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The deal is done

Parties strike a deal on who will view sensitive Afghan detainee docs


 

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.


 

The deal is done

  1. It almost seems like you're disappointed, Mr. Wherry. No opportunity to further cast the Harper government as a bunch of dictatorial tyrants, eh?

    • You can read disappointment into this sentence: "It would seem a deal is essentially done. Public comments from all sides expected shortly."? Clearly, you have a much more finely honed sense of tone than I do.

      • Wherry and his damn quotation marks. We CAN read between the lines Aaron.

    • Clearly there's a catch. It's all part of Harper's Evil Master Plan. Next.

      • Sometimes, out of the mouths of babes…

    • Dennis…..Of course that is the whole purpose of the exercise. To label Harper with all manner of names. The whole exercise is about getting Harper. They could give a wit about Afghan detainees.

      So Wherry and the rest of the progressives in this country are disappointed this morning because Harper has worked with the opposition to get a deal done.

      These MPs will disappear for months as they go through thousands of pages of documents and try to decipher what they mean and say. The summer break is coming and then they will fight about what can be revealed etc. etc.

      We will probably have an election in the interim. So much for the torture of detainees. It is now off the radar. No more questions in QP and no more slears. They are all in this swamp together. More importantly the media will stop talking about it and speculating their time away.

      • Thanks for telling us what it was all about

        and here we thought that examining the spilling of Canadian honour, blood and money in questionable tasks, in far off lands, and on behalf of allies that are known war-criminals was important

        who knew?? (well I guess you did – thanks so much – but about the "off the radar" bit: don't you wish)

      • My goodness. I bet harper wishes he had done this months ago, instead of all the waffling around, prorguing Parliament adn whatnot.

  2. A good day for Parliament. Well done all around.

    • I probably agree, but let's wait to see the make-up of the commitee and the agreed upon 'panel of experts' before patting backs.

      Also, why "final and unreviewable"? It seems to me the relevance of some documents might only come to light as part of the ongoing process of looking into this mess (or lack thereof).

      • This can't take the form of an endless fishing expedition, can it?

        • Given the "partisan" press release issued by the NDP, I'd say they are the ones who are going to try to politicize this thing.

    • It sounds like it, but somehow I think it was Harper's master plan!

      It doesn't feel like a victory to me, it never was about detainees or Parliament, it was about dirty politics, to bring down each other, but I will be glad when this is over ( I don't believe that war crimes have been commited, mistakes I presume will be a few, perhaps some bad ones but not on purpose, not by the Liberal or Conservatives Governments ) and they can focus in what needs to be done in this country, or I should hope so!

      • blah blah blah blah blah obfuscate obfuscate lie lie lie

  3. Unexpected, and probably a surfeit of caution. but if we're moving closer to shedding light on this important issue than it is all to teh good.

    Of course, the Harper conservatives could just be done with this method of stalling and delaying, and getting ready to bring in another one.

  4. Awww. I was looking forward to an election. ;-)

    Next crisis, please!

    • Wells' first rule applies, yet again. :)

  5. "…. a memorandum of understanding to be in place by May 31, 2010." Which means that at very, very best, the work might begin over the summer. How long after the MoA, will it take for the parties to agree on the reference panel? Weeks? Months? And then how long will it take to weed thru the material. Months? Years?

    This is a nothing agreement. It allows the Libs to back away from the torture issue on which they have failed to get voter traction, and allows the Cons to again defer responding to the demands of the House until long after the summer recess. If, during the recess, the government fails to comply with the MoA, what happens? Absolutely nothing because the House is in recess.

    Harper has again out played the disappointingly cowardly and dimwitted opposition. He'll force an election on his own terms long before public scrutiny of a single relevant document

    • Lax…..on this we can agree. Iffy was terrified of an election and this gives all of them time to step down off of their soap boxes.

      Harper has played the hand he was dealt with great skill. Its sad watching the opposition floundering around trying to find issues.

      The progressives must be very disappointed this morning eh Lax.

      • What is this infantile need you seem to have to label everyone? You have no bloody idea what my politics are outside of this one issue. I'm happy to discuss the issues, but direct the gratuitous nonsense to the mirror would ya.

  6. Could it be? Is it possible that Harper will truly respect the will of the House? Did someone finally get through to him as to the implications of his stubborness on this matter/

    I'm shocked but I'm also releaved. Democracy is still alive and well in Canada despite the PM's best efforts.

    • Harper signed the agreement.

      How is that the PM's best efforts to kill democracy.

      His best effort would have been to tell the speaker to take a hike and ran an election on this.

      Yeah so much of what you've believed about "evil" Harper has just been shattered today.

      The cats are loose!

    • PJ, Cats, read the release carefully.

