The Commons: Adjust your cuffs and carry on

Questions of mandates, trust and rendition

harper houseThe Scene. “Mr. Speaker,” the Liberal leader began, “every day there are new allegations about Afghan detainees.”

The Conservatives across the way groaned and moaned their agreement.

“Recently we have seen reports about the role of CSIS in interrogation and detainee transfers. These are disturbing reports but the government keeps holding back the truth,” Mr. Ignatieff continued. “It has now appointed Justice Iacobucci, for whom we have great respect—”

The Conservatives cheered, perhaps prematurely.

“We share those sentiments entirely,” Mr. Ignatieff continued pointing his left index finger slightly, “but if he does not have the power, if he does not have the authority, if he only sees what the government wants him to see, how can he get at the truth? Why will the Prime Minister not do the right thing and appoint a full public inquiry?”

This question would go unacknowledged as the Prime Minister stood, adjusted his left cuff, and ventured his own version of events.

“Mr. Speaker, the party opposite has suggested I think unfairly and without really any evidence that somehow public servants are withholding documents they are not supposed to withhold under the law and public servants are charged with reviewing all documents,” he explained. “However to provide further assurance we have asked Justice Iacobucci to review all of these documents and he will give us his report.”

Mr. Ignatieff was unpersuaded. “Mr. Speaker, the government’s record on this lacks all credibility,” he posited. “It shut the House down to avoid questions on this subject.”

The Conservatives across the way guffawed—mocking the suggestion, celebrating their tactical brilliance or lamenting that it hasn’t seemed to resolve their predicament, it was unclear.

“It has withheld uncensored evidence from Parliament,” the leader of the opposition continued, wagging his left fist in the Prime Minister’s general direction. “Now it has asked the justice to decide what evidence Parliament should and should not see, but how can he do his job properly? We have not even seen the mandate. We have not even seen his authority. Why not give Canadians the truth? Why not appoint a full public inquiry to get to the bottom of this sorry affair?”

Mr. Harper stood, adjusted both his right and left cuffs, and quibbled with the Liberal leader’s choice of adjective. “Mr. Speaker, I reject the categorization,” the Prime Minister lamented. “I think the Canadian Forces and Canadian diplomats have performed admirably throughout the Afghan mission. To be very clear, Justice Iacobucci will have access to all documents and he will give us a public report.”

En francais, Mr. Ignatieff suggested Mr. Harper was now hiding behind both the troops and Mr. Iacobucci.

And with that allegation on record, it was Ujjal Dosanjh’s turn to raise the rhetorical stakes. “Mr. Speaker,” he said, “the CBC and the Canadian Press—”

“Woah!” sang the Conservatives.

“—have both reported that the government ordered the transfer of detainees to the notorious Afghan NDS for the purposes of extracting additional information. We are not questioning the actions of our troops as the Prime Minister continues to say, we are questioning the actions of the government,” Mr. Dosanjh attempted to clarify for perhaps the thousandth time. “Did the government conduct a deliberate policy of rendition, the outsourcing of interrogation and torture of Afghan detainees for extracting additional information?”

The Prime Minister stood, folded his hands in front of him, and made every attempt to sound reassuring while not quite directly responding to the question at hand. “Mr. Speaker, the honourable member knows all transfers up to 2007 took place under agreements signed during the period of the previous government and since 2007 there has been a new transfer agreement in place,” he said, “and of course, Canada at all times respects its international obligations.”

Mr. Dosanjh returned to his feet and first clarified for the Prime Minister’s benefit what exactly he had just asked him. “Mr. Speaker, my question is, did this government conduct the policy of rendition?”

Then it was back to the questions Mr. Ignatieff had tabled. “Each week media are reporting more troubling information. None of this information so far has helped the government’s claims,” Mr. Dosanjh reviewed. “Allegations as serious as rendition require more than just a vetting of the documents. They require a full and transparent public inquiry to look at all the facts. Will the government do the right thing and call a public inquiry?”

Mr. Harper stood, adjusted his tie, and tried once more to shoo this fly from his vicinity. “Once again, Mr. Speaker, Justice Iacobucci will have access to all documents that have been looked at by public servants. He will review them and he will give a public report,” the Prime Minister restated. “I hope if the honourable member does not trust the government, does not trust the Canadian Forces, does not trust the foreign service, does not trust anybody else, at least maybe he can trust Justice Iacobucci to review the matter.”

And so we are all apparently agreed that Justice Iacobucci is worthy of respect and trust. Now if only he could be asked to reverse time and single-handedly extract the country from this mess.

The Stats. Equality, 11 questions. Afghanistan, seven questions. Rights & Democracy, four questions. Foreign aid, three questions. Government spending, employment and aboriginals, two questions each. Firearms, seniors, taxation, the public service, national security, forestry and the seal hunt, one question each.

Stephen Harper, 10 answers. Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Lawrence Cannon and Jason Kenney, four answers each. Bev Oda and Diane Finley, three answers each. John Baird and Vic Toews, two answers each. Helena Guergis, Stockwell Day, Chuck Strahl, Denis Lebel, Leona Aglukkaq and Gail Shea, one answer each.