Canada briefs – October 16

The Harper government has quietly nixed recommendations to expand and modernize Canada’s access-to-information and privacy laws.

Information, privacy laws fine as is

OTTAWA — The Harper government has quietly nixed recommendations to expand and modernize Canada’s access-to-information and privacy laws.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson has rejected recommendations for reform of the 26-year-old laws by a House of Commons committee.

Among other things, the committee had wanted to give the information commission more power to force government to disclose information in a timely manner.

It also wanted the privacy law expanded to cover new technologies such as surveillance-camera feeds and DNA samples collected from crime suspects.

And it wanted to beef up provisions governing the disclosure of personal information by the Canadian government to foreign states.

But in responses tabled quietly last week, Nicholson rejects the recommendations, maintaining that the privacy and information acts are strong pieces of legislation that should only be changed after careful consideration.

NDP calls for prisoner abuse inquiry

OTTAWA — The NDP says there should be a public inquiry into Canada’s policy of handing over prisoners to Afghan jails, if the Conservative government continues to stonewall the issue.

A public hearing by the Military Police Complaints Commission was shut down Wednesday for at least six months to let lawyers argue appeals over the scope of the agency’s power and what it can investigate.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay has repeatedly said the commission has a mandate limited to what military police knew — or should have known — about the possible torture of Taliban prisoners.

A spokesman for MacKay said that position is backed by a recent Federal Court ruling that clearly lays out what the commission can and cannot pursue.

“The commission is limited to considering the conduct of members of the military police in the performance of their policing duties or functions,” Dan Dugas said.

“It has no jurisdiction to inquire into the conduct of the military at large, much less the conduct of persons who are not members of the military.”

NDP defence critic Jack Harris says a formal inquiry may be the only way to go.

“The truth needs to be brought out and if the government is doing its best and succeeds in preventing the truth from coming out before the Military Police Complaints Commission, then we will obviously want to have a full public inquiry,” Harris said.

Liberals file complaint over Tory cheques

OTTAWA — The Liberals are complaining to the federal ethics commissioner over government use of taxpayer cheques bearing the Conservative party logo or Tory MPs’ signatures.

Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson is being asked to investigate 48 separate examples of promotional government cheques that Tory MPs used to tout stimulus spending for partisan gain.

The Liberals claim to have dug up 181 examples of partisan cheque presentations going back to 2007 on which Conservative emblems overshadow the Government of Canada logo.

The Liberals and other critics say it’s a breach of government rules under the Federal Identity Program.

To underscore their point, the Liberals held a news conference Wednesday beneath a backdrop image of Prime Minister Stephen Harper made from a collage of photographs of the cheque presentations.

The bulk of those placards bear the MP’s name and signature. The Liberals say five cheques presented by Tory MPs Gerald Keddy and Colin Mayes are adorned with the Tory logo.

Keddy’s office called it an oversight, but a second photo soon surfaced of the parliamentary secretary presenting another stimulus cheque bearing the Tory logo.

It’s not so clear in Mayes’s case. A photo on the British Columbia MP’s website shows him presenting an over-sized cheque with his name and the Tory logo beneath the Economic Action Plan heading.

Harper has acknowledged that party logos should not appear on cheques.

But his officials insist there’s nothing wrong with Tory MPs presenting government cheques on which their own name, or Tory sloganeering, is the most prominent feature.

A look at Conservative MP websites reveals dozens of cheque presentations on which the MP’s name and signature appears in bold letters, while the government of Canada logo is tiny.

It gives the false impression the Tories are paying for the projects out of their own pockets, Liberal MP David McGuinty said.

“If the prime minister wants to have the Conservative party donate money to the people of Canada, we support him. He should do so,” he said.

“If he puts another cheque out with a $100,000 tag attached with the Conservative party logo on it, great. Let the Conservative Party of Canada pay for it.”

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