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Privilege battle

Tories release reams of redacted <br/>Afghan detainee documents Add to ...

Facing the risk of a ruling saying it's broken fundamental parliamentary rules, the Harper government has relented and released 2,500 pages of documents on the Afghan detainee controversy.

The catch, however, is the reports, briefings and memos are heavily censored. Opposition parties and journalists have yet to discern if there is anything to be gleaned from them because the government failed to make copies before tabling the papers in Parliament.

The move by the Conservatives comes as House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken is preparing to rule on whether the Tories have violated the ancient right of parliamentary privilege.

Opposition parties last week called on the Speaker to rule that the Harper government spurned the rights of Parliament by refusing to hand over uncensored documents on prisoners captured by Canadian troops and handed over to Afghan authorities.

The Tories have defied an "order to produce" motion passed by all three opposition parties in December. It relied on what the Liberals, Bloc Quebecois and NDP called the "undisputed privileges of Parliament under Canada's constitution, including the absolute power to require the government to produce uncensored documents when requested."

Mr. Milliken has been awaiting a response from the Tories - including ministers responsible - before he decides what to do.

Tom Lukiwksi, parliamentary secretary to Government House Leader Jay Hill, couldn't resist taking a swipe at opposition parties as he tabled the documents in the Commons today.

"Given that the opposition seemingly believes that the treatment of Taliban prisoners is a top priority for Canadians, and given the high volume of documents, we are asking for unanimous consent to table related documents," Mr. Lukiwski said.

The Conservatives say today's surprise document dump documents does not represent its formal response to a House of Commons order to produce all relevant material on the detainee controversy. They say Justice Minister Rob Nicholson is expected to formally respond to the Commons order next week.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's spokesman, Dimitri Soudas, said the release is a show of "transparency" on the government's part.

"It's ensuring that Parliament gets the information that it needs," he said. "We've always said that we're going to make available all information that can be made available."

The documents released are censored versions of the same material the Tories are giving to former Supreme Court judge Frank Iacobucci. He is reviewing them for security concerns to decide what, if any, blacked-out information can also be released.

New Democrat and Liberal MPs who have glimpsed the documents say they are heavily redacted and include at least some material that has previously been released.

NDP Leader Jack Layton said the release is an insult that requires the intervention of the Speaker. "It's slapping Parliament in the face," he said.

The Tories say they will continue to release censored versions of heavy volume of documents being given to Mr. Iacobucci as part of his review.

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