Friday, May 14, 2010

Detainee deal can't be ad-hoc

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.
That all sounds fine. That it took so much angst, vitriol, brinksmanship and drama to get here is frankly an indictment of the stupidity of our political climate today, but eventually it got to the right place: parliamentarians will get the access they need and are due, while respecting legitimate security concerns. It’s a clear victory for the supremacy of Parliament. Even if the documents aren’t made public, that’s fine. I respect security considerations. But I want my representatives to be briefed, and they will be. That's how the system is supposed to work.

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.

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RuralSandi said...

h/t - Kady O'Malley:

The NDP is first off the mark with a celebratory press release:



OTTAWA - For the past five years, New Democrats have pressed the previous Liberal government and the current Conservative government to tell Canadians the truth about the handling of Afghan detainees. The agreement struck by all parties today is a critical step forward in holding the government to account on the issue.

"This is a victory for Parliamentary democracy," said New Democrat Leader Jack Layton. "The Speaker's ruling made it clear that Members of Parliament have the right to review all the information about the treatment of Afghan detainees, and not just what the government thinks MPs should see."

Under the terms of the agreement agreed to by all parties, a committee of MPs will review all documents in un-redacted form to determine their relevance to the study of the transfer of Afghan detainees by the House Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan. The panel's decision on the relevance of those documents will be final and unreviewable.

Any documents that are found to be relevant will be referred to a Panel of Expert Arbiters, who will determine how the information in those documents will be made available to all MPs, and to the public, without compromising national security.

"This is a reasonable arrangement," said New Democrat Defence Critic Jack Harris. "It satisfies concerns about national security, while ensuring Canadians will learn the truth about how the government responded to the possibility of torture by the Afghan authorities to whom detainees were being transferred."

The New Democrat team that helped negotiate the agreement included Harris, House Leader Libby Davies and Justice Critic Joe Comartin. Layton praised them for their diligence and hard work on the issue.

"Our team upheld the principle of the public's right to know. I'm proud of the honourable stand they took throughout these difficult negotiations. We'll be watching closely to ensure the government respects the spirit of this agreement." much for cooperative, bipartisan and making parliament work.

Attack Cons and Libs....nice Layton

Demosthenes said...

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.

I've always been astonished that that isn't the case. You can't have parliamentary supremacy with ill-informed, neutered MPs; and without parliamentary supremacy, you might as well hand Harper the crown and be done with it.

ridenrain said...

Chretien put us there wihout an exit plan back in 2002. Martin took us outside the safe zone and in the lead combat role. Dion suggested all prisoners be brought to Canada.
Can anyone else here the train left the tracks?