Evidence of meeting #29 for Procedure and House Affairs in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was threats.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Ned Franks  Professor, Queen's University, As an Individual

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Joe Preston

I'll call the meeting to order, please.

This is our 29th meeting. Congratulations for getting there, folks.

We're here today, in public, to talk about the order of reference of Tuesday, March 6, a question of privilege relating to the member for Provencher. In our good luck, we have him here today to help us with this study.

Minister Toews, it's great to have you here today.

As I said, the meeting is in public today. We have the minister appearing for the first hour and we have Professor Ned Franks for our second hour. We will take a small bit for some committee business, if we can make that work, at the end of the second hour today.

Mr. Toews, I understand you have an opening statement.

11:05 a.m.

Provencher
Manitoba

Conservative

Vic Toews Minister of Public Safety

I do.

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Joe Preston

We'll start with that, and then we'll go to questions.

Thank you, and welcome.

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, colleagues.

I sincerely wish that the circumstances surrounding my appearance today did not exist. On February 29, I rose in the House on a question of privilege to ensure that the activities seeking to intimidate me with respect to my duties as a member of Parliament, duly elected by the people of Provencher, were appropriately addressed by the House. This intimidation has been aimed at me solely for doing the most basic duty of a parliamentarian—namely, introducing legislation within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada.

Such intimidation should gravely concern all parliamentarians. We have a special obligation to our constituents to act without fear on the principles that they elected us to defend. This is why I'm pleased that your committee has taken up this serious matter.

As you know, on February 14 of this year I introduced Bill C-30, the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act. In the days and weeks that followed, I and my office received a great deal of communication from Canadians. As I stated in the House, these ranged from the supportive to the critical and indeed to the humorous.

Specifically of concern were videos posted on YouTube publishing various unfounded allegations about my personal life and threatening to do more if I did not take specific action with regard to Bill C-30. Clearly the actions and threatened actions contained in these videos constitute an attempt by the creators of the videos to intimidate me with respect to proceedings in Parliament.

The online group called “Anonymous” that posted the videos hides behind masks and their claim to anonymity. It is their threats that clearly attempt to intimidate me and in fact all parliamentarians as we carry out our democratically elected responsibilities.

I am prepared to debate, and we must engage in vigorous debate, on matters before Parliament, but these online attacks launched on both me and my family have crossed the line.

Mr. Chair, all parliamentarians need to be concerned.

On February 29, the Liberal House leader repeatedly stated that there were clearly threats made against me, in fact going as far as stating, “...yes, indeed, there clearly are threats being made.”

The Liberal House Leader also cautioned the Speaker in finding a prima facie breach of privilege, and then stated that these threats “...do not constitute a breach of privilege.”

O'Brien and Bosc state that:

Any disregard of or attack on the rights, powers and immunities of the House and its Members, either by an outside person or body, or by a Member of the House, is referred to as a “breach of privilege”....

I would remind the chair and all committee members that in the videos published, there was a broad threat to all parliamentarians. I quote:

And to the rest of the Parliament of Canada: you would do well to mind your words about Anonymous. Any attempt to score political points by claiming we are associated with a particular political party will not be met kindly. Your party affiliations are utterly irrelevant to us.

Quoting again:

To the rest of those who support Bill C-30, do not believe for a moment that you are untouchable.

Mr. Chair, the Liberal House leader and all Canadians should be concerned about the threats posed to our democracy by online bullies and thugs who seek to intimidate duly elected members of Parliament. It is on this aspect that I encourage you to focus your study.

Let me be clear: I will not be intimidated by thugs who hide behind masks and anonymity. Our democracy demands that elected officials be free to debate any and all matters. I firmly believe that all members of this House must be able to serve their constituents, introduce legislation, and debate all matters free from intimidation, obstruction, and interference.

The fact of the matter is that today threats are directed at me for a bill that has drawn much public debate. Tomorrow it could be any of you, either government or opposition. In fact, there are those of you on this committee who have introduced legislation in the House, both from government and opposition. We have seen private members' bills that have produced vigorous debate, with strong positions being taken on both sides of the House.

One only needs to look at this 41st Parliament. Bill C-377 is a bill that would require the public disclosure of the finances of labour organizations. Heated debate and strong positions have been taken on this bill.

Bill C-276 and Bill C-279, Liberal and NDP bills respectively, seek to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to include gender identity and gender expression. While not yet debated in this House, similar bills have been introduced in previous Parliaments, and strong positions were taken.

Whether or not an MP introduces legislation, all MPs take positions on motions, legislation, and House and committee debates. Mr. Chair, that is exactly what we should be doing. That's why we were elected. Canadians expect this.

I do not believe that members of Parliament should be held hostage, afraid to do what they feel is right, for fear that unnamed thugs might threaten them. Canadians deserve better. I was pleased that our Speaker upheld the 1973 ruling of Speaker Lamoureux, wherein he stated that he had no hesitation in reaffirming the principle that parliamentary privilege includes the right of a member to discharge his or her responsibilities, as a member of the House, free from threats or attempts at intimidation. Attacks on the personal life of a member of Parliament, while not appropriate, can be judged by the public where there is public accountability. The threats of nameless, faceless thugs who seek to intimidate legitimate democratic proceedings should concern all parliamentarians, and indeed all elected officials in our great country.

