Tories to ignore vote on releasing prisoner reports
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Friday, December 11, 2009 7:56PM EST
The Harper government is citing concern over security as reason to ignore a parliamentary vote passed by opposition MPs Friday, demanding it release uncensored information on Afghan prisoners.
International Trade Minister Stockwell Day says the government will follow a law that allows it to not release information on security grounds.
"The law is very clear that if there are elements of security, elements that could affect the security of our soldiers or civilians, then information will be protected," said Day, who also chairs the federal committee on Afghanistan.
He said the opposition MPs who voted in favour of the release can appeal if they wish.
The vote came on the heels of a revelation by Canadian Gen. Walt Natynczyk, who said Wednesday that a prisoner handed over to Afghan authorities by Canadians, was beaten while in Afghan custody.
Demands for the release of prisoner documents first surfaced last month when senior diplomat Richard Colvin told a House of Commons committee that Canadians handed over prisoners to Afghan authorities, where he said they were likely tortured.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay has argued that releasing the records "could be helpful to the enemy" and jeopardize Canadian troops.
Friday's vote came on the last day of Parliament before the winter break -- with debate resuming in the parliamentary committee in January.
In the motion passed by opposition MPs, the government would be required to release thousands of uncensored confidential records on prisoners.
The Liberals, NDP and Bloc Quebecois passed the motion 145-143. Constitutional expert and Queen's University Professor Ned Franks told CTV News Channel this is the first time in his long career that a motion of this kind has passed in Ottawa.
The Conservatives rule with a minority government and can be mathematically outvoted by the opposition, if the majority of opposition MPs vote together, as was the case Friday.
If the Conservatives ignore the order, as Day suggested, the opposition could vote to find the government in contempt, setting the stage for further battles when debate resumes. Parliament would then take recommendations by a committee on how to proceed in any contempt case.
Franks said the only sanction Parliament can take is to confine the minister to a hotel room until the end of the session.
He also said that if this turns into a court battle, Parliament would not be allowed to discuss the matter.
The opposition motion said Parliament has "undisputed privileges" under the constitution, including the power to "require the government to produce uncensored documents when requested."
But Justice officials say politicians must respect limits to what can be released under privacy and security laws. But Commons law clerk Robert Walsh says MPs in parliamentary committees have the right to read uncensored documents.
Colvin, who was at one point Canada's No. 2 official in Afghanistan, told the committee that he informed the government in writing about suspected incidents of torture by Afghan authorities but says he was told by people higher up to stop writing about the incidents.
The Harper government has repeatedly attacked Colvin's credibility in parliament. About 95 former ambassadors have signed a letter of protest over Colvin's treatment.
With files from The Canadian Press