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Canada opposition measure seeks release of prisoner treatment documents

[JURIST] Canada's federal opposition parties combined Thursday to pass an unusual measure seeking to compel the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper to release confidential records concerning the treatment of detainees captured by Canadian troops in Afghanistan. In an effort to shed light on alleged prisoner abuse by Afghans after receiving prisoners handed over to them by Canadian forces, the Liberals, the New Democratic Party [party websites], and the Bloc Quebecois [party website, French] endorsed a Commons motion [CP report] that calls for the release of thousands of uncensored documents. The minority Conservative government immediately voiced concern [Globe and Mail report] that the release of such information could be helpful to the enemy, jeopardize national security, and is contrary to national secrecy laws. The opposition has referenced Parliament's absolute right to request the government to produce uncensored documents, as established by the Canadian Constitution [text]. If Harper's minority government chooses to ignore the motion, as has been suggested, the opposition parties could proceed with a vote to find the government in contempt, and possibly create a situation in which the courts will be asked to define the limits of parliamentary privilege.

This latest issue involving detainee treatment came up last month after Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin testified [JURIST report] before a Commons committee that all enemy combatants captured in 2006 and 2007 by Canadian forces were likely tortured upon their transfer to Afghan authorities. Earlier this month, the Canadian government released [JURIST report] more than 40 redacted e-mails [text, PDF] sent by Colvin to then-foreign minister Peter MacKay [official profile] raising concerns about the torture of transferred detainees. The e-mails, which Colvin alleges were sent in violation [Montreal Gazette report] of instructions to avoid written communication, were requested by the House of Commons Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan [official website] in order to corroborate the testimony Colvin gave to the committee. Throughout the spring of 2006, Colvin relayed allegations made by the International Committee of the Red Cross [official website] that Afghan authorities were routinely torturing detainees, and that by refusing information requests and failing to provide timely notice of transfer to Afghan custody, the Canadian military was hindering efforts to track Afghan detainees and monitor their treatment. Peter Tinsley, Chair of the Military Police Complaints Commission (MPCC) [official website], also released redacted copies of the e-mails Wednesday at the request of Amnesty International (AI) and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) [advocacy websites] after finding that the contents had already been selectively leaked [Toronto Star report] to media organizations.

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