Buying Time

Last December parliament passed a resolution ordering the Harper government to deliver uncensored documents to the commons committee charged with investigating Afghanistan detainee-transfer issues. Instead, Mr. Harper shut-down parliament extinguishing the committee and thus buying time.

Parliament having now resumed and the government again being pressed hard for action, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson today announced that he will be appointing former Supreme Court Justice Iacobucci to undertake “an independent, comprehensive review” and render an opinion on whether the requested documents can be released to the public. This could take months, buying more time.

But, while a learned opinion on this question might be interesting, it is entirely irrelevant to the matter at hand. The parliamentary order directs them to release the documents to parliament, not to the public at large.

Even if (former) Justice Iacobucco’s advice is to deny release to the general public, this would say nothing at all about the rights of parliament itself to such information. And, though unquestionably an eminent and respected jurist, if he is not operating as a court of competent jurisdiction, he cannot render a legal decision, and most particularly cannot compel any action.

The commons committee can certainly review these documents without releasing them to the general public. Their right to do so is at least as legitimate, if not more so, as granting access to Justice Iacobucci himself.

The underlying issues here are not whether detainees have been transferred before, on whomever’s watch, or who created the initial transfer protocols, or even whether they’re good or bad? Nobody expects things to be perfect straight out of the box, providing that we exercise due oversight and conscientious care to identify, to correct, and deal with problems as do arise. But we do need to assess this, and access to uncensored documents is critical to that purpose.

This is just another delaying tactic, as the Harper government continues to evade scrutiny. Their defiance, even contempt, of parliament drags-on.

But even as they struggle ever harder to avoid accountability, it is ever more important to examine whether they have acted appropriately on this file, or whether they’re just trying to sweep things under the rug. The more time they buy, the more carefully we need to look under the rug.

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