On November 19, 1942, the Soviet forces launched a counteroffensive against the German troops in Stalingrad. On Feb. 2, 1943, the Red Army wiped out the last of the German main forces trapped and under siege in Stalingrad. The Nazi defeat in the Battle of Stalingrad threw Germany's offensive on the Soviet Union into disarray, marking a turning point in the war against Nazi Germany.
Following up their victory at Stalingrad, the Soviet army liberated most of Ukraine and virtually all of Russia and eastern Belarus during 1943.
In August 1943, the Germans were defeated in a battle at Kursk, Russia, and thus rendered incapable of launching any further strategic attacks.
In 1944, the Soviets launched an all-out offensive, liberating the rest of Belarus and Ukraine, most of the Baltic States and eastern Poland from Germany.
By August 1944, Soviet troops had crossed into Germany. In mid-April 1945, the Soviet army launched its final assault on Germany and laid siege to Berlin on April 21.
On May 2, 1945, Soviet troops took Berlin. On May 8,
Nazi Germany surrendered unconditionally.
Battle of Berlin: Left, Soviet forces in combat; right: celebration at the Brandenburg Gate on May 2, 1945
following German surrender of the city. (RIA Novosti)
In the Parliament: For Your Information
Speaker's Ruling on Order to Produce Documents
Today, May 11, is the deadline given by the Speaker of the House of Commons Peter Milliken for "House leaders, ministers and party critics" to find a way to resolve the impasse in the Parliament over the Harper government's refusal to hand over documents related to the Afghan detainee scandal. On April 27, Milliken gave "House leaders, ministers and party critics" two weeks to suggest some way of resolving the impasse facing the House with respect to Parliament's order that the government produce documents related to the Afghan Enquiry. "In view of the grave circumstances of the current impasse," he said, "The Chair believes that the House ought to make one further effort to arrive at an interest-based solution to this thorny question. [...] I will allow House leaders, ministers and party critics time to suggest some way of resolving the impasse, for it seems to me we would fail the institution if no resolution can be found."
"[O]n analyzing the evidence before it and the precedents, the Chair cannot but conclude that the government's failure to comply with the order of December 10, 2009, constitutes prima facie a question of privilege," Milliken said. He acknowledged the competing roles "of the government as 'defender of the realm' and its heavy responsibilities in matters of security, national defence and international relations" and the role of the House of Parliament "as the 'grand inquest of the nation' and its need for complete and accurate information in order to fulfill its duty of holding the government to account." He appealed to all parties to resolve this in the tradition of the House of Commons which he says is through collaboration and accommodation:
"But the fact remains that the House and the government have, essentially, an unbroken record of some 140 years of collaboration and accommodation in cases of this kind. It seems to me that it would be a signal failure for us to see that record shattered in the third session of the 40th Parliament because we lacked the will or the wit to find a solution to this impasse."
In opening, Mr. Milliken set out the facts of the case: from the recreation of the Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan on February 10, 2009 following the first prorogation of the 40th Parliament up to the government tabling a large volume of documents regarding Afghan detainees, "without prejudice," to the procedural arguments on April 26, 2010.
Before addressing the arguments with respect to the ruling, Speaker Milliken cited the function of the Speaker with respect to a matter of privilege, as set out in House of Commons Procedure and Practice:
"Great importance is attached to matters involving privilege. A Member wishing to raise a question of privilege in the House must first convince the Speaker that his or her concern is prima facie (on the first impression or at first glance) a question of privilege. The function of the Speaker is limited to deciding whether the matter is of such a character as to entitle the Member who has raised the question to move a motion which will have priority over Orders of the Day; that is, in the Speaker's opinion, there is a prima facie question of privilege. If there is, the House must take the matter into immediate consideration. Ultimately, it is the House which decides whether a breach of privilege or a contempt has been committed."
"As Speaker," he said, "One of my principal duties is to safeguard the rights and privileges of members and of the House. In doing so, the Chair is always mindful of the established precedents, usages, traditions and practices of the House and of the role of the Chair in their ongoing evolution. It is no exaggeration to say that it is a rare event for the Speaker to be seized of a matter as complex and as heavy with consequence as the matter before us now."
"The main and most important issue that the Chair must address today concerns the right of the House to order production of documents, including the nature of the right, questions related to the extent of the right and the manner in which the right can or ought to be exercised. All members who have intervened on these matters of privilege have touched on these fundamental questions in one way or another. In addition, the Chair has been asked to determine whether or not the order has been complied with, and if not, whether this constitutes, prima facie, a contempt of the House."
