Er, so what's been the hold up? -

Er, so what’s been the hold up?


After months of acrimony and government objection, the Public Safety Minister emerges from the Conservative caucus today with this.

After the Tory caucus meeting, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told reporters there are similar processes in place in the United States that could work here.

“Opposition parties and members are entitled to see documents but of course they have to maintain secrecy in respect to those documents,” he said. “Anyone who is given those types of documents would in fact have to maintain secrecy in accordance with the law.”

Mr. Toews added: “I’m actually quite looking forward to some kind of a compromise that follows from the Speaker’s ruling. I think the Speaker put the issues out there and I think that everyone now knows what the issues are and how we deal with that.”

More from Mr. Toews here.


Er, so what’s been the hold up?

  1. "Mr. Toews added: “I'm actually quite looking forward to some kind of a compromise that follows from the Speaker's ruling. I think the Speaker put the issues out there and I think that everyone now knows what the issues are and how we deal with that.”

    Culture of deceit, indeed.

  2. Opposition MPs should be extremely careful to accept confidentially only on matters of genuine national security (e.g. genuinely affect our continuing operation in Afghan.). Perhaps they should clearly define what is to be deemed NS even before they start.

    Otherwise: (a) this entire fight would have been in vain, and (b) the House, and the public, would never be able to hold the govt of the day accountable if what the selected MPs know are sworn to secrecy.

  3. What a bunch of @#$@#ers.

  4. The opposition only needs to have a majority on the committee. As Ignatieff has pointed out (but not emphasized) the only rational outcomes are either 1) yep, Peter MacKay was right, no problems here or 2) an inquiry that would work largely behind closed doors.

    The problem is that the parts that show violations of international law (if they exist), and the parts that are embarrassing for the Conservative and former Liberal governments (which certainly do exist) are likely intertwined with parts potentially containing real issues of national security, sensitive military information and other parts that are embarrassing for allied governments.

    I know many are eager for a quick resolution, especially after the stonewalling. It is important for this to (begin to) move forward but it simply is not in Canada's interests to rush information into the public domain.

  5. I am not sure that just having a majority on the committee but being sworn to secrecy to the extent that they cannot even talk about it the solution that benefits our country in the long run.

    I suspect most people who are frustrated by the stonewalling are also rationale enough to accept that there are matters of genuine NS that may be intertwined with matters of potential embarrassment to both the current or the former govt. These probably have to be dealt on an issue by issue. The Libs have said that they will let the chips fall where they may.

    However, if there are indeed violations of international or domestic laws, it is extremely important that the public, and the House, be informed. As long as there are guarantees that this will be the case, it could be a reasonable way forward.

  6. If they reveal something important that doesn't have an immediate real effect on national security, I can't see any parliament in hte land punishing them.

  7. Mr. Toews also made it perfectly clear the Europa had always been at war with Oceana.

  8. What needs to be discussed openly and questioned, is the process for declaring documents need to be redacted and on what criteria.

    Assuming there is a continuum that runs from the boradest possible definition of national security and requiring near absolute secrecy at one end, and a very narrow definition of national security and near complete transparency at the other end, where are we drawing the line and who is drawing it? And what is the process for challenging the determination that something needs redacting?

    So far, the process for deciding, and who does it, is itself a secret, which just isn't acceptable.

  9. The confidentiality would only apply to the contents revealed.

    Nothing would, I think, prevent them from looking at the documents and then turning to the public and saying: "We've now seen the documents. We can't yet tell you what we have read but we can tell you that some of what the government is redacting is indeed related to security concerns, but most of what the government is hiding does not."

    or even saying "what we have seen in committee we can't tell you, but it only increases our resolve for a public inquiry".

    There is a great risk to Harper here because that approach is very difficult for him to defend without producing the documents to show that they are wrong.

  10. I wish I could have this quote bronzed. Brilliant, Toews, brilliant.

  11. Perhaps someone could enlighten me on this.

    Have Canadian Opposition MPs, of any party, never in our history been permitted to see protected documents before? And, if they have, wouldn't Canada already have procedures in place to ensure confidentiality?

