Evidence of meeting #35 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 security.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Joe Preston

I call the meeting to order.

This is meeting number 35 of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. Pursuant to the order of reference of Thursday, March 15, we are examining the question of privilege relating to the free movement of members within the parliamentary precinct.

This morning we have Madam O'Brien and Kevin Vickers. We're happy to have you both. It's always a great day when you come to visit our committee.

Do you have an opening statement or anything you'd like to share with us before we start? This is a study this committee has done before. Mr. Vickers, you have appeared here on this issue before, too.

11:35 a.m.

Audrey O'Brien Clerk of the House of Commons, House of Commons

Mr. Chair, I would first like to thank the committee for inviting us.

I just want to say that it's an issue that has arisen before. It's one we're familiar with—all too familiar with. Though we try to make sure these incidents don't repeat themselves, human nature being what it is and human error being what it is and Murphy's Law being what it is, there are these repetitions.

Basically, they usually happen when we are playing host to distinguished visitors here on Parliament Hill. Before the distinguished visitors arrive, invariably a threat assessment is done and the security posture is adjusted accordingly. When there are visitors of very high profile—I think of President George W. Bush, I think of Prime Minister Netanyahu—the security procedures can seem rather cumbersome.

Members will remember that on May 1, Speaker Scheer wrote to all members and their staff alerting them to the fact that, by virtue of the visit of His Excellency Shimon Peres, the President of Israel, on Monday, May 7, again special security measures will be in place.

Again, we will try to mitigate those.

However, sometimes there are glitches, and the RCMP, for example, might not recognize a member of Parliament.

We are here to answer your questions.

Thank you very much.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Joe Preston

Let's start off, then.

Mr. Lukiwski, you have a seven-minute round to start us today.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Thank you very much.

Thank you, Madam O'Brien and Monsieur Vickers, for being here.

I'll try to leave almost all the time for your commentary on this, because it's a bit of a Groundhog Day experience, since we're going through this again.

Mr. Vickers, perhaps you could start off by telling us what happened, in your opinion, on March 2, and why it occurred. More importantly, do you have any opinions on what we might be able to do to try to prevent this kind of situation from occurring again?

11:35 a.m.

Kevin Vickers Sergeant-at-Arms, House of Commons

Mr. Chair, prior to these visits, extensive planning and meetings take place with all the security partners—the RCMP, the House, the Senate. We meet, and we come up with all the contingency plans we can think of to avoid these types of incidents.

One of the things, for example, that we always do is make sure that every RCMP officer has one of the member photo books. If a member of Parliament comes up and is not wearing his identification pin or his card, the officer can refer to the booklet.

In this case, my understanding from speaking with Mr. Stoffer is that he came up to the entrance point, spoke with the RCMP officer, and was challenged. He essentially agreed with the RCMP that he should have worn his pin. He went back to his office, got his pin, and then came back and was allowed onto the precinct.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Could you expand on that a little with respect to the difference between the security forces inside the House of Commons and those outside but still on the parliamentary precinct?

Then, further to that, do you have any suggestions on how we can make sure the situation doesn't occur again? As Madam O'Brien has said, we have the President of Israel coming shortly. We'd like to make sure this situation doesn't arise when that visit occurs.

11:35 a.m.

Sergeant-at-Arms, House of Commons

Kevin Vickers

Depending on our resourcing levels and the status of the thing, there have been occasions in the past when our security people have gone out, because they are in contact with you every day. Our expectation with the RCMP, is of course—that area outside being their jurisdiction—that we count on and rely on them, through the use of the booklet, to be able to recognize or be able to ensure unfettered access for all members of Parliament.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Do you have any suggestions as to what we might be able to do? This isn't.... I jokingly referred to it as Groundhog Day because we've had several of these occasions in the past. Since it seems to be a recurring situation, do you have, Madam O'Brien, any suggestions?

11:35 a.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons, House of Commons

Audrey O'Brien

There have been, of course, various suggestions made through many years about the amalgamation of security forces and so forth. I think that is a very ambitious plan, which might eventually bear fruit.

Frankly speaking, though, I think the number of these incidents—though as you say, there is a sort of Groundhog Day aspect to this—is really very small relative to the number of visitors we have and the special events that we have on the Hill. In that sense, I think we're controlling it quite well.

In the presentation that was made in the House, there was reference made to there being not only one MP stopped, but several others too. Looking into it, we did not actually find evidence that there was anybody but the one person involved.

I think the notion of giving the RCMP the booklet.... Again, it's a confluence of circumstances. If it happens to be a day when there are constables or RCMP personnel who have been here on the Hill for a number of months and are familiar with it, there are less likely to be incidents. As the sergeant says, if our personnel are there to accompany them and make sure they recognize people, then things can be better.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

I'm just curious. I think it's a good idea. We talked about this, actually, at committee—whether or not the RCMP had the booklet with all of the....

Did the RCMP in this particular case consult the book before Mr. Stoffer was turned away?

11:40 a.m.

Sergeant-at-Arms, House of Commons

Kevin Vickers

It's my understanding, sir, that at that particular point, for whatever reason, those particular RCMP officers did not have that book.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

All right.

Finally, are there any other procedures or precautions you're taking prior to the arrival of the Israeli Prime Minister?

11:40 a.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons, House of Commons

Audrey O'Brien

Certainly, by virtue of the committee being seized of this particular question, I've asked the sergeant and the director of security to make sure that the RCMP is especially vigilant.

One would hope that members in turn would be particularly attentive to the memos they receive. We'll perhaps send out a reminder on Monday morning of the Speaker's note, just to remind people that when they come back from their constituencies this is what's happening. Members very often have so much on their minds that it's perhaps not top of mind.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Do I understand correctly that short of having a common security force both inside and outside the House, you don't believe there is anything further that can be done to prevent this situation from occurring in the future?

11:40 a.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons, House of Commons

Audrey O'Brien

Frankly speaking—perhaps I'm just getting old or have too much of a pessimistic nature, with the glass always being half empty, in my view—I think that even with an amalgamated force you might run into this kind of thing. It's certainly not in any way malicious or systemic; it's basically accidental. It's unfortunate, and we're very sorry about it, I have to say.