It would seem a deal is essentially done. Here is how the NDP is describing the agreement in a release hailing a “victory for Parliamentary democracy.”
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.
Update I. The MP panel will have four members, one from each party (with an alternate according to CP). The expert panel will have three members. No names yet for either panel.
Update II. Justice Minister Rob Nicholson has risen in the House just now to confirm the agreement. MPs on the ad hoc committee will be sworn to secrecy and go through the necessary security clearance. They will have access to government officials to consult on context and disclosure. The membership of the expert panel must be agreed to by government and opposition. Any decision of the expert panel will be final and unreviewable. All details will be laid out in a memorandum of understanding to be in place by May 31, 2010.
Update III. Below is the full text of today’s agreement.
Update IV. Here is the official Liberal reaction.
Update V. From Mr. Nicholson’s remarks in the House. “You will remember, Mr. Speaker, in your ruling of April 27, which was your decision on a question of privilege, that you were confident that members of Parliament of all parties could come to an agreement. I just want you to know, Mr. Speaker, that that confidence was not misplaced because I am very pleased to tell the House today that agreement has been reached with all the political parties. It is an agreement that complies with Canadian law, it does not compromise national security and it does not jeopardize the lives of the men and women who serve in uniform which of course was the concern of the government in recognizing your ruling … Mr. Speaker, this is a good day for parliamentarians. It is a good day for all those who have respect for the rule of law in this country and again, I commend all members and thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the ruling and the opportunity that you have given us to bring together this agreement. Again, your confidence was not misplaced.”
An agreement in principle has been reached by all parties:
- Creation of an ad hoc committee of parliamentarians composed of one Member of Parliament and an alternate from each political party.
- Each member of the ad hoc committee will be required to take an oath of confidentiality, sign a confidentiality undertaking and will be required to obtain the appropriate security clearances.
- Access to documents will take place in a secure location.
- Appropriate security procedures will apply.
- Committee members will have access to documents in both redacted and unredacted form.
- Committee members will have access to government officials from appropriate departments to provide briefings and contextual information and reasons for protecting information.
- With respect to every unredacted document examined by the Committee, the Committee will determine whether the information in that document is relevant to matters of importance to Members of Parliament, particularly as it relates to the ongoing study on the transfer of Afghan detainees currently under way at the House of Commons Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan, and whether the use of such information is necessary for the purpose of holding the government to account. The decisions of the Committee related to the relevance shall be final and unreviewable.
- Where the Committee determines that such information is both relevant and necessary, or upon the request of any member of the Committee, it will refer the document to a Panel of Arbiters who will determine how that relevant and necessary information will be made available to Members of Parliament and the public without compromising national security – either by redaction or the writing of summaries or such techniques as the Panel find appropriate, hearing in mind the basic objectives of maximizing disclosure and transparency. The Panel of Arbiters should regularly consult with the members of the Committees to better understand what information the MPs believe to be relevant and the reason why. The decisions of the Panel of Arbiters with respect to disclosure shall be final and unreviewable.
- The Panel of Arbiters will be composed of 3 eminent jurists. Composition of the panel must be agreed upon by the government and the opposition.
All parties agree that the details of this proposal will be further outlined in a Memorandum of Understanding signed by all party leaders.