Mr. Milliken stated:
"Before us are issues that question the very foundations upon which our parliamentary system is built. In a system of responsible government, the fundamental right of the House of Commons to hold the government to account for its actions is an indisputable privilege and in fact an obligation.
"Embedded in our Constitution, parliamentary law and even in our Standing Orders, it is the source of our parliamentary system for which other processes and principles necessarily flow, and it is why that right is manifested in numerous procedures of the House, from the daily question period to the detailed examination by committees of estimates, to reviews of the accounts of Canada, to debate, amendments, and votes on legislation."
Citing various authorities he said, "In light of these various authorities, the Chair must conclude that the House does indeed have the right to ask for the documents listed in the order of December 10, 2009."
With regard to the extent of the right, Milliken addressed the contention of Justice Minister Rob Nicholson on March 31 that the December 10 order is a breach of the constitutional separation of powers between the executive and the legislative branches of government:
"Having noted that the three branches of government must respect the legitimate sphere of activity of the others, the minister argued that the order of the House was tantamount to an unlawful extension of the House's privileges. This can only be true if one agrees with the notion that the House's power to order the production of documents is not absolute. The question would then be whether this interpretation subjugates the legislature to the executive.
"It is the view of the Chair that accepting an unconditional authority of the executive to censor the information provided to Parliament would in fact jeopardize the very separation of powers that is purported to lie at the heart of our parliamentary system and the independence of its constituent parts. Furthermore, it risks diminishing the inherent privileges of the House and its members, which have been earned and must be safeguarded.
"As has been noted earlier, procedural authorities are categorical in repeatedly asserting the powers of the House in ordering the production of documents. No exceptions are made for any category of government documents, even those related to national security.
"Therefore, the Chair must conclude that it is perfectly within the existing privileges of the House to order production of the documents in question. Bearing in mind that the fundamental role of Parliament is to hold the government to account, as the servant of the House and the protector of its privileges, I cannot agree with the government's interpretation that ordering these documents transgresses the separation of powers and interferes with the spheres of activity of the executive branch."
Milliken then addressed the responsibility of the House of Commons regarding the manner in which the right to order the production of documents can be exercised. He noted that all of the authorities he had previously cited referred "to the long-standing practice whereby the House has accepted that not all documents demanded ought to be made available in cases where the Government asserts that this is impossible or inappropriate for reasons of national security, national defence or international relations."
The Speaker made the distinction between an Order of the House and documents cited in the House of Commons. He referred to one of his own rulings, where on June 8, 2006 he had upheld the right of the Prime Minister to withhold a document on the basis of national security, ruling that "national security, when asserted by a minister, was sufficient to set aside a requirement to table documents cited in debate." However, the Speaker noted, "It is clear to the Chair that there is a difference between the practice of the House which allows a minister, on the sole basis of his or her judgment, to refrain from tabling a cited document for reasons of confidentiality and national security, and an order, duly adopted by the House following notice and debate, requiring the tabling of documents."
A distinction was also made between the order adopted by the House on December 10, 2009 and notices of motions for the production of papers which are common practice in the House, where there is an opportunity for a minister or parliamentary secretary to indicate to the House that the notice is acceptable to the government subject to certain reservations, such as confidentiality, or national security and the House is fully aware that some documents will not be produced if the motion is adopted. If the House does not agree, the motion must either be transferred for debate or be put immediately to the House without debate or amendment.
Similarly on December 10, 2009 before the House voted on the motion that became an order to produce documents, the Speaker explained, the ministers of justice, national defence and foreign affairs all gave reasons why the documents in question should not be made available. This is in keeping with what the Parliamentary authority, Bourinot, refers to as the government's responsibility to provide "reasons very cogent" for not producing documents.
While in the past, such an assertion by the government might have been found acceptable by the House, in the circumstances of December 10, 2009, the Speaker said, "the reasons given by the government were not found to be sufficient" and after debate, the House adopted an order for the production of documents.
The Speaker attributes this to the issue of accommodation and trust and cites his own observations at the time, "It is unfortunate, if I may make this comment, that arrangements were not made in committee to settle this matter there, where these requests were made and where there might have been some agreement on which documents and which format would be tabled or made available to members. How they were to be produced or however it was to be done, I do not know, but obviously that has not happened."
