Bureaucrats played gatekeeper

OTTAWA — A small but powerful group of senior public servants chose which Afghanistan detainee documents to turn over to a military watchdog, an inquiry has heard.

OTTAWA — A small but powerful group of senior public servants chose which Afghanistan detainee documents to turn over to a military watchdog, an inquiry has heard.

But it took nearly an hour of questioning Monday before the Military Police Complaints Commission learned who decided to withhold reams of paper on prisoner transfers.

Foreign Affairs’ top bureaucrat eventually told the commission that the heads of several departments met about the documents.

“There wasn’t a name,” deputy minister Len Edwards said.

“This was a collective decision that was taken among senior officials on the basis of advice of counsel. It was a collective decision, it was a consensual decision.

“No one individual took the decision.”

Those senior officials came from Foreign Affairs, National Defence, CIDA and Public Safety.

Also at the meetings were Justice Department lawyers and the clerk of the Privy Council, the bureaucratic arm of the Prime Minister’s Office.

That deputy minister-level group, as it was called, was formed after Parliament voted to extend the Afghan mission for two more years in the spring of 2008.

Before that, a group of assistant deputy ministers from Foreign Affairs, National Defence and other departments decided.

Lawyers for the Military Police Complaints Commission and two civil-rights groups tried Monday to get to the bottom of a paper jam that threatens to stall the inquiry.

Further delaying things was a federal lawyer’s objections to attempts to name the specific people who made the decision.

Justice Department lawyer Alain Prefontaine said the government is ultimately responsible for the paper jam of Afghanistan detainee documents.

Prefontaine likened it to asking tech giant IBM to disclose who within the company made key decisions.