OTTAWA - The federal government has relented and will pay the legal fees of diplomat Richard Colvin, who blew the whistle on possible Afghan prisoner abuse.
An official with the Foreign Affairs Department says two invoices from Colvin's former lawyer - totalling $20,000 - have been paid and payment for a third invoice submitted in December has been approved.
The federal government has also set aside additional funds to a maximum of $50,000 to pay further legal expenses, said Joffre LeBlanc.
In a letter Monday to the Military Police Complaints Commission, Colvin's Toronto lawyer said his client believed the government's refusal to pay his bills was retaliation for his explosive revelations before a special House of Commons committee in November.
Owen Rees said the government essentially stopped paying Colvin's legal fees after his testimony.
Colvin, now an intelligence officer at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, told the committee that several senior government officials were aware that Canadian Forces in Afghanistan were handing over detainees to face possible torture by Afghan authorities in 2006 and 2007.
His allegations rocked the Conservative government and led to furious denials from generals, former generals and federal cabinet ministers, including Defence Minister Peter MacKay who questioned Colvin's credibility.
Tory MPs on the Afghan committee went so far as to paint him as a dupe of Taliban propaganda.
Liberal defence critic Ujjal Dosanjh said he finds it outrageous that Colvin has had to fight to keep independent legal representation and doesn't buy the notion that bureaucracy was simply slow to respond to the invoices.
"The Harper Conservatives did not hesitate to pay former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's legal fees," said Dosanjh. "Taxpayers paid over $2 million to cover Mr. Mulroney's legal costs at the inquiry into his dealings with Karlheinz Schreiber."
Meanwhile, two of the three opposition parties say they've heard the Conservative government will not reconvene the Afghanistan committee once Parliament returns from its enforced hiatus.
The committee is where the most damaging revelations about the treatment of Afghan prisoners have emerged and Prime Minister Stephen Harper's decision to prorogue Parliament means all committees were dissolved.
It would take the unanimous consent of all parties in the House of Commons to re-establish the opposition-dominated committee.
But a spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office says opposition parties are getting worked up over nothing.
"Afghanistan remains a public policy priority and the special committee on Afghanistan will be reconstituted once the new session begins," deputy press secretary Andrew MacDougall said Wednesday.
New Democrat Paul Dewar was skeptical.
"They shut down Parliament," said Dewar, the NDP's foreign affairs critic. "I don't put anything past them. They could kill a committee. That's nothing."
The Liberals are equally critical, but Bloc Quebecois defence critic Claude Bachand seemed prepared to give the Conservatives the benefit of the doubt.
"I don't think they can stop the committee," said Bachand.
The demand by opposition committee members to see uncensored documents last December sparked a tense standoff with the Tory government.
The Liberals introduced a motion that demanded the records be produced, otherwise Defence Minister Peter MacKay could be called before the "bar" in Parliament to answer questions, and be removed of his seat if deemed in contempt.