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NDP Leader Jack Layton holds a new conference in Ottawa on Monday, Feb. 8, 2010.
NDP Leader Jack Layton holds a new conference in Ottawa on Monday, Feb. 8, 2010.

Conservatives 'building walls around the truth,' <br/>Jack Layton says Add to ...

The Information Commissioner of Canada will give immediate attention to a complaint filed this week after a Conservative official forced the department of Public Works to break the Access to Information Act and deny the full release of a report to The Canadian Press.

A spokeswoman for the commissioner told The Globe on Tuesday that the complaint would be "prioritized."

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Meanwhile, NDP Leader Jack Layton highlighted the problems within the federal Access to Information regime by releasing two copies a memo from diplomat Richard Colvin on the subject of Afghan detainees.

Only a few words were redacted in the memo as it was publicly released by the Attorney-General to the Military Police Complaints Commission. But, when released by the Department of National Defence under Access to Information legislation, it was redacted almost in its entirety.

"This is why we need the full investigation of the Access to Information Commissioner. The law is quite clear about what you are allowed to do and what you are not allowed to do," Mr. Layton told a news conference Tuesday morning.

"A free society requires access to the facts. That's fundamental. And the government can't simply say we are going to protect ourselves by building walls around the truth. That's not right. And [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper used to say that but then again he used to say a lot of things."

The government points out that the Canada Evidence Act, under which evidence was released to the complaints commission, is distinct from the Access to Information Act and applies a different standard to determine what information must be released.

After the incident at the Public Works department was made public this week, the Prime Minister's Office sent out message to political staff to stay out of the Access to Information process.

"[Access to Information]due diligence is and should be done by public servants and not political staff. The process must be followed and respected by all," PMO spokesman Dimitri Soudas said in an e-mail.

The Public Works department had ruled that the full report was to be disclosed and had actually started the process of mailing it out when an aide to the Conservative minister, Christian Paradis, ordered bureaucrats to "unrelease" the document.

The episode is similar to an instance in which officials in the Chrétien government tried to block the release of information on the sponsorship program to The Globe and Mail. That incident was revealed in 2004 at the Gomery inquiry, which helped the Conservatives win power with a promise to "clean up" Ottawa and bring increased transparency to government operations.

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