The Commons: Questions without end

The government has had just about enough of this inquiry stuff, thank you very much

The Scene. There was some general discussion of Afghanistan, U.S. President Barack Obama, the Canadian Forces and the American effort, before Michael Ignatieff, with his third opportunity, narrowed in on a specific concern.

“Mr. Speaker, the government’s approach has neglected the crucial importance of political and diplomatic engagement,” he ventured. “Other countries have created high-level envoys for the whole region. The United Kingdom, France, the United States, Germany have done this. Canada has earned the right to be at the table and to participate in those efforts. Can the government explain why, over month after month after month, it has refused to take that step, which will co-ordination to our diplomatic and political efforts in the region?”

Peter MacKay, the Defence Minister allowed to lead the government’s response this day, dismissed this quite quickly.

“Mr. Speaker, I know the leader of the opposition would model himself after other countries,” he said. “We are taking a unique Canadian approach.”

Rising for a fourth time, Mr. Ignatieff turned to the matter that has dominated these last two weeks, reminding the government of last night’s vote and asking if it might now relent to the inquiry requested therein. It was this point, for whatever reason, that John Baird stood.

“Mr. Speaker, let us be perfectly clear, the special committee on Afghanistan with members from all parties of this place is conducting a significant amount of meetings on this issue. The Military Police Complaints Commission is currently looking into the matter,” he reviewed. “The issue of transferring Taliban prisoners has been heard not once but twice at the federal court here in Ottawa. It has been examined by the Supreme Court that declined to hear the case. It has been the subject of the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service review. It has been the subject of an RCMP review, and a CF Board of Inquiry investigation has been conducted. I should remind the House and I should remind the Leader of the Opposition that there have been no proven allegations of abuse of Canada-transferred prisoners.”

So there. The government has had just about enough of this inquiry stuff, thank you very much. The quota on questions has been reached. Let’s all move on to something else.

Oh, but here came Mr. Ignatieff again. “Mr. Speaker, the government fails to realize that Canadian Forces may be in this situation with detainees in the future. Once and for all it would be good to have a judge investigate this with national security clearance, access to documents that are uncensored and unredacted, so that for the benefit of the Canadian Forces, for the benefit of our honour overseas we can get to the bottom of this,” he humbly offered. “This is what Parliament proposed yesterday involving both the previous Liberal government and this one. I fail to understand why the government cannot accede to the reasonable request of Parliament.”

This wasn’t actually a question, but Mr. Baird stood anyway, if only to inform the House to what degree he Supports The Troops.

It was Ujjal Dosanjh who later attempted to get very specific. “Mr. Speaker, between March 2006 and October 2007, the government continued to assert in this House many times that it had not received any specific and credible allegations of Canadian detainees being tortured in Afghan jails,” he recalled. “Can the Minister of Defence say, with complete certainty, that in his current position or as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, his office did not receive any specific and credible allegations of Canadian detainees being tortured from May to July, inclusive, 2007?”

Mr. MacKay stood to heap scorn on the “cynicism” of Mr. Dosanjh.

The Liberal defence critic gave it another go. “Mr. Speaker, I am not surprised by that answer. The government has covered up the details of detainee transfers in Afghanistan from the moment it took office,” he ventured. “Even the stoppage of transfers in November 2007 was not shared by the government until it became public otherwise.”

Then, with some unspoken intent, the question. “Bearing in mind the witnesses appearing before the committee on Afghanistan today,” Mr. Dosanjh said, “does the Minister of Defence still maintain that until November of 2007 his office received no specific and credible allegation of torture of Canadian detainees?”

Mr. MacKay chose to ignore this almost entirely. A couple Liberals then stood to read into the record various allegations of abuse that may or may not have been relevant to Mr. Dosanjh’s examination.

Whatever Mr. Baird’s protestations, there seems no end to questions left unanswered.

The Stats. Afghanistan, 11 questions. Taxation, six questions. Infrastructure, five questions. The environment, four questions. Employment and ethics, two questions each. Accountability, the Olympics, anti-semitism, government land and democracy, one question each.

John Baird, 12 answers. Peter MacKay, nine answers. Christian Paradis, three answers. Jim Prentice, Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Ted Menzies and James Moore, two answers each. Gary Lunn, Rona Ambrose, Pierre Poilievre and Steven Fletcher, one answer each.

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