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Release Afghan detainee files now, NDP tells Tories

Liberal MP Bob Rae holds redacted pages from an Afghan detainee dossier in Ottawa on March 25, 2010.


The federal New Democrats say it is high time to release documents related to the handling of Afghan detainees that nearly caused a parliamentary crisis last year before the matter was shuffled off to a closed-door committee.

"The election is now over and still we have not seen these documents," NDP defence critic Jack Harris told an Ottawa news conference on Friday morning. "So we are calling on the government to make these documents public immediately. Canadians have a right to know what's in these documents."

The Conservative government originally refused to release the documents saying to do so would breach national security. But the opposition, which at that time held a majority in the House of Commons, still demanded to see them.

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Former speaker Peter Milliken eventually ruled that MPs had an unfettered right to view all government documents, regardless of potential security implications. And the other parties - the Conservatives, Liberals and Bloc Québécois - agreed last May to strike a committee that would review documents after they had been vetted by an independent panel of judges.

At least 18,000 pages of the 40,000 documents have been read by committee members. But, despite repeated announcements that some of the many thousands of pages were about to be released, nothing has yet been made public

Former Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe eventually set a deadline of April 15 for the release of the first batch. But the panel of judges wrote to the leaders of the Conservatives, the Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois during the election campaign saying the documents must be kept secret until Parliament resumed after the May 2 vote.

The New Democrats did not agree with the vetting process and refused to take part in it, arguing that a full public inquiry was necessary.

"I think it's fair to say some of our concerns have been proven valid," Mr. Harris said. "This is not a process that was designed to be transparent and to bring this information out quickly."

The Conservatives, he said, "have achieved, frankly what they wanted to achieve [which]was to put this out of sight until after the election."

The documents are a matter of intense public and parliamentary interest, Mr. Harris said, and speak directly to Canada's reputation for carrying out procedures that are consistent with its human rights' obligations under international human-rights law.

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Conservative MP Laurie Hawn, the parliamentary secretary to the Defence Minister, said during the election that his party was not interested in delaying the documents' release. That is still the government's position, Mr. Hawn said Friday.

Obviously the composition of Parliament has changed substantially, Mr. Hawn said. Both Bloc MPs and one of the Liberal MPs who sat on the committee that was reviewing the documents were defeated in the election.

But when the House of Commons returns, representatives of the parties will get together and decide the way forward, he said. "We're going to follow whatever process is laid out once Parliament resumes."

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