All-party deal reached on Afghan detainee files

House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken has ruled the government must release uncensored documents on Afghan detainees.

OTTAWA—A last-minute deal on the release of Afghan detainee documents has been reached by government and opposition MPs.

Bloc Quebecois MP Pierre Paquette announced the deal to reporters Friday morning, saying it gives MPs the right to have the final say over the release of sensitive documents while protecting national security.

A statement released by the NDP said the deal will allow a panel of MPs from all four parties to review documents in their “unredacted” or uncensored form, to determine whether they are relevant to Parliamentary investigation into the treatment of detainees handed over to Afghan authorities. The statement said the panel’s decision will be “final and unreviewable.”

But it adds the documents identified as relevant will be referred to a panel of experts to determine how they can be made available to all MPs, and to the public, without compromising national security.

“This is a victory for Parliamentary democracy,” NDP leader Jack Layton said in the statement. “The Speaker’s ruling made it clear that Members of Parliament have the right to review all the information about the treatment of Afghan detainees, and not just what the government thinks MPs should see.”

The decision puts the brakes on a showdown between the Conservative government and the opposition parties over the release of the controversial documents.

“This is a reasonable arrangement,” said NDP Defence Critic Jack Harris in the statement.

Without this deal, Speaker Peter Milliken would have found the government in contempt of Parliament, which could have forced a snap election.

The documents relate to allegations that prisoners were routinely tortured by Afghan authorities after being turned over by Canadian soldiers.

Milliken had given the parties until early this afternoon to find a compromise.

Opposition MPs banded together last December to order the government to produce all the relevant documents — in their original, uncensored form.

The Harper government refused, citing its legal obligation to protect national security, the lives of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan and international relations.

It did release thousands of heavily censored documents. It also engaged former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci to review the material and determine what could safely be disclosed without risking national security.

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