What would we be allowed to know? - Macleans.ca

What would we be allowed to know?


Over the weekend, Canadian Press considered how a committee of Parliament might be empowered to review documents related to Afghan detainees. Jack Harris’ proposed motion hints at the same basic idea and, in fact, an interim committee of Parliament (that included the current Defence Minister) laid out in much detail how this might work in a 2004 report.

Here, though, is how that plan explains such a committee’s reporting process.

The committee shall make reports directly to Parliament only after consultation with the Government to ensure that no classified information is disclosed. The Government shall have the right to review the committee’s reports before they are tabled in Parliament, and to black out, but not edit or delete, such classified information as it deems necessary. The committee will also respect its obligations with regard to the disclosure of personal information as required by the Privacy Act.

Which perhaps brings us back to the tricky questions of what qualifies as a matter of national security, what qualifies as a matter of public interest and who decides as much.


What would we be allowed to know?

  1. You complained on Twitter about people flogging the Coulter cancellation. You've been doing daily posts on "torture" for ages. You're colleague Mr.Potter has been to Afghanistan. Perhaps it would help your perspective if you put in a request for a similar assignment.

    • The insinuation being that AP doesn't share any of AW's concerns because he's been there? i haven't seen a whole lot of – we should just get some perspective pieces in AP's corner.

    • Correct me if I'm wrong, have you been to Afghanistan?

  2. Let's see…national security: guys with guns, risking their lives on the other side of the world, doing the bidding of their government, which is more than pulling its weight as part of NATO. Leaks, even of reporting channels, chain of command and processing can be manipulated by spooks from all over to either directly put CAF soldiers at risk today, or compromise their safety in the future.

    Public interest: a la this blog…anything to defame the CPC…even at the expense of brave young Canadian men and women. Can you not grasp the concept that in a war zone, anything that gives your enemy a tactical or strategic edge is the very definition of National Security. The pedestrian partisan sniping should at least be put on the back burner when someone's political ambition puts the lives of our soldiers at risk even, HYPOTHETICAL risk. The war may seem abstact to you. To those fighting it it's as real as it gets.

    • Peter, do you work in the PMO? The reason I ask is your use of the troops as human shields.

      • No, to me the troops are family and friends. But your weak attempt at defamation rather than refutation makes me wonder where you work. The concept is fairly straight forward. If the political grandstanding had any merit other than polishing the brass of a political party which put the soldiers in harms way in the first place (ill-equiped and underfunded), there are channels to privately learn the truth. In fact if you get a chance drop into the old "war-cabinet" room in Centre Block. Do you think King didn't share vital information with the opposition then?

        This whole non-issue is going to be worn as a very ugly political black-eye by some, I just hope it doesn't lead to any soldiers being killed…and that is what it's all about. Perhaps you should speak to some who have served over there.

        • How right you are. If only Harper had taken the opportunity to make the two opposition leaders privy counsellors much of this might have been avoided. But hen you are determined to press your point that only loyal cobs can possibly be trusted with the lives of the troops.

          • I wonder if the events of Dec. 08 had any bearing on that? When you consider the fact if one is allowed to hear any PCO deliberations they are secrets for life, it would have solved this issue. But I can certainly understand why one would be hesitant to trust someone who had just tried an end run on the electoral process.

          • Right kcm, like the Chretien/Martin Liberals made opposition leaders privy to ANYTHING about Afghanistan.

            PMSH was handed a pathetic 4 year old Liberal mess and you expect a New Government to clean it up and wear the mess at the same time.

            Much of this would have been avoided if the Chretien/Martin Liberals hadn't made such a mess of the detainee arrangements, right from the start in 2002.
            Now you expect PMSH to not only clean up a 4 year old Liberal mess in a snap, but to wear the Liberal mess too.

            This issue is going the way of the Liberal abortion motion……

    • You're right. Nothing the government does should be subject to scrutiny unless they decide it is in their interest. We should definitely not allow Parliament, or any independent body, decide what is and is not a threat to national security, and what is merely politically inconvenient.

  3. oops…consevatives…

  4. This isn't a sponsorship scandal, this isn't leaning on bankers to provide shakey loans, this isn't getting your driveway paved. Real humans with real families and children can be put at risk by this action. Is that not of the slightest relevance to you? Is the concept so foreign that, not wishing to be abusive, you just don't care so long as Iggy or Jack score a couple of points and couple of soldiers get killed that "it's just life in the big leagues?"