      Harper has signed nothing so far. No deadline for either the MOU or the establishment of the panel. No timeline for the review. No timeline for selection of the MP-members. Sorry guys, but this is another empty face-saving device. This will not get answers on the detainee issue in the lifetime of this Parliament nor does it do more than throw a fig leaf over the Cons refusal to yield to the will of the House.

      Even if the Cons play by the hugely vague rules negotiated so far, they can still object to the release of each and every document thereby giving the Panel the final say on everything. This is not even close to Parliamentary supremacy, it is the antithesis of it.

      • Bingo.

        An agreement to discuss finer details is just a load of crap.

        Parliament is dead as an institution because nobody has the balls to support it. Might as well be in Stalinist russia for all this amounts to…

  7. As good as it sounds, I find it hard to trust Harpers motives or tactics. He's got the backdoor covered and a derringer up his sleeve.

    • Why don't all you people who flatly predicted that there would NOT be any such deal as was announced this morning just admit that you were wrong. Period.

      • Whenever did I say that there would not be an agreement? Maintaining a deep suspicion that the great and sly speaker of hair-splitting word meanings, of 'accountability' and 'transparency', the partisan spreader of plausible slander, has set up a means of escape from his obligations shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention. If my suspicious personality is at fault here, then so be it.

        • I was not speaking of you specifically. Look, I don't personally like Harper. But the fact of the matter is that this comment board was positively plastered with posts from people flatly predicting that there would be no deal, ever, under any circumstances — all because of the Evil Harper — that the Evil Harper would take this all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada if need be, blah blah blah. And that has turned out to be completely wrong. There is a deal. And I don't see any of those people coming on here today and saying "hey, I was wrong". I guess that's because political partisans are incapable of ever admitting they're wrong about anything. Because at heart, they're like dyspeptic 4-year olds throwing mud at one another in a playground.

          • Meh, I think a lot of us eat crow from time to time.

            It's drier than overcooked turkey, though, so it takes a lot of water to swallow.

            As for me, I don't really remember what I say on these boards from day to day, I tend to just call things as I see them.

    • I think if Harper doesn't sign on the dotted line he's going to look really, really bad.

      • He will and you know what, I also think he will get ahead in the polls, this man has nine lives!

  8. This is good news. No-one should demean it. Assuming good faith, which is all one can do, all the information will be out. How, whether in full, in full with redactions irrelevant to torture, or in summaries, will be be decided by three member panel, which will be agreed by Opposition and Govt. Each side nominates one member, and the two members pick a third? I'll be curious as to how the choice is made.

    I would have preferred, ideally, to keep all decisions in MPs hands. But this keeps essential decisions in MPs hands: disclosure or non-disclosure of information. Panel is about the form, the MPs are about the function. Parliament has the power, reaffirmed

    Any further Govt hijinks, claiming delays in finding documents, etc., will just provoke an election over this. If the Cons didn't want an election over this now, and they didn't – make no mistake, from the PMO's point of view (though not Con caucus), this is a complete surrender – then one wouldn't expect they'd want one later. CAPP & CAPP protests scared them, believe me.

    The Cons can read about UK news as well as anyone. They see it percolating in Canada. All it takes is Liberal and NDP MPs to form a plurality in the House, as in 2006, and the Cons are done. Building your anti-coalition campaign on anti-separatist basis cuts both ways: and if the coalition commands a plurality in the House without Bloc support? Then Cons are done. And they know it. Better be good boys, for a while.

    • Alas, the comment-ers who think this is just another delaying tactic are the most accruate.
      Good news would look quite different – the issue will be lost in committee squabbling details as per Harper's plan.

      As for a positive influence from the UK – huh: most Canadian pay zero attention to Ottawa let alone Westminster.

  9. "The Panel of Arbiters will be composed of 3 eminent jurists."

    How appropriate. Let the trial begin.

  10. "Creation of an ad hoc committee of parliamentarians composed of one Member of Parliament and an alternate from each political party"

    Wow. For all the talk of democracy, the committee overrepresents some parties, and underrepresents others.

    • I see your point but if we want to be entirely "democratic" and give each party representation equal to that which it has in the house, there would have to be a 100-member panel.

      • I know. I can't help but nitpick sometimes (but it's quite something to see the BQ and NDP with a fully equal voice at the table). Wonder if May regrets running against McKay a bit more today?

        • I think equal representation would apply in the context of a vote but this is really just a review panel representing parliament, not parties. 'One member from each party' is probably just optics for the general public.

          • I see what you're saying, but on every other committee an attempt is made to somewhat reflect the broader representation of the House. Then again, as MYL points out below, independents don't usually have a voice in all committees either.