"The Chair must conclude that it is within the powers of the House of Commons to ask for the documents sought in the December 10 order it adopted," Mr. Milliken said. "Now it seems to me that the issue before us is this: Is it possible to put in place a mechanism by which these documents could be made available to the House without compromising the security and confidentiality of the information they contain? In other words, is it possible for the two sides, working together in the best interests of the Canadians they serve, to devise a means where both their concerns are met? Surely that is not too much to hope for."
Where next? He noted that several members of the House have made the point that there are numerous ways the documents could be made available without divulging state secrets and that all sides in the House needed to find a way to respect the privileges and rights of members of Parliament to hold the government to account, while at the same time protecting national security.
The government's own proposal to the impasse has been to appoint former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci to examine the documents and recommend to the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General what can be safely disclosed to the House. The government argues that such a review puts them in compliance with the order, while maintaining its requirement to protect the security of Canada's armed forces and Canada's international obligations. Members of the House, however, have described this as a "parallel process outside of parliamentary oversight, and without parliamentary involvement." The Speaker himself noted, "Furthermore, and in my view perhaps most significantly, Mr. Iacobucci reports to the Minister of Justice; his client is the government."
The Speaker noted a proposal by the Member for Toronto Centre on March 18, regarding House of Commons Procedure and Practice and a mechanism employed by the New South Wales Legislative Council in Australia, but pointed out:
"Finding common ground will be difficult. There have been assertions that colleagues in the House are not sufficiently trustworthy to be given confidential information, even with appropriate security safeguards in place. I find such comments troubling. The insinuation that members of Parliament cannot be trusted with the very information that they may well require to act on behalf of Canadians runs contrary to the inherent trust that Canadians have placed in their elected officials and which members require to act in their various parliamentary capacities.
"The issue of trust goes in the other direction as well. Some suggestions have been made that the government has self-serving and ulterior motives for the redactions in the documents tabled. Here too, such remarks are singularly unhelpful to the aim of finding a workable accommodation and ultimately identifying mechanisms that will satisfy all actors in this matter."
The Speaker gave the parties until May 11 to find a solution to the impasse.
Negotiators for the opposition parties have confirmed that all parties have agreed that a small special committee -- made up of at least one MP from each party, all sworn to secrecy -- should view all the relevant documents. But reports indicate that the parties have yet to agree on how to resolve any disagreement that may arise over which documents can be disclosed publicly without jeopardizing national security. The government's negotiators are House leader Jay Hill, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and government whip Gordon O'Connor. It is expected that parties will ask the Speaker for an extension of today's deadline.
1. Complete ruling by Speaker
can be found in the Edited Hansard,
40th Parliament, 3rd Session, Number 034, Tuesday, April 27, 2010, pp.
With files from Canadian Press.
Definition of Privilege
The House of Commons Procedure and Practice (2nd Ed.) provides the following definition of "privilege" in its introduction to "Parliamentary Privileges and Immunities:"
"In modern parlance, the term 'privilege' usually conveys the idea of a 'privileged class,' with a person or group granted special rights or immunities beyond the common advantages of others. This is not, however, the meaning of privilege in the parliamentary context. 'Parliamentary privilege' refers more appropriately to the rights and immunities that are deemed necessary for the House of Commons, as an institution, and its Members, as representatives of the electorate, to fulfil their functions. It also refers to the powers possessed by the House to protect itself, its Members, and its procedures from undue interference, so that it can effectively carry out its principal functions which are to inquire, to debate, and to legislate. In that sense, parliamentary privilege can be viewed as special advantages which Parliament and its Members need to function unimpeded.
The House of Commons Procedure and Practice also offers the "classic definition" of parliamentary privilege found in Erskine May's Treatise on The Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament:
"Parliamentary privilege is the sum of the peculiar rights enjoyed by each House collectively and by Members of each House individually, without which they could not discharge their functions, and which exceed those possessed by other bodies or individuals. Thus privilege, though part of the law of the land, is to a certain extent an exemption from the general law."
O'Brien and Bosc divide these "peculiar rights" into two categories: those extended to individual Members and those extended to the House of Commons collectively and which can all be further divided. According to O'Brien and Bosc, the individual rights and immunities accorded to Members are generally:
- freedom of speech;
The collective rights and powers of the House of Commons may be categorized as follows:
- the exclusive right to regulate its own internal
affairs (including its debates, proceedings and facilities);
1. The House of Commons Procedure and
Practice, 2nd Ed. (House of Commons: 2009), Edited by Audrey
O'Brien and Marc Bosc,
Read The Marxist-Leninist