Parliamentary supremacy and the Speaker's corner


This is the week the Speaker of the House of Commons rules on whether or not the Conservative government must release to Parliament the full text of documents in their possession concerning Canadian complicity in torture of detained Afghans. 

The issue at stake is the power of Parliament to require the prime minister and cabinet to make documents public. Can the Conservatives claim national security and dealings with foreign powers protect them from following a parliamentary directive?

The Conservatives did release heavily censored versions of the documents. They have engaged former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci to determine what constitutes legitimate criteria for not disclosing material requested by parliament. They have not yet claimed that governments are above the law.

Most people expect Speaker Peter Milliken, a Liberal, to sidestep the
issue of parliamentary supremacy; he may issue a rebuke to the Harper
government, but acknowledge the legitimacy of cabinet ministers making
their own secrecy determinations.

The three opposition parties argue Conservative ministers who failed to produce the documents are in contempt of parliament. In addressing their motion, the Speaker presumably must outline in what instances governments do not have to defer to the will of Parliament.

When Canadians elect their Parliament they are choosing more than
legislators to vote on bills. Parliamentarians decide who forms the
government. Canadian MPs are expected to hold the government
responsible to the people.

To watch Parliament you would think that members of the Conservative caucus were appointed by the prime minister not elected by their constituents. In the name of party discipline, members no longer make statements without approval of the Prime Minister's Office, either inside or outside the house.

Not just Conservative parliamentarians are affected by the ban on free speech. Canadian diplomats abroad, and public servants are not allowed to speak without first asking permission from the PMO apparatus.

The Conservatives have breached international law by handing over of Afghan detainees to be tortured, and should be prosecuted under the Geneva Convention, irrespective of the Speaker's ruling. We do not need additional proof or "secret" documents in order to arrive at that conclusion. But we do need to face the issue of disregard for parliament raised by the Harper government on a daily basis, irrespective of any crimes it has committed.

Conservative M.P.s consent silently to the implication of Canadians in torture, a war crime. Worse, they consent to keeping pertinent evidence to the crime secret from the people who elected them to oversee our government.

Richard Colvin is the Canadian diplomat who raised the issue of torture inside the government. He was called to testify before a parliamentary committee on what he knew, and when he knew it. While making his testimony, on orders of the Conservatives, he was denied access to his own emails.

A public servant called as a witness before a parliamentary committee and unable to access his own work while testifying? Even George Orwell did not imagine tyranny being that imaginative. Every Conservative MP deserves to be defeated in the next election.

 

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