Canadians will soon get their first official glimpse of sensitive Afghan detainee documents – more than a year after the House of Commons demanded disclosure of some 40,000 pages of confidential information.
Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe said a special multi-party committee that's been vetting the documents since July will finally start disclosing "an important number" of documents next month.
Liberals were somewhat less specific, saying only that the first round of document disclosures will come "very soon."
The two opposition parties hastened Thursday to assure Canadians that the secretive vetting process will produce results after NDP Leader Jack Layton accused them of colluding with the Conservative government to bury the controversy.
Mr. Layton said a public inquiry is the only way to get to the bottom of allegations that the government turned a blind eye to the routine torture of war prisoners after they were handed over to Afghan authorities by Canadian soldiers.
"This is an offence to Canadians, a subversion of their elected Parliament and it's something that needs to change," Mr. Layton said of the special committee's failure thus far to disclose a single document. "People deserve answers. They have a right to know what their government knew."
Precisely one year ago, the Commons voted to demand the release of uncensored detainee documents after the government repeatedly released only heavily redacted material.
The government ignored the demand until Commons Speaker Peter Milliken ruled in May that MPs had an unfettered right to see all confidential material, regardless of potential risks to national security. He gave all parties several weeks to come up with a compromise resolution to the issue that would satisfy both sides.
What emerged was a special committee of Conservative, Liberal and Bloc Quebecois MPs who were to view all the files, with a panel of retired judges appointed to determine how – or if – information deemed relevant could be released publicly.
The NDP boycotted the process, complaining the government was still gate-keeping the flow of information.
Mr. Layton said Thursday that Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and Mr. Duceppe should pull their MPs off the committee.
"They need to end the charade of their detainee-document deal with Mr. Harper because it's only keeping records hidden and standing in the way of a public inquiry," Mr. Layton said.
But Mr. Duceppe said the special committee has been doing serious work that will soon bear fruit. "We'll have an important number of those documents that will be rendered public in January," he said.
Bryon Wilfert, one of two Liberal members of the select committee reviewing the documents, said the NDP has no right to criticize a process it's chosen to boycott.
"They decided not to be part of this. They have absolutely no idea how the process is working," he said in an interview.
Mr. Wilfert said the process is working well with "goodwill all round" and no evidence of deliberate stalling by the government.
"You can rest assured, there will be a status report ... and information will be released," he said.