Liberal Party Demands Resignation of Defence Minister and Renews Call for Access to Information Investigation
July 17, 2007
MONTREAL – Prime Minister Stephen Harper must immediately replace Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor and must take immediate steps to restore the public’s access to information about Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan, said Liberal Defence Critic Denis Coderre today.
“Enough is enough. The Minister has been the source of misinformation and confusion for too long. To avoid further exposure of his complete incompetence, he has been choking off access to legitimate requests about Canada’s role in Afghanistan. He knows this is unacceptable and its time for him to go,” said Mr. Coderre.
“Whether it’s the cover up of the Department of Foreign Affairs report on torture in Afghanistan, or it’s a blanket order to ignore the Access to Information Act, this runs against every accountability and transparency promise made by the Prime Minister in the last election campaign. Minister O’Connor can no longer hide behind his generals and his civil servants to keep Canadians in the dark about Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan.”
Mr. Coderre reiterated his request that the Information Commissioner intervene in this matter.
“Canada’s Information Commissioner should investigate why the information is being withheld. Political embarrassment and a desire to minimize political fallout over the Prime Minister’s refusal to unequivocally commit to Canadians to end the combat mission in February 2009 do not constitute legitimate national security reasons to bar the public’s access to the information,” he said.
“Now, with the Conservatives recognizing that their attitude towards our military mission in Afghanistan is increasingly out of sync with the Canadian public, the information suddenly stops flowing. It’s a coincidence that defies credulity,” added Mr. Coderre. “We must all wonder whether we can trust anything that this Conservative government says about the mission anymore.”
The Department of Defence claims that releasing information regarding the treatment of Afghan detainees would compromise national security, but they are now blocking the release of documents similar to those released under earlier requests made before Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor came under fire for his mishandling of this issue. And, while the Minister’s spokesperson claims that policies regarding Access to Information requests have not changed, officials from the Department of Defence have said that a new policy has been put in place to review all documents requested, including those that had been previously released, relating to the detainees file.
This is the second case of interference in Access to Information files within the Department of Defence. Last week, DND was forced to admit that it had files relating to defence analyst Steven Staples, following an investigation by the Information Commissioner. The Department had originally claimed those files could not be released because they did not exist.
“Canadians have a right to expect transparency and competence when it comes to the management of a war fought in their names, and that is why Minister O’Connor must be replaced immediately and why there is a definite public interest in an investigation by the Information Commissioner,” said Mr. Coderre. “We are an open and democratic country, and Canadians deserve to have all the facts they need to have an informed debate.”