  12. Only American precedents apply?

  13. Susan Delacourt had a quick interview with Derek Lee, which provides some answers to your question:

    MPs (opposition and gov't) who sit on standing and special committees dealing with justice, Foreign Affairs, public safety, defence, RCMP and CSIS oversight often have to deal with classified materials. Politicians of all stripes are members of the Privy Council, which also deals with sensitive matters. This reality illustrates the absurdity of Harper's position — that MPs can't be trusted with classified or sensitive documents.

    He was stalling and trying to paint this as an opposition vs. the troops issue, even thought the opposition has been challenging statements made by his government's ministers in the House, the actions of our leadership team in Afghanistan, etc. Indeed, the Harper Gov't has denied facts about Afghanistan that have been publicly acknowledged by our NATO allies… with no great harm to their national security.

    The Iacobucci play was cynical — why should a retired tax lawyer and judge see documents that sitting MPs cannot? — and flew in the face of precedents set by bodies such as the Security Intelligence Review Commission. SIRC is made up of nominees from each party, sworn in as Privy Councilors, and answerable to Parliament. Harper could have set up a SIRC-like body to deal with Foreign Affairs and Defence docs — and still respected Parliament's authority.

    He didn't. Because he's duplicitous and deceitful.

  14. It's like the teacher has intervened and caught the kids red-handed and now they agree that they have to get along better to avoid getting their fingers slapped. I wonder how much this whole thing has cost taxpayers? I'm sure some of the Speaker's lawyers and clerks were working overtime on this file.

  15. Which brings us back to where it started. I would submit that the central issue, the safety and security of canadian soldiers and the secondary though very important issue of our allies trust in our capacity to keep secrets secret will still need to be addressed by oaths and serious sanctions if violated. Ergo the grandstanding that led to the impasse was always just that, as no public statements can made on classified information…that truth has not changed. You can draw what you like from that, but I suspect the opposition has earned another blackeye with voters. As for some in the Media…?

  16. Great caution needs be exercised by the Opposition. In addition to the confidentiality and secrecy issues mentioned above, negotiations towards a compromise could easily be a Con delaying tactic.

    Remember the much vaunted EI study group Harper and Iggy announced in June 2008? The Cons turned the effort into a sham by refusing to attend the meetings.

    If the Cons stretch this doc access negotiation out for a few weeks – easily done with Lib consent – then we could quickly be into the June adjournment (June 23, I think). The same scenario could play out over the summer – i.e. Con refusal to cooperate – and with the House adjourned, there woudl be absolutely nothing the Opposition could do about it. Harper appoints a new GG, dissolves the House prior to the fall session and makes a run for his majority. Detainee docs remain hidden from Canadians.

  17. So the Speaker rules that the Oppostition has the right to demand access to the documentation and the Prime Minister must stop stonewalling, and you conclude that "the opposition has earned another blackeye with voters."

    Interesting interpretation.

  18. "Which brings us back to where it started."

    Wrong on the first count. Where we started was the MPCC, responsible for reviewing just these types of documents under tight security and confidentiality, not getting the documents from Harper. So it had to go to Parliament where the opposition made several proposals for a secure and confidential process of review which Harper ignored because he said he didn't have to.

    So rather than being back where we started, we are in fact well down the field and inches – or rather two weeks – from the goal line. Harper was wrong and he has now been told so.

  19. Looks like Harper has chosen to play political games and defy the Speaker:

    "We look forward to both complying with your ruling and with the legal obligations that have been established by statutes passed by this Parliament," Harper told the Speaker during the daily question period.

    "The fact of the matter is the government cannot break the law, it cannot order public servants to break the law, nor can it do anything that would unnecessarily jeopardize the safety of Canadian troops."

    This is going to get even more interesting.

  20. This is indeed the biggest issue in this whole affair. The whole 'national security' excuse and a total lack of accountability for its use basically detonates Access to Information laws. They might as well start handing out sheets of black paper and save the time of doing the actual redacting.

