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Secret sessions by House committees to be re-evaluated

A Canadian flag flies over Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, March 21, 2011.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Members of Parliament have agreed to examine whether committees of the House of Commons conduct too much substantive business behind closed doors.

The procedures and House Affairs committee, which like all Commons committees is dominated by Conservatives, has approved a motion from NDP Whip Chris Charlton to conduct a study of the use of secret "in camera sessions" across the committee system.

"Obviously for us this motion was really important because we do believe that Canadians have a right to know what happens in committee," Ms. Charlton said Wednesday, the day after her motion was successful. "We will be conducting a study of what is an appropriate, and what is not an appropriate, use of the ability to move committees into camera."

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Ironically, the decision was made by the House affairs committee while it was itself in an in-camera session. And, because MPs are not permitted discuss what goes on at the closed-door sessions, Ms. Charlton could not make public the fact that her motion had been successful until the minutes of the committee were published.

Had the motion been unsuccessful, there would have been no way of knowing why it was defeated, or by whom.

The issue of closed committees was first raised in December when it became apparent that the Conservatives were trying to have more of the debate conducted in private.

Ms. Charlton said she hoped that that the government will be more reluctant to try to push discussions in camera now that the committee has agreed to the study.

"I think the proof will be the pudding," she said. "I think it's great that Canadians are becoming aware of the fact that so much of the business is being conducted behind closed doors with the limited parliamentary debate and there is starting to be a public outcry about that and I am encouraged by that."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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