The MPCC is back in session today, with testimony from Major Kevin Rowcliffe, former staff adviser to Lt.-Gen. Michel Gauthier, who was in turn, second in command of the Afghanistan mission. Last month, Murray Brewster and Jim Bronskill reported on Maj. Rowcliffe’s 2007 interview with MPCC investigators, in which he indicated that CSIS worked with military police to interrogate detainees captured by Canadian forces. We’ll be back with an update on Maj. Rowcliffe’s testimony later today.
In the meantime, we wanted to share with you what appears to be a rather terse exchange between DOJ counsel Alain Prefontaine and MPCC Chair Glenn Stannard this morning.
As we reported last week, Foreign Affairs official Nicholas Gosselin testified about eight more reports of detainee torture in 2008, and the Commission, as was to be expected, requested copies of these reports.
As reported by the Globe and Mail, when asked when the documents would be available to MPCC counsel, Mr. Prefontaine refused to set a date for when disclosures would be available. Rather:
“The documents will be given to your counsel when they are good and ready,” Justice Department lawyer Alain Prefontaine told the complaint commission.
The tone of Mr. Prefontaine’s response prompted astonishment from Glenn Stannard, the acting chair of the commission.
“I find that to be close to offensive, not only to this panel but also to the public,” Mr. Stannard said. “The government of Canada can’t tell us how long it’s going to take to get the documents?”
. . .
Mr. Prefontaine said censors still have to review the documents to ensure they are scrubbed of information that could breach national security before they are released. This sparked a testy exchange between the government lawyer and the commission chair.
The Justice Department official refused several times to say when documents might be released, first saying this was a secret between him and the government of Canada. “That is not something I am at liberty to discuss with you. That is covered by the solicitor-client privilege.”
When Mr. Stannard asked for the name of someone in government who could come before the panel and give a date for the documents’ release, Mr. Prefontaine replied: “I do not perceive that it’s my obligation to answer that question.”
Then, astonishingly, Mr. Prefontaine proceeded to cast blame on Commission counsel for making too many requests for information as justification for the delay in producing documents. (Ed. Is it really the case that the DOJ can’t scare up enough lawyers to conduct a privilege review?) As per the Globe and Mail:
Commission lawyer Ron Lunau dismissed Ottawa’s excuse. “I don’t accept … that we are somehow to blame for the fact that today [Mr. Prefontaine] will sit here and tell the commission basically that it’s none of their business when these documents are going to be produced.”
Our sources in Ottawa have informed us that Mr. Prefontaine has since apologized to the Commission for his remarks. Nonetheless, it strikes us that the DOJ’s apparent disregard for the MPCC process, as evidenced by Mr. Prefontaine’s conduct this morning, cannot really be explained away with a simple apology.