    I'm not trying to put words in your mouth, I'm just trying to determine if you've thought this through.

    • Yeah you are. You're arguing for carte blanche for government to withhold info. I'm arguing for independent oversight on what info is withheld. I'm not saying there is no info that should be secret.

      And yes, there is a tradeoff between the safety of soldiers/national security and government transparency. Otherwise, no information should ever be disclosed by government because it could in some inconceivable way cause harm to someone.

      • Now you're putting words in my mouth. I am specifically saying that in THIS instance, on THIS file the secrecy is completely merited because the potential for soldiers being killed is high. I absolutely am not arguing for a government-wide lock down on accountability. In fact neither is the CPC, or the PMO. You even state that you get it, then ignore your own good sense. I'm tempted to be trite, but I'm guessing you're a savy enough fellow to reconsider, in spite of your contempt for all things Harper. God knows I've had to slay more than few of the sacred cows I used to worship.

        • Why must it keep being repeated that MPs are likely capable of protecting secret details and indeed its even in their self-interest to do so? I should think it would be obvious by now. *sigh*

          • You sound like you haven't spent much time in any MPs offices… have you? You haven't seen how committee business (and that's where this started) is conducted. And you are probably unaware that Ottawa (according to the Sidewinder Report) is spook central. To spooks "how" is often just as important as "what" and even seemingly innocent documents could be keystones to understanding other information gained by other means or confirmation of suspicions. Regardless, giving anyone outside "need to know" access to operational documents ina conflict zone is REALLY bad policy period.

        • Ok. If MPs have no right to consider this info (in camera), then why do PMO flacks, or the PM himself? Why should any civilians oversee military operational details? If security is paramount, then trusting people like Lawrence Cannon, Maxime Bernier, or Peter McKay with these secrets is too risky. You're drawing an arbitrary line between some MPs and some others. Saying no civilians should be privy to military secrets is more defensible than saying some MPs should and some should not.

          It's not responsible government to hide this stuff from Parliament.

          • We're a democratic country, supposedly fighting a war and losing lives to protect democracy.

            Part of that contract means: we're democratic even in wartime. Elections are still held in wartime; committees still reviewed material, MPs were still sworn to secrecy (and policed accordingly), and tough questions were still asked in both the British and the Canadian parliaments in the Second World War, where the link between intelligence gained and the actual threat it could be used was significantly greater than what's seen today.

            There is zero – repeat – zero excuse to withhold this information from Parliament, which is, after all, the institution our soldiers are supposedly dying to protect, not the PM's fat white political ass. My contempt for the CPC – a party which I voted for, and have worked with – grows with every further second of subversive delay in this disgusting affair.

            And I'm from a military family, with direct relatives in active service, so enough of the "you hate the troops!" lectures. The government provides the documents voted for now, or it's subverting the constitution. End of story.

          • If you're having Easter dinner with any of your military family members ask them how they feel about it. On the politics side I too have been dismayed by some of the government's actions and policy directions, I just know from bitter experience that "plan B" aka Iggy and (very importantly the entitled to my entitelments class) is a non-starter.

  5. "The prime minister of Canada has only one job, and that is to unite Canadians and never divide them…"
    Ignatieff, May 2009

    Ignatieff, you are fired.

  6. I think that the classification scams are going to have to get before the courts, one way or another, before we stop any of our politicians from using national security or damage to international relations or turf claims as excuses to cover up incompetence or worse, which is obviously what they're doing.

    This is happening in the UK right now, and I hope that our judges are paying attention. The UK High Court made it clear a year ago that they just did not believe Miliband's security claims in the case of Binyam Mohamed, and their judgement has now been confirmed by their (new) Supremes (formerly the Law Lords). Other cases are going forward in similar ways, and they are uncovering many violations of international law directly relevant to violations committed not only in the UK and U.S. but here as well.

    We have a stinking mess here, and we have no political leaders willing to tackle the problem — in the case of the Liberals, for the obvious reason that they would want to be running similar CYA operations if they were in power again. The courts have to become more muscular — even in the case of Omar Khadr, they still have the opportunity.