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Liberal MP Bob Rae holds redacted pages from an Afghan detainee document in Ottawa on March 25, 2010. (The Canadian Press)
Liberal MP Bob Rae holds redacted pages from an Afghan detainee document in Ottawa on March 25, 2010. (The Canadian Press)

Parties scramble after judges say Afghan detainee files won't drop during campaign Add to ...

The federal Liberals will demand the release of documents related to the handling of Afghan detainees after a panel of judges that is vetting them determined they would not be made public during the election campaign.

The judges wrote to the leaders of the Conservatives, the Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois, whose members are part of a Commons committee overseeing the release of the documents, to say they must be kept secret until Parliament resumes after the May 2 vote.

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According to an agreement reached last year to avert a Parliamentary crisis after the Conservative government had refused to hand them over the opposition members, the deadline for the release was Friday.

Bloc Québecois Leader Gilles Duceppe has said the documents must be made public by April 15 or his MPs will withdraw from the committee.

Bryon Wilfert, a Liberal MP who sits on the committee, said recently that there is "obviously a fervent attempt" to meet Mr. Duceppe's deadline and an election "will not preclude or hamper the release."

The Liberals say they will ask the other party leaders to amend the memorandum of understanding governing the release process to ask that the documents be made public by Monday.

"I call on Mr. Harper and M. Duceppe to immediately join me in calling on the Panel of Arbiters to publish the report that they were prepared to release on April 15," Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said in a statement. "If an amendment to the Memorandum of Understanding is required to satisfy the concerns of the Panel of Arbiters, then we should agree on the wording and implement the amendment no later than Monday, April 18, 2011."

Conservative MP Laurie Hawn, the parliamentary secretary to the Defence Minister, said his party was not interested in a delay.

"We are aware of the letter sent by the panel of judges overseeing the release of documents regarding Taliban prisoners," Mr. Hawn said in a statement issued late Thursday. "The Conservative Party fully supports and, in fact, encourages the documents to be released."

So far, a total of 18,000 pages of the 40,000 documents have been read by committee members. It could take until a year from July for all of the material to be perused and released.

Federal politicians indicated last month, however, that they were not certain of the mechanism that could be used to make the documents public when Parliament is not sitting and all of the parties are engaged in election campaigns. Some suggested the material would be given to party leaders for release. Others said the panel could make the documents public.

The three-party committee was struck last May after months of testy debate in the Commons that ended only when the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper was threatened with being declared in contempt of Parliament.

The New Democrats did not agree to take part in the committee which was struck as a compromise last May after Speaker Peter Milliken ruled that MPs had an unfettered right to see all government documents, regardless of potential security implications.

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