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Truth-seekers 145, Coverup 143

The Liberals motion asserting the supremacy of Parliament calling on the government to release all Afghanistan detainees/torture memos to the Afghanistan in unredacted form has passed:

MPs order release of Afghan torture documents: Harper loses showdown over Afghanistan files

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has lost its iron grip on information about detainee treatment in Afghanistan after a showdown that pitted the power of the ruling party against the power of Parliament. The Liberals narrowly pushed through a motion in the Commons on Thursday that forces Harper’s government to release waves of unedited documents so that Parliament can examine whether Afghan prisoners detained by Canadian forces were subject to torture when handed over to local authorities, and what the government knew about the issue. The motion passed with a vote of 145-143.

Failure to hand over the material.. could result in the Conservative government being found in contempt of Parliament and could see the Commons asking the police to step in and obtain the information that has now been formally ordered released.

Will the government try to resist this order? Probably. The concept of the “supremacy of Parliament” is not able to be appealed to the courts, as in our Westminster setup of government the courts have no jurisdiction over Parliament’s power, but the Harper government may try to go to court anyhow – probably arguing that Parliament overstepped its authority or something. I’ve no doubt they will try to stall on releasing this info as long as possible.

UPDATE @ 12:46 pm: Predictably, the Conservatives aren’t going to release the documents willingly to Parliament. It appears they will try to fight this in the courts. Sure isn’t great optics for the government, as Steve comments.

The next steps? I’ve been told that the opposition parties may seek a Speaker’s Warrant, which basically orders the government to release all documents forthwith, as expressed by Parliament’s vote. If they refuse, as they are indicating today, another vote could/would be held finding the government in contempt of Parliament (Ministers and/or MP’s found in contempt could be grilled by a special session of the House of Commons) and as the news article states, the Commons would then be in the position of ordering the police to collect the documents on behalf of Parliament. The Conservatives could still of course try to block this in court – then the fight becomes whether the courts have the jurisdiction to override Parliamentary supremacy, which as indicated in our system of Westminster government, they cannot. The Conservative government’s plan of course is to try and stall and drag this out as humanly possible.

7 comments to Truth-seekers 145, Coverup 143

  • Big Winnie

    So much for accountability and transparency from a government that has a habit of lying/telling half truths/need for secrecy and now a major coverup.

    Considering the majority of Canadians don’t like the way the govt has handled the detainee affair, the longer this issue stays in the forefront, the sooner the govt will lose credibility and confidence of the house.

    What has the govt got to hide that the committee can’t see the documents in their uncensored form?

  • If only we citizens had the temerity to treat the will of parliament the way the Government of Canada apparently can. I’m legally required to pay taxes? Yeah, I’ll take that under advisement while coming to my decision, and — LOOK! TERRORIST!

    Anyways, in all seriousness, count me skeptical on the Speaker’s Warrant thing. The Conservatives absolutely would fight it tooth and nail, but I’m just not confident that Ignatieff’s Liberals have the confidence to force the issue. Even if they should, and even if I wish they would. I guess we’ll see. My suspicion, though, is that motion will die the same quiet death as the coalition agreement did last December.

  • ChrisInKW

    The Star article includes a letter penned by the Asst Dep Min of the DoJ in response to the Law Clerk’s written opinion as requested by an Opposition member. It does not include the rebuttal letter sent back to the DoJ yesterday. The CBC does have this document, for those interested:

    http://www.cbc.ca/politics/insidepolitics/2009/12/house-law-clerk-to-doj-right-backatcha.html

    To be honest, I am not at all surprised by the government’s response to Parliament’s will. We’re entering some murky and undefined territory and we all remember how that turned out last December. It will be interesting to see how this resolves itself. From my understanding, the supremacy of Parliament’s will in such a case cannot be abrogated by any court, even the SCC.

  • ridenrain

    I guess we should have made a Canadian Gitmo like Dion wanted after all.

    • Roll Tide

      @ridenrain,

      Good point. What a disaster that would have been.
      Amnesty would have shred it to pieces, no matter how perfect it would have been.
      What about handing responsibility over to the Afghans?

      Canadian soldiers occupied Holland. How did the Dutch treat its Nazi collaborators?
      Lets just say it was was not perfect, war never is.
      Ask any Dutchman what it was like under Nazi control, and how they felt when a few of their own citizens sold them out.

      • ChrisInKW

        @Roll Tide,

        Hi Roll Tide, thanks for your thoughtful post.

        I don’t think the Geneva Conventions covered such prisoners in 1945 during Operation Veritable or others, I believe those Protocols were agreed to more recently, though I could be wrong. Sadly, there’s not too many Dutch left who lived through this ordeal. My grandmother is still alive and has some stories.

        • @ChrisInKW,

          The Geneva Conventions are actually several agreements. To my knowledge, the convention that covered POWs was negotiated before World War II, but then significantly amended in 1949. So I’m not sure what is pre-war and post-war. The Fourth Geneva Convention is definitely post-war, and it definitely outlaws torture, degrading treatment, etc. Since the enemy in Afghanistan is not a clearly identified, uniformed force, I imagine it might only be the Fourth that applies, but I’m not sure. In any event, with regard to Roll Tide’s point:

          “Canadian soldiers occupied Holland. How did the Dutch treat its Nazi collaborators?
          Lets just say it was was not perfect, war never is.”

          We also carpet-bombed Germany during that war. Under current laws I imagine that would be criminal, too. What’s your point?

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