06/23/2011 06:07 EDT | Updated 08/23/2011 05:12 EDT

Afghan Detainee Panel Shut Down By Government: Letter


THE CANADIAN PRESS -- OTTAWA - The Conservative government decided to shut down a panel responsible for vetting documents on the handling and treatment of Afghan detainees, a newly released letter indicates.

The June 15 letter from two former Supreme Court judges on the panel says they were advised by the government after the recent election "that it is unlikely" the document review process would be renewed, even though they had examined only an "initial" cache of records.

"We understand that no further work is now expected of the panel," the judges wrote.

The panel of former judges and an ad-hoc committee of MPs looked at thousands of documents over the last year to try to determine what Canadian officials might have known about the torture of prisoners in Afghan jails.

On Wednesday the government released 362 documents — totalling more than 4,000 pages — on the transfer of war prisoners in Afghanistan.

The June letter to Justice Minister Rob Nicholson from former Supreme Court justices Frank Iacobucci and Claire L'Heureux-Dube was among the trove of documents disclosed to Parliament. It makes it clear the judges considered the records "an initial set of documents."

In addition, the June 2010 memorandum of understanding governing the panel and committee work says the agreement "survives a dissolution of Parliament" provided that the government and opposition parties opt to renew it.

Iacobucci declined to comment.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Wednesday upon release of the records that the review was done.

"The process is over," he told reporters.

Andrew MacDougall, a spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office, said Thursday the opposition parties shut down the document review when they defeated the government in late March.

But he declined to answer questions about why the government did not revive the process following the election that returned the Conservatives to power.

The New Democrats never had confidence in the document vetting process and declined to take part.

NDP defence critic Jack Harris demanded a public inquiry Thursday, accusing the government of "trying to suppress the truth" by shielding the vast majority of some 40,000 federal documents on the prisoner transfers.

"Less than one-tenth of the documents were reviewed by the panel of ex-judges and less than half were even looked at by the backroom committee of MPs," he said during question period.

"And for what? So the government could put this off for a year and now falsely pretend that judgment has been rendered?

"Why did they choose a process that hid the facts from Canadians, and why not hold a public inquiry now?"

Baird said the government has always been committed to handling prisoners in accordance with international rules.

"I think Canadians have got a clear picture that our men and women in uniform fully accepted all of our international obligations and have done a heck of a good job representing this country," he told the House of Commons.