12/22/2011 11:47 EST | Updated 02/21/2012 05:12 EST

Draft report in Canada's handling of Afghan prisoners written, but stays secret

OTTAWA - The military watchdog investigating Canada's handling of Afghan prisoners has penned an interim report, but the public won't get to see it.

The Military Police Complaints Commission says it has handed its preliminary assessment to the Defence Department for review by Defence Minister Peter MacKay and the head of the military.

It will be some months before a final report is issued.

The agency held a series of on-again, off-again public hearings into the question of what military police knew — or should have known — about alleged torture in Afghan prisons.

As part of its release, the commission also issued notice that is expecting a response to its recommendations and that "reasons must be provided for not acting on any of the findings and recommendations in the report."

That is significant, according to the human-rights lawyer who launched the case.

"It suggests — strongly — to me that the complaint has been upheld to some extent," said Paul Champ, "but we'll see. We obviously look forward to seeing the full report."

Amnesty International and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association filed the complaint in June 2008 and fought a protracted legal battle to prevent Canadian troops from handing over suspected Taliban fighters to local authorities in Kandahar.

The Harper government challenged the commission's authority to hold hearings and stood behind its transfer policy until a few weeks ago, when Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird announced that future prisoners would be handed to a U.S.-run detention centre.

The commission says its interim report must be kept confidential.

Champ said he would expect to see the final version by spring and if it takes any longer "the government would obviously be ragging the puck and waiting for a convenient time to release it."

The commission is likely releasing notice of the interim report without saying what is in it in order to put pressure on the Harper government and the Defence Department to release its final determinations quickly, he added.

But, Melany Gauvin, a spokeswoman for the commission said, since the issue had been before an inquiry, the agency felt the public should be kept up-to-date on the progress of the case.