Canada: Government Pressed on Afghan War Documents

By Michel Comte | AFP | April 28, 2010

A view of the Parliament building in Ottawa

OTTAWA — Canada's government may be held in contempt of Parliament if it does not soon release uncensored documents pertaining to transfers of detainees to Afghan custody, the House speaker ruled Tuesday.

Speaker of the House Peter Milliken gave the Conservative minority government and opposition parties two weeks' time to resolve the impasse. Otherwise, Milliken said he would return with a decision to hold the government in contempt of Parliament, which may provoke snap elections.

The Commons passed a motion in December ordering the government to produce uncensored documents it was believed might contain evidence that Canada transferred prisoners to Afghan custody knowing they may be tortured, in violation of Canadian and international law.

But Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Tory government refused to comply with the order, citing national security concerns, and instead produced tens of thousands of heavily redacted pages.

"It is the view of the chair that accepting an unconditional authority of the executive to censor the information provided to Parliament would, in fact, jeopardize the very separation of powers that is purported to lie at the heart of our parliamentary system and the independence of its constituent parts," Milliken said.

"Therefore, the chair must conclude that it is perfectly within the existing privileges of the House to order production of the documents in question."

Opposition parties applauded Milliken's pronouncement, while Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said outside the House afterwards that the government would seek a workable solution. ...

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