OTTAWA — Stephen Harper says it’s up to government lawyers — not him — to decide what potentially explosive information is released about the possible torture of enemy prisoners in Afghanistan.
During the first question period of the new parliamentary session Thursday, the prime minister faced a barrage of demands to turn over all uncensored documents related to the detainee controversy.
Harper rejected those demands, setting the stage for a potential constitutional crisis over the privileges of Parliament.
A Liberal MP is planning to introduce a motion, as early as Friday, asking fellow MPs to find the government in contempt of Parliament. The motion would also authorize parliamentary officers to seize all documents pertaining to the question of whether enemy prisoners taken by Canadian soldiers were tortured by Afghan authorities.
Harper shrugged off opposition accusations that he shut down Parliament for almost three months strictly to avoid coming clean on the detainee issue.
He also summarily rejected opposition proposals to limit his power to prorogue or suspend Parliament at his discretion.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff kicked off proceedings with: “As we were saying before we were so rudely interrupted. . .”
On the detainee issue at least, all parties did seem to simply pick up where they left off when Parliament broke before Christmas.
Ignatieff reminded Harper that the House of Commons “passed a motion in December which said ’stop the cover-up, stop the excuses, deliver the documents.”’ He demanded Harper comply immediately.
But Harper said “tens of thousands of pages” of documents have already been released and they demonstrate Canadian soldiers conducted themselves “admirably.”
Most of those documents were heavily censored but Harper said, “The decision of redacting or not redacting documents rests with government lawyers who do that according to the law.”
Ignatieff said “everyone in the country” knows Harper suspended Parliament, which was to have resumed Jan. 25, “to avoid legitimate questions about the Afghan detainee scandal.”