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Harper government must comply with Speaker’s ruling on Afghanistan documents

Posted on April 27, 2010

Liberal MPs are declaring victory in the wake of a ruling by the Speaker of the House of Commons that reaffirms the right of Parliament to review Afghan detainee torture documents.

“The Speaker’s ruling recognizes that in our system of government, Parliament is supreme – not the Prime Minister,” said Liberal House Leader Ralph Goodale. “The Harper government must abide by the Speaker’s ruling and negotiate the disclosure of the documents in question in a way that is mindful of national security – as we have agreed to do all along.”

In his ruling, Mr. Milliken gave the House Leaders, ministers and party critics two weeks to address the impasse by establishing a mechanism for MPs to review the documents without compromising national security.  He also reaffirmed the role of parliamentarians to hold government to account as an indisputable privilege and obligation, which entails a broad, absolute power to order documents, without restriction or limit by the Executive.  The Speaker expressed his hope that accommodations could be made that allow MPs to be entrusted with the information while protecting national security, in keeping with the inherent trust that Canadians have placed in their elected officials.

“Following Mr. Milliken’s ruling, the government now has a window of opportunity to negotiate in good faith a reasonable process that respects Parliamentarians right to review this documentation,” said Liberal Foreign Affairs Critic Bob Rae. “We believe that it is possible to satisfy the opposition’s demands for openness and transparency on the detainee scandal while maintaining national security.”

“Where there are legitimate national security concerns revolving around this documentation, we will most certainly consider the government’s position,” said Liberal Defence Critic Ujjal Dosanjh. “But let’s be clear: we are not prepared to allow the government to hide behind national security issues where none exist.”

On December 10, 2009, the House of Commons passed a motion requesting disclosure of Afghan detainee documentation.  The Conservatives refused to comply with the motion, even going so far as to shut down Parliament entirely.

The Conservative government has continued to cover-up politically damaging information, using national security as a blanket excuse.  Most recently, hearings by the Military Police Complaints Commission into the handling of Afghan detainees have been put in jeopardy again because the government refuses to disclose requested documentation.

“We want a reasonable approach to these negotiations that will satisfy us that there is not simply more political interference taking place,” Mr. Goodale concluded. “We are willing to address the government’s legitimate concerns, but the Speaker has made it clear that more stonewalling will not work.”

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