    • And there is ZERO representation of the two independent MPs. I suggest that André & Helena practice their rock-paper-scissors skills and lobby for one of them (the RPS winner) to get on the committee — the other can be the alternate. But poor Helena will have a hard time applying for a security clearance, if she doesn't know what evil she has recently allegedly committed…

  11. OK, so there seems to be a breakthrough regarding the Afghan detainee documents. So far so good, although I remain skeptical. Knowing Harper, he's probably got something up his sleeve.

    Though there is one point that has bothered me all along, that is many columnists and bloggers have recently written that had Harper not complied with the Speakers ruling, he could have been found in contempt of Parliament, which could have translated into a confidence motion followed by a spring election.

    Now wait a minute, if that were the case, wouldn't we be right back to square one? Wouldn't that have been just like prorogation?

  12. cont'd…
    I just don't understand how that can even be an option. Contempt of Parliament is a "parliamentary thing", and must be resolved in the House of Commons period. The Prime Minister should not have the option of bringing it before the electorate nor before the Supreme Court. He cannot jam the wheels of accountability every time the going gets tough. He cannot hide under the GG's skirt every time he does not want to be held into account by the Opposition.

    In short, since in theory it appears that an election could have been an option in this case, it simply demonstrates how there are major loopholes in our parliamentary system that need to be addressed.

    Hypothetically speaking, the only option that would have made any sense, regarding Harper, had he not complied with Milliken's ruling, was that the latter would have been compelled to order that the documents be seized.

    • Funny the so called loopholes in our parliamentary system have been there since the country was founded. Every PM has used the powers available to him i.e. prorogation and dissolution of parliament as he saw fit.

      Harper had one unique situation with the threat of the coalition of the fools where the sitting PM thought in his wisdom that this would political distablize the country and the people supported him yet you Libs keep throwing it up as some devious plot.

      The opposition was threatening an election virtually every other day and so while he did break the spirit of his own election law but as the law as written he had the ability to go to the GG and request a dissolution of power. That was his right and under advice of her first Minister the GG granted the request. How is calling an election an affront to the people. It is highest form of democracy in my opinion.

      • hollinm continued..

        This past winter he prorogued and while I didn't agree with the length of time or the resaons publicly given he wanted to reset the Senate. Suggesting that he wanted to avoid the detainee issue was pure nonsense. It would not and did not go away as we have all seen.

        However, it was hardly the end of democracy as we know it in Canada. Torqued headlines and opposition hysterics made Canadians take notice but as you see he is still outpolling the other parties.

        My point is because a Conservative PM is using the levers of power that have been in place for a couple of hundred years and other PMs have done the same thing they are now called loopholes by the anti Harper crowd. Trouble is he is outmanoevring the opposition parties and why shouldn't he. However people like you don't like it much because you can't beat him no matter what you say or do.

        • hollinm continued….

          Prorogation and dissolution of parliament are two entirely different procedures. A non confidence vote means the government falls. There is no choice. He must request the GG dissolve the parliament. However, the opposition could ask the GG to allow them to form a government and obtain the confidence of the House. However, the GG based on precedent would be unlikely to grant the request after two years governing.

          Do you honestly believe the Libs would change these "loopholes" if they got into power? Think about it. We both know the answer.

          • "Since the Magna Carta in 1215, the concept of parliamentary supremacy and the responsibility of the executive to the members of the House of Commons has been the fundamental cornerstone of the British and Canadian parliamentary system of government. In 2010, it must remain so." Don Newman, May, 2010

          • bonneau….From Don Newman's mouth to God's ear. What's the issue? Democracy is alive and well in Canada. Harper is using the tools (been in place for over 100 years) at his disposal to manage a fractious parliament. Because the opposition and of course their supporters don't like it there is no need to use hysterics and call the tools at the PM's disposal loopholes.

            I don't know about you. But my rights have not been impinged upon as an ordinary citizen. The opposition is still able to crticize. God knows the media can still torque their headlines and write biased media reports and columns. Of course the punditry is still free to misrepresent the truth. I would say democracy is alive and well.

            You know you really speak out of both sides of your mouth. The opposition if they truly believe that democracy is at stake then they have the ability in fact the obligation to defeat the government and ensure the ulitmate accountability is made through an election. The problem is that they know they will get their asses kicked because most ordinary Canadians do not believe that our democracy is being thwarted.

          • hollinm continued…..

            bonneau….

            It would be interesting to see if Iffy would campaign on changing the constitution (thats what it would take) and open up that whole debate. Given he feels he's an American and ignored Canada for 34 years he probably doesn't even know what our constitution says.

            You need to stop focusing on the tactics, strategies and process. Look at the policies of the parties, check out the leaders and decide who is the better candidate to run the country. The rest is all white noise and partisan sniping which most Canadians ignore.

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