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Precedent-setting Afghan detainee ruling due today

House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken's historic ruling on the powers of Parliament will arrive at around 3 p.m. today.

Sources report Mr. Milliken will deliver a 45-minute address at the close of Question Period on whether the government should be compelled to release uncensored documents pertaining to the treatment of detainees transferred by Canadian forces to Afghan prisons.

At stake is whether Parliament or the government is the supreme authority in the land.

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Claiming Stephen Harper's Conservative government was holding back information to avoid embarrassing revelations that authorities knew that prisoners were being tortured in Afghan prisons, the opposition parties combined to pass a motion demanding the government release all the documents, unredacted.

Claiming the censored information was a matter of national security, the government refused.

The opposition parties have asked the Speaker to rule on a question of parliamentary privilege - in effect, to rule that the government is in contempt of Parliament.

If Mr. Milliken rules in favour of the opposition, the government could be compelled to hand over the documents, although only after a committee has tried to reach a compromise. Mr. Harper could also challenge the ruling before the Supreme Court, which would be in the impossibly difficult position of having to rule on the powers of another branch of government.

If the Speaker rules in favour of the government, then the already powerful Prime Minister's Office will have become yet more powerful.

Constitutional experts from around the world will be watching to hear what Mr. Milliken has to say.

To follow the event as it unfolds, please click on the play button in the chat window below.

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About the Author
Writer-at-large

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More

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