OTTAWA — A House of Commons committee probe into the events surrounding the release of a highly-censored report on human rights in Afghanistan was held up Thursday by Conservative MPs, who for talked out the clock for hours.
The Tory filibuster finally broke after five hours and the witnesses were allowed to speak around 2 p.m.
The meeting of the House of Commons access to information and ethics committee was the second in a row to feature Tory MPs talking at length about procedural minutia to avoid delving into the committee's scheduled work.
The Conservatives were arguing that the opposition failed to give them enough notice for the study and that such a review raises concerns about revealing official secrets.
The opposition pushed for the probe following a recent Globe and Mail report showing how the government initially denied the existence of a report on Afghan human rights conditions, then released a heavily censored version. The Globe then obtained an uncensored version of the report which showed the government had blacked out sections that could be politically embarrassing to the government.
When confronted by NDP MP Dawn Black during question period about this filibuster - along with the fact that reports from corrections officers in Afghanistan had been completely censored, foreign affairs minister Mackay actually had the audacity to say that his government was the most "transparent, open and forthright government that this country has seen in a long, long time" (go ahead and laugh...I'll wait...). Mackay then resorted to the childish tactic of justifying his government's behaviour by using the handy well, the Liberals did it too excuse. Are there no statesmen among this bunch of tories? (Rhetorical question.)
The 2 witnesses whose testimony was delayed are University of Ottawa law professor Amir Attaran, who has been a very vocal critic of the way this government has mishandled the abuse claims by Afghan detainees, and journalist/researcher Jeff Esau. No wonder the tories tried to delay his testimony:
April 25, 2007
The Globe first asked Foreign Affairs on March 7 if Canadian diplomats compiled and wrote similar reports on Afghan human-rights conditions. "No" was the answer.
On March 22, in response to an Access to Information Act request, Jeff Esau, a journalist and researcher working for The Globe, received the following response to his request for the report:
"Please be advised that Canada does not produce an annual human rights report analogous to the reports produced by, for example, the United States or the United Kingdom. Therefore no such report on human rights performance in other countries exists," wrote Jocelyne Sabourin, Director of the Access to Information division at Foreign Affairs.
An earlier access request, filed Jan. 29 by Amir Attaran, a University of Ottawa law professor, asked specifically for the human-rights report on Afghanistan and noted that Foreign Affairs had, in the past, made such reports available to non-governmental organizations. It also noted that the report on Syria had been referenced in the report on the Maher Arar case.
It was only after the 30-day deadline for a response had long passed and Mr. Attaran complained to Information Commissioner Dan Dupuis, that the edited version was delivered this week, eradicating all reporting of torture and abuse beneath the censor's black pen.
Lies, coverups, distortions, censorship and attempts to silence witnesses. Yes, this certainly is the "most transparent" government ever, isn't it?