Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Peace In Our Time Watch. The Reviewers Speak

From this afternoon's Globe web site:
University of Ottawa professor Amir Attaran, an advocate for greater disclosure on detainees, calls the deal a failure.

"It is an own-goal for the opposition if they sign this agreement, surpassing any fumble seen in the World Cup," Professor Attaran said.

Prof. Attaran laid out six criticisms which are his beefs with the deal:

"1. It pretends that Cabinet confidences are impenetrable by Parliament. There is no law to say that this need be the case, and it was not something that the Speaker said was the case. On the contrary, the Speaker said that the power of Parliament to require documents is absolute.

2. It also pretends that solicitor-client privileged opinions of government lawyers are impenetrable by Parliament. This is wrong, for the reason already stated, but it also gravely misapprehends the entire notion of “solicitor-client privilege” in a simpleminded way that I am surprised duped the opposition. Pause to think, “Who is the client of a Government of Canada lawyer?” and you can only conclude that the client is the Government of Canada. ... There is no legitimate solicitor-client privilege claim.

3. The agreement at para 6 allows any member of the review committee—any ONE member—to refer a disputed document to the panel of arbiters. With 20,000+ pages of documents expected, that could be abused to refer all the pages—every single one—totally swamping the review committee.

4. The review committee, further, is quite at variance with the terms of the Speaker’s order, which said that it was up to the members of the House to decide what documents would be released: if, when, and how. Yet now the proposed agreement puts that decision in the hands of a review committee of retired judges, who are not Parliamentarians. One hopes the Speaker rejects the agreement on this basis.

5. The referral of documents to a review committee of ex-judges is also worse than referring the same to sitting judge. At least sitting judges, in a real court, have rules that they follow, and there is a (mostly) open process where submissions can be made — by the public, by the press, and so forth. Nothing of the kind exists here, so actually, it would be better if this agreement not be signed. We don’t even know who the ex-judges are ...

6.This draft agreement shows nothing if not that the opposition parties in the House failed to bring the same quality of thinking to the problem that the Speaker did. It’s an own-goal. One might think they agreed because they don’t want an election now, but there are various ways they could have solved this conundrum without provoking an election."
No wonder Ralph Goodale's only response is to talk REALLY LOUD! Hat tip to Scott, who has the grace to be troubled by this betrayal of Parliament.

Update: Steve V declares the deal "A Dud".
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  1. Any time a future parliament -- or this one! -- demands documents, it still has that right.

    Parliamentary supremacy hasn't gone anywhere, even if the opposition except the NDP are a bunch of wusses.

    Nothing has changed.

    Though I do hope a future parliament looks at setting up a proper intelligence committee for classified documents.

  2. Any time a future parliament -- or this one! -- demands documents, it still has that right.

    That may or may not be so, there are a myriad of opinions about that. I am no parliamentary scholar, but when the Speaker went about making his ruling in this case, he looked at precedents. If he lets this crock stand, it will serve as a precedent for the next speaker when this kind of thing comes up.

  3. I am cheered somewhat by the fact though that the original ruling by the Speaker is on the books. However, if it is not used by the members, I wonder if it loses its "punch"?

  4. Doubt it. It's a pretty clear point.

    The majority in parliament had the right to demand any documents they want.

    When the government did not comply, a contempt motion was fully in order & able to be introduced. BUT, the Speaker thought it was silly for something like this to happen, so he strongly urged them to hammer out a deal that could satisfy a majority of parliamentarians.

    Which they've now done. (Not a great deal for the opposition, but that's how it goes.)

    I see nothing that would change, if a majority in parliament were again dissatisfied -- they could demand everything, and be fully able to introduce a contempt motion if the government again balked.

    It's still just a game of chicken.