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Government tables 6,200 pages of Afghanistan documents
The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, April 1, 2010 3:36PM EDT
OTTAWA - Opposition politicians and reporters will spend Easter weekend hunting for new details on Canada's handling of Afghan detainees, as the government dumped another 6,200 pages of documents in the House of Commons.
It was the second time in 10 days that the government unexpectedly tabled files related to the military mission in Afghanistan. MPs who had a quick look inside the boxes Thursday said they were again heavily blacked out and redacted.
"We're obviously going to be spending the next several days looking at them trying to figure out what's in them, what's not in them, but the issues are still there," said Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae.
"The Speaker is eventually going to have to rule on this question of the right way to proceed. Does Parliament have the right to review the documents? Is there a way to for Parliament to find a process to review the documents? And that's what we're still trying to assess."
House Speaker Peter Milliken is considering arguments by the opposition parties that the government has breached parliamentary privilege by ignoring a Dec. 10 order, passed by the Commons, to produce uncensored documents.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson responded to them Wednesday, saying Parliament has no authority to demand unfettered access to documents related to the alleged torture of prisoners handed over to Afghan authorities by Canadian soldiers.
"I would remind the House that our parliamentary privileges are not indefinite nor unlimited," Nicholson said. "The exact scope of those privileges has been a matter of debate since Confederation."
Nicholson said the government has a duty to protect information that could jeopardize national security, national defence, international relations and even potentially the lives of Canadian troops in Afghanistan.
And he said Parliament is not immune to the laws of confidentiality on such matters, citing a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that concluded "legislative bodies ... do not constitute enclaves shielded from the ordinary law of the land."
He also cited numerous examples in Canada, Britain and Australia in which the government's duty to protect sensitive information outweighed Parliament's right to know.
Milliken told the Commons he won't rule immediately on the matter. His decision might be even further delayed after Opposition responses to Nicholson's statements were postponed to after the Easter break.