Bureaucratic Deal Reached Over Release of Afghan Detainee Documents

The Harper Conservative government has just reached a deal with the three opposition parties over release of the Afghan detainee docs; a member of each party stood up in the House and pontificated on how this was a good deal. The NDP, of course, corrected a small error in one of the bullet points in the paper presented to the House of Commons. But, for me, that was not the real error.

It concerns me that the deal includes a provision that if the committee of MPs whose purpose is to decide which docs can be released to all of Parliament, has a dispute over whether to release a given document or not, then said disputed document would be given over to a panel of three jurists who would have the final say on the matter. My issue is that Parliament is meant to be supreme. The whole point of the Speaker’s ruling was that Parliament is supreme. Having three jurists decide on a Parliamentary matter – that is, a dispute between MPs – puts the courts above Parliament, symbolically if nothing else. This is not good, but is not surprising given that the Harper government had already tried that tactic earlier.

The other issue is that this panel of jurists gives the committee an out. There is no incentive to get along, particularly for the Conservative MPs, who’ve shown themselves over and over again to be at odds with the rest of Parliament on the flimsiest of pretexts. I mean, do they really think anyone takes their concerns about National Security seriously when they put Maxime Bernier in charge, the man with the loose lips and clumsy mind? With the fallback of a panel to make up their minds for them, MPs will naturally devolve to their fractious selves. Now Ralph Goodale talked about having MPs of the highest integrity and the Justice Minister Rob Nicholson spoke similarly. Unless each party contributes extremely non-partisan MPs to this committee – something quite unlikely given the tone Harper has set since elected – then we’ll be seeing a lot of these referrals.

Documents deemed relevant would then be passed on to a panel of experts who would determine how to release the information to all MPs and the public "without compromising national security." (CBC.ca, 14 May 2010)

Give me a break. This has Conservative BS written all over it and is bureaucracy defined. Parliament runs the country. Ergo, national interest and national security is important to every MP. The committee itself can decide if a document would compromise national security – one hopes those MPs aren’t boneheads incapable of assessing such a thing. And Parliament can be held in camera for those documents deemed so sensitive by the committee that showing them to the public would put lives in jeopardy. Leave it to the Conservatives to continue the atmosphere of mistrust in our leaders.