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How will Afghan detainee documents be judged? Add to ...

1. Iacobucci's terms of reference. Michael Ignatieff wants to know the mandate of the government's review into Afghan secret documents. Without knowing its terms of reference, the review is already flawed, the Liberal Leader says.

In an open letter appealing to the Prime Minister, Mr. Ignatieff says the reputation of former Supreme Court judge Frank Iacobucci, who was appointed to do the review, "is beyond reproach" but there is a problem with "the job you have given him to carry out."

"We do not know what his mandate or deadline will be," Mr. Ignatieff writes. "And we do not know whether or how he will report to Parliament or the Canadian people."

The former justice was appointed last Friday to review the secret documents related to the handling of Afghan prisoners. The government has refused to hand over the documents to Parliament.

"Further, Justice Iacobucci will not be empowered to do his job adequately, unless the government gives him the mandate to hold a full public inquiry," Mr. Ignatieff adds.

The Liberal leader repeated his call an inquiry in Question Period yesterday. A senior Ignatieff official said this morning that a full public inquiry under the Inquiry Act is the "key point" to all of this as it would allow Judge Iacobucci to seek documents, hear testimony and subpoena witnesses.

"Now, it looks like he will just have to rule on what was or wasn't redacted in the documents released by the government, a very narrow and limited task that will shed light only on parts of the issue," the official said.

"In short, we would know more but would still be a long way from the whole truth about what happened and the subsequent cover-up."

The opposition has been calling for an inquiry since last year. At the end of December, the Prime Minister announced he was shutting down Parliament - and effectively the debate over the detainee issue - until after the Olympics.

So far, the Conservative government has revealed little about the former justice's mandate. In Question Period, Stephen Harper repeatedly said that Judge Iacobucci "will have access to all documents and he will give us a public report."

No more than that is known.

"Your government's decision to appoint Justice Iacobucci is an overdue admission that action must be taken to get to the bottom of the Afghan detainee scandal," Mr. Ignatieff writes.

"Detainee transfer is sure to remain an issue of importance for future Canadian missions overseas, and it is vital that Parliament and Canadians learn from the mistakes of the past in order to prevent them from happening again."

2. Civil-service lament. Alex Himelfarb used to rule over the public service as the Clerk of the Privy Council during the waning Chrétien years and into the brief Paul Martin era.

Back then he used to whisper his ideas into the ears of prime ministers but now he can shout them out. As an academic he is no longer fettered by his title.

In an article in The Mark last week, Mr. Himelfarb writes with concern about how Canada is changing without any meaningful debate. And he blames the decline of the public service. In fact, his thoughts are apropos to the debate that is going on now about freezes and cuts to the public service.

"Ottawa's policy capacity has been in decline for some time, a result in part of cuts to research and in part of a growing divide between elected officials and public servants whose advice is less often sought or trusted," he writes.

"The federal public service, long a major, if largely invisible, Canadian strength, is increasingly described as in crisis, trying to serve in a climate of blame and mistrust masquerading as accountability."

He also looks at the issue of minority governments, noting they are "reluctant to take on the big issues because they inevitably raise thorny jurisdictional questions and highlight deep conflicts of interest and regional divides."

"In these cases, as in most, inattention is easier than policy."

The result is that Canada is drifting, he says, and in the wrong direction. We are missing big debates around the environment, education and energy.

He cautions, however, about turning off politics and government.

"If growing distrust or cynicism about government leads us to withdraw into our private lives as though the public sphere were irrelevant or impossible to influence, we will ask too little of our leaders and that's what we will get."

Follow on Twitter: @janetaber1

 

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