Top general OK with MPs seeing Afghan papers
Parties meet to find consensus on issuing uncensored versions of documents
The chief of Canada's defence staff says he's not opposed to members of Parliament seeing hundreds of pages of government documents related to Afghan detainee transfers.
"I'm very proud of what our men and women do. We're not perfect," Gen. Walter Natynczyk told CBC News on Thursday. "But when our men and women do the right things, we're proud. When they don't do the right things, we take action, as is happening with regard to various trials ongoing right now."
Opposition parties have berated the government for months for refusing to issue unredacted versions of the documents, which discuss the transfer of detainees captured by Canadian Forces in Afghanistan to Afghan custody.
The aim of obtaining the uncensored papers was to assist a parliamentary committee's investigation into allegations that Canadian officials knew transferred detainees were being tortured by Afghan officials.
The Conservative government says national security considerations bar it from releasing the material.
CBC News asked Natynczyk on Thursday, "Do you have any fears of people poring over those documents?"
Natynczyk responded: "Not at all, not at all."
Commons Speaker Peter Milliken ruled this week that the government was wrong in refusing to produce uncensored documents. He called on all parties to find a solution within two weeks that would balance the national security concerns with Parliament's right to examine the material.
Liberal House leader Ralph Goodale says an all-party meeting Thursday to solve the impasse was "very constructive."
Speaking to reporters after the first meeting with his counterparts from other parties, Goodale said he was "quite encouraged" and feels that MPs can find a workable solution to satisfy Milliken's ruling. The House leaders intend to meet again early next week.
"We've all agreed that time is of the essence here," Goodale said.
He said his initial impression is that "all parties are taking the Speaker's ruling in the detail and the spirit in which it is intended."
But NDP defence critic Jack Harris said it was too early to say whether he was hopeful a deal could be reached.
"We're not by any means at any agreement even on principles, though there was a suggestion by all that we should try to do this quickly, rather than go down to the wire," he said.
Opposition parties passed a motion in the Commons last December ordering Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government to produce unredacted versions of the documents.
NDP wants MPs vetting material: Harris
The Conservatives could still try to challenge Milliken's ruling through the Supreme Court, or put it to a non-confidence vote in the House — which could trigger an election if the three opposition parties vote against the government.
The prime minister said Wednesday he is open to "any reasonable suggestion" to end the impasse over Afghan records but stressed his government must also meet other legal obligations.
The government recently appointed retired Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci to review the Afghan material to determine what can be released. But the opposition decried the terms of his mandate, noting he only reports to the government — not Parliament.
Goodale said the House leaders have not resolved what will happen to Iacobucci's review. He also left open the possibility a change in the terms of Iacobucci's mandate could settle the impasse.
"Everything at this stage is on the table," he said.
The NDP's Harris said his party wants a vetting process directly involving MPs.
"There's no magic about the number," Harris told CBC News. "There have to be parliamentarians, MPs looking at these documents and making the decisions as to what is truly something that ought not to be made public because of security interests."
- An earlier version of this story said Gen. Walter Natynczyk would not object to the "release" of the documents in question. He was commenting on the release of the documents to members of Parliament only, not to the general public.Apr 30, 2010 1:50 PM ET