Mr. Chair, in your committee's deliberation I encourage you to view this question of privilege as a matter than concerns all parliamentarians, not just me.

I look forward to discussing this matter further and to answering any questions you may have.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Joe Preston

Thank you, Minister.

We will start with Mr. Lukiwski for seven minutes, please.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you, Minister, for your appearance here today.

Minister Toews, you mentioned in your opening statement that you believe not just ministers but all members of Parliament should be concerned about some of the threats issued by the group Anonymous. In just a moment I'll get to the level of concern you believe should be held by parliamentarians.

If we can, let's clear up a little unfinished business. In the threats of Anonymous, the primary reason for posting these videos on YouTube was based on their opposition to Bill C-30. In their videos they demanded that you resign and/or remove Bill C-30 in its entirety. Do you have any plans to do either of those?

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Certainly I would not resign simply on the basis that I've been threatened in this fashion. That would send a terrible message. Even if I resigned for any other reason than this particular issue, it's very important when a member of Parliament is threatened in this way that the member not give in to those threats and make clear he or she will not give in to threats that interfere with the democratic process in this kind of crass and unlawful manner.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Thank you, Minister.

One of the problems we've been having as a committee is to determine exactly where we go as a committee and what we focus on. You mentioned in your opening statement that the threats made not only to you but to all parliamentarians should be of concern, and that should be the area and the aspect of this committee's studies. Specifically, since it could be extremely difficult, if not outright impossible, to determine the source of these videos and these threats—because the group has quite correctly named itself Anonymous, for very good reason—what do you think? What is your recommendation, if you have one for this committee, on the type of study we should be engaging in?

What would you like to see this committee concentrate on in the study we're embarking on right now?

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Thank you.

It's not for me, of course, to tell the committee how you should frame your investigations. What I can say is that for me this is a serious issue that I believe demands a serious investigation. As much as is possible, the committee should determine who is behind these threats.

The committee should examine how MPs can protect themselves from these types of Internet threats and how the House of Commons can better protect members. I would encourage the House of Commons to take this type of threat very seriously

I read with interest the comments of the Clerk, indicating that this study may be a “giant waste of time”. Those were her words. I couldn't disagree more. In terms of its impact on the democratic process, studying this issue is not a waste of time. I couldn't disagree more. Whether or not the committee is ultimately successful in drawing any conclusions on who's behind this attack, I think the House should be examining preventive or safeguard measures to protect members.

This is an issue that crosses party and ideological lines. Just this past weekend, we saw an Internet attack on the electronic voting system used to choose the new leader of the NDP. In my opinion, it is a very frightening prospect, especially as Canadians are looking more and more to Internet voting and Internet advances, to see our democracy being threatened when we attempt to use new mechanisms that will involve more people in the democratic process. I think all Canadians should be concerned by these types of threats posed to our democracy by these online bullies and thugs who, in fact, are intimidating the democratic process.

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

We have a couple of minutes left. We'll get back to some of the other areas of concern outlined in your opening statement.

I tend to agree with the Liberal house leader when he said that this clearly is a criminal matter. I agree with that. Have you referred this matter to any law enforcement agency, such as the RCMP or other agencies?

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Yes, these matters have been referred to the RCMP, but I prefer not to get into that discussion. I understand that you may be calling police officers here to testify, to the extent that they might wish to share information. I think that is appropriate, rather than my commenting on the investigation. I might point out that even though I am the Minister of Public Safety and that in that context the RCMP is responsible to me, I do not direct investigations or involve myself in investigations.

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

You may not have much time to get into detail, but I'd be interested in hearing your comments on how seriously you're taking these threats. We certainly saw or heard of all the threats being made by the group Anonymous. I understand that there might have been others who communicated some threats to you. How seriously are you taking these, and how seriously should we as parliamentarians take any threats from any group, whether Anonymous or cyber-hackers or anybody else, that threaten the job we're supposed to be doing?

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

I take these threats very seriously, not only as they impact me but also my family. I think there's a much broader issue here, and that is the threat against the parliamentary process. As good a tool as the Internet is—I think we all recognize the benefits of the Internet—the fact that criminals can use the Internet to subvert the very freedoms that spawned it causes me grave concern.

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Joe Preston

Thank you Mr. Lukiwski.

Mr. Comartin, you have seven minutes.

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, Mr. Toews, for being here

As you know, when I supported your motion for finding a breach of privilege, that was our position as a party. It continues to be our position today. We're fully supportive of the determination by the Speaker that there was a prima facie case, and I think without any doubt that the committee will confirm that position at some point in the future when we report back to the House.

I want to take a bit of an issue with you with regard to Ms. O'Brien's position. I think what she was saying to us was that in the capacity they had in terms of being able to identify the culprit in this case, it was just not possible within the framework of the resources we have in the House. I want to make that point so that we're clear on the position she took.

By way of question, I'd like to pursue the role the RCMP is playing in this. I understand from your response to Mr. Lukiwski's question that in fact they are involved. Do you know if there's an ongoing investigation?