Canadian House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken [official website] ruled [text, PDF] Tuesday that members of Parliament have the right to seek uncensored Afghan detainee documents from the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper [official websites]. The historic ruling is a significant victory for opposition parties over Harper's minority Conservative government. In his ruling, Milliken said:
The Chair must conclude that it is within the powers of the House of Commons to ask for the documents sought in the December 10 order it adopted. Now, it seems to me, that the issue before us is this: is it possible to put into place a mechanism by which these documents could be made available to the House without compromising the security and confidentiality of the information they contain? In other words, is it possible for the two sides, working together in the best interest of the Canadians they serve, to devise a means where both their concerns are met? Surely that is not too much to hope for.Milliken gave both sides two weeks to reach a compromise. If no agreement can be reached, members of Harper's cabinet, including the ministers of defense, foreign affairs, and justice, could be held in contempt of Parliament. Although the Harper government has indicated its general willingness to comply with the Speaker's ruling, it might yet pass the general issue [Toronto Star report] of executive versus legislative authority on to the Supreme Court of Canada [official website] as a constitutional reference question for its formal determination.
The release of the detainee documents has been highly controversial. Last month, Canadian Justice Minister Rob Nicholson [official profile] announced that former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci [U. Toronto backgrounder] would review documents [JURIST report] detailing Canadian forces' handing of Afghan detainees and the terms of their transfer to Afghan authorities before the documents would be released to Parliament. Nicholson indicated that Iacobucci would report back to Nicholson, who would determine the conditions of disclosure. In December, Parliament passed an order to compel Harper to release the unredacted documents after the Canadian government released [JURIST reports] more than 40 redacted e-mails [text, PDF] sent by Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin to then-foreign minister Peter MacKay [official profile] raising concerns about the torture of transferred detainees. The release of the e-mails came after Colvin testified [JURIST report] before a Commons committee in November that all enemy combatants captured in 2006 and 2007 by Canadian forces were likely tortured upon their transfer to Afghan authorities.