Fighting for transparency on Afghan Documents

 It is becoming increasingly clear that Canadians may never learn the truth about the torture of Afghanistan detainees and the role Canada may have played.

By denying the rights of Parliament, the Conservatives have weakened democracy, leaving Canadians no further along in the quest for answers about how deep the knowledge of allegations against the Canadian government go in the process. What makes this even more galling is that it completely contradicts a ruling the Speaker of the House of Commons made in April. That decision was the result of an impasse at the Committee level stemming from the government’s submission of heavily redacted documents that opposition committee members deemed unacceptable.

It would appear that the Liberals, not just the Conservatives, have something to hide. Despite their calls for the truth in front of committee cameras, the Liberals sided with the government in hidden negotiations that served to protect cabinets, both Liberal and Conservatives, from revealing the contents of the most damning evidence.

On May 14th, the parties reached an agreement…in principle. Since then, the government dragged its feet in negotiations on the terms of the document releases and insisted on conditions that New Democrats considered unacceptable

The agreement that has been reached without New Democrat approval:

•excludes legal documents and cabinet records from review, contrary to the intent of the Speaker’s ruling;

•prohibits members of the documents review committee from reporting on stalling tactics or delays in collecting information;

•allows a single member of the committee to refer all the documents to the panel of arbiters for review, tying up the process endlessly.

In addition, just days ago, Michael Ignatieff stated that Canada should consider extending their mission in Afghanistan. Interesting enough, shortly thereafter, the Prime Minister refused to reaffirm his commitment to pull out. An EKOS poll from April maintained that 60 per cent of Canadians oppose any extension to the mission in Afghanistan. With such a strong concern over flailing support for the Liberal Party, why would Mr. Ignatieff come out and say we need a "frank national conversation" on the Afghan mission post-2011, particularly when the majority of Canadians do not want it, and after the Prime Minister has been grilled on this very issue? Does the Liberal have something to hide that may come to light once the mission is over?

In the U.S., the Department of Justice advised former President George Bush that he could ignore international law when it came to the torture of detainees. That advice was made public. It is that kind of transparency that the Conservatives, with the help of the Liberals, are obscuring. Let us remember that these same Conservatives were elected on the heels of the sponsorship scandal and promised accountability first and foremost. This is hardly accountability in action.

Accountability is certainly not the strong suit of either the Conservative or Liberal parties. Recently, the government produced one of the most overblown, irrational budget bills in Canadian history, C-9. Instead of taking a stand and voting down the budget bill, the Liberals showed their true colors. Although they can say they voted against the budget bill, they ensured enough of their members were absent from the vote to allow it to pass. Afraid of an election due to low poll numbers, the Liberal Party seems content to symbolically oppose the Conservative government, but when it comes time to hold their feet to the fire, the Liberals are nowhere to be found.

It is a sad day for democracy indeed when even the official opposition, who hold significant sway during a minority government, cannot show any real vision or leadership, and refuse to stand up to the government they are expected to oppose. New Democrats will continue to play the role of effective opposition given that the other opposition parties continue to demonstrate that they are too afraid to stand up for democracy.