So it appears, for now, that there will be peace in our time. In an agreement very similar to the one that the Liberals and the other opposition parties have been offering for months, and the Conservatives continually outright rejected, an agreement has been reached that will see the opposition parties briefed confidentially on the contents of the Afghan detainee documents.
Each member of the review panel will have to sign an oath of confidentiality and get appropriate security clearance before they are allowed to see the documents, both the redacted versions and the full, uncensored forms.
They will then decide as a group which documents can be made public.
Any dispute among the MPs over which material can be released will be referred to a panel of three jurists for a final decision.
Here’s the thing though. I read a quote the other day from a Conservative spokesperson to the effect that any agreement reached on the detainee documents will be ad hoc, and the government has no intention of carrying it past this issue. I think that’s a mistake.
We can’t go through this drama and crisis every time there is information Parliament needs to see that the government, for whatever reason, doesn’t want to share. It’s tedious, it’s counterproductive, and it undermines public faith in democratic institutions. This isn’t the first time a government of any stripe has tried to be less than forthright with Parliament, and it surely won’t be the last.
We need a permanent, established procedure put in place so we don’t need to resort to threats and 11th-hour deal making every time. I’ve argued before for a Commons Select Committee on Intelligence, based on the American model. That’s one way to do it, there are others. But it needs to be established and in place so that when the issue comes up, the mechanisms are there to deal with it. When you try to do each one ad hoc, it’s too easy for all sides to let political considerations get in the way of doing what’s right.
So yes, it’s great this latest crisis has been averted, and sanity has prevailed. But letting this go with an ad hoc arrangement would be a mistake. I hope that now, with the political glare of this crisis perhaps receding, our Parliamentarians will explore the systemic changes needed so we don’t need to go through this nonsense ever again.
And we can move on to other sorts of nonsense.