  21. Let's do that NOW can we? (Refer it to the SCoC I mean). I'm quite confident the Supreme Court would quite quickly throw the ball back to Parliament and say to the PM "If you're going to defy the will of Canada's Parliament then you're going to have to deal with any consequences Canada's Parliament chooses to enact against you and your Ministers in response, but it's none of our business".

    It's sad that something so foundational to our system of governance would have to be explained to a government by the Supremes, but if we have to go all the way to the SCoC to get the government to respect the supremacy of Parliament then let's do it already. That the government is reacting to the Speaker's ruling with the same nonsensical arguments they've been trumpeting all along, then we need our highest judicial body to set them straight. If the executive really is willing to ignore the majority of our elected representatives then I think it's past time that we see if they're willing to ignore the majority of Parliament AND the Supreme Court of Canada.

  22. Agree that the Supremes would refuse to hear any arguments challenging Parliaments supremacy over the Executive.

    However, if Harper was to frame a referral around a specific statutory issue or issues which he interprets as giving the Executive the ability – or even better for him, the obligation – to withhold certain documents from Parliament, then he may think he has something to entice the SCoC to play. I'd hope the Court would not allow themselves to be sucked into such delay games. Still, if the game is to delay, then if I'm Harper, it might be worth a shot.

  23. I suspect that the speaker's staff are on salary and don't get paid overtime. I'm a lawyer, I get paid the same whether I work all night or leave at six.

  24. So since he told the Speaker that the government cannot break the law, can the Speaker not decide that two weeks of stalling will not be allowed and refer the question to the Supreme Court himself? He can word it such that it is clear that he's not asking for permission, I think (since of course the Supreme Parliament doesn't need the Court's permission to do anything).

    This is a no brainer for most of us, and I can't even see the Court agreeing to hear any question. Just not agreeing to hear the question because Parliament is responsible to itself would answer the question if you see what I mean.

  25. This may be the wisest thing you've said on these board. Plus you had a great zinger the other day, though I can't recall it.

  26. Harper has no doubt been focus grouping and polling us at our expense on this since it all began… Wait until Sheila F gets her hands on his PMO budgetary indiscretions…

  27. Yes – and in his ruling the speaker cited a proposal made by Bob Rae to that effect.

  28. And for the other hold up…
    Oh crumbs! We just discovered that all the relevant documents are in the trunk of a tank parked somewhere on Bagrab Airfield – and we don't know how many months it will take us to retreive them because we mined the area and then – whoopsy – lost the plans for the layout of the minefield…
    And the papers we have already given you – fully blacked out – we quite honestly don't know what was in them – because they were so classified we closed our eyes when we ran the back felt tip over them…
    And did you have a question about a missing 17 minutes of tape too?
    How long before Harper is exiting with four fingers in the air – claiming – I am not a crook?

  29. The latest Liberal whine:

    but…but…but, what`s the use in us getting the Speaker onside if we have to agree to keep quiet about any hint of impropriety by any Canadians in Afghanistan. We want cameras and interviews and publicity because our real motives is to try to make the tories look bad. That`s all we ever wanted,

  30. And that – the sham of "what can he do under the law" – is the hook he can use to refer the matter to the SCoC.

    Stephen is nothing if not consistent.

  31. That's why I think it would be so fast. It'd take the judges, what, five minutes to write an opinion stating "this is none of our damned business – Parliament is supreme, so abide by the will of Parliament or deal with the consequences".

  32. Let`s hope the contemptous cynicism on display by the Liberals here is not copied by those Liberals in Ottawa toward a good man like Mr. Toews when he attempts to find a compromise.

  33. I just think that the judges on our Supreme Court are too smart to go along with what would essentially be (another) delaying tactic. The government may not realize how fundamental all of this is to the foundations of how we govern ourselves, but I bet the Supremes do, and it would take them stunningly little time to rule on a reference..

  34. You've got to be kidding.