaker's ruling and will allow a group of chosen MPs to have the option to report back to the House if they think it's necessary.

After all parties reached a tentative deal four weeks ago, opposition leaders accused the Conservative government of dragging its heels in subsequent negotiations to finalize the agreement.

MPs can't see cabinet records: NDP

The compromise called for a committee of MPs to take an oath of confidentiality and examine unredacted documents to determine whether the material was relevant to allegations that Afghan authorities tortured prisoners that were handed over by Canadian troops.

Jack Harris, NDP MP for St. John's East, speaks in the House of Commons. ((Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press))

Under the compromise, documents deemed relevant would then be passed on to a panel of experts who would determine how to release the information to all MPs and the public "without compromising national security."

But the NDP's Harris said the current deal prevents MPs from reviewing all material because a panel of jurists will vet documents  the government claims to be matters of cabinet confidentiality or solicitor-client privilege before deciding whether to hand them over to politicians.

"We believe it fails the test of people having trust in this process, and we think it's a no go," Harris said.

But the Liberals' Goodale disagreed with the NDP's argument, saying the government has surrendered unilateral control over the documents and "all relevant and necessary information will be available."

The Liberals also announced former leader Stéphane Dion and MP Byron Wilfert would represent their party on the panel.