House of Commons Hansard #14 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was political.

Topics

Privilege

10 a.m.

The Speaker

I am now ready to rule on the question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Wild Rose on September 30, 1997, concerning information allegedly denied to him by an official of the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs.

First of all, I want to thank the hon. member for Langley—Abbotsford, the leader of the official opposition in the House of Commons, as well as the hon. member for Fraser Valley for their contribution to this debate.

In his submission, the hon. member for Wild Rose claimed that an official of the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs had deliberately misled him and subsequently denied him information. This, he argued, constituted a contempt of Parliament.

According to the hon. member, on September 16 he was invited to a meeting with the departmental official to receive a progress report on the Stony reserve, a reserve located in his riding. Citizens of the Stony reserve apparently accompanied him. At some point during the meeting he was made to leave by the official because it seemed that he was not entitled to certain information that was about to be disclosed.

When he raised the question of privilege in the House, the hon. member stated that he had requested this meeting to obtain information which he contended was directly related to the preparation of a question which he wanted to ask the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. He added that he had given notice to the minister of his intention to ask such a question.

On October 2 the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development made a statement to provide additional information on this question of privilege. This was followed by further comments from the hon. member for Wild Rose, the leader of the official opposition, the hon. member for Fraser Valley and the hon. member for Langley—Abbotsford as well as the hon. member for Wentworth—Burlington.

The Chair always takes any matter concerning the privileges of members, particularly any matter that may constitute a contempt of Parliament, very seriously.

As Speaker Fraser noted in a ruling given on October 10, 1989 found at page 4457 of the Debates :

—the Speaker does not rule on whether a breach of privilege or a contempt has in fact been committed. The Speaker only determines whether an application based on a claim of contempt or breach of privilege is, on first impression, of sufficient importance to set aside the regular business of the House and go forward for a decision by the House.

Before proceeding, the Chair feels that it might be helpful to explain to members, and especially to new members of this House, the difference between a contempt of the House and a breach of privilege.

Contempts are offences against the authority or dignity of Parliament. These offences cannot be enumerated or categorized. As stated in Erskine May, 21st edition, at page 115:

Generally speaking, any act or omission which obstructs or impedes either House of Parliament in the performance of its functions, or which obstructs or impedes any member or officer of such House in the discharge of his duty, or which has a tendency, directly or indirectly, to produce such results may be treated as a contempt even though there is no precedent of the offence.

Privilege, on the other hand, can be divided into two finite categories: the rights extended to members individually, and those extended to the House as a collectivity. The rights and immunities that are awarded to members individually are generally categorized under five headings. They are freedom of speech, freedom from arrest and civil actions, exemption from jury duty, exemption from attendance as a witness and freedom from molestation and intimidation.

As for the rights and powers of the House as a collectivity they may be classified as follows: the regulation of its own internal affairs, the authority to maintain the attendance and service of its members, the power to expel members guilty of disgraceful conduct, the right to institute inquiries and to call witnesses and demand papers, the right to administer oaths to witnesses, and the authority to deal with breaches of privilege or contempt.

When claiming that a certain action constitutes a breach of privilege, members must specify which of these privileges is affected.

The hon. member for Wild Rose argued that the actions taken by the official from the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs constitute a contempt of Parliament.

Technically, obstructing members in the discharge of their responsibilities to the House or in their participation in its proceedings is considered to be a contempt of the House. As Joseph Maingot writes in his book Parliamentary Privilege in Canada at page 73:

—the member must be exercising his functions as a member in a committee or in the House in the transaction of parliamentary business. Whatever he says or does in those circumstances is said or done during a “proceeding in Parliament”; in other words, while the member is functioning as a member, not in his constituency, but while actually participating in parliamentary business and saying or doing something necessarily incidental to parliamentary business.

Thus, in order for a member to claim that his privileges have been breached or that a contempt has occurred, he or she must have been functioning as a member at the time of the alleged offence, that is, actually participating in a proceeding of Parliament. The activities of members in their constituencies do not appear to fall within the definition of a “proceeding in Parliament”.

In the 21st edition of Erskine May it is stated at page 125:

Correspondence with constituents or official bodies, for example, and the provision of information sought by Members on matters of public concern will very often, depending on the circumstances of the case, fall outside the scope of `proceedings in Parliament' against which a claim of breach of privilege will be measured.

In instances where members have claimed that they have been obstructed or harassed, not directly in their roles as elected representatives but while being involved in matters of a political or constituency related nature, Speakers have consistently ruled that this does not constitute a breach of privilege.

On April 29, 1971 Speaker Lamoureux, in a ruling on a question of privilege concerning rights of members to visit penitentiaries at page 5338 of the Debates stated that:

Parliamentary privilege does not go much beyond the right of free speech in the House of Commons and the right of a Member to discharge his duties in the House as a Member of the House of Commons.

In the same vein I refer members to page 3580 of the Debates of February 26, 1975, where Speaker Jerome clearly stated:

—the classic definition of a question of privilege does not fit circumstances in which a Member in his duties outside this House finds that his scope is being restricted or attempts are being made to restrict his scope of intervention and effective work on behalf of not only his own constituents but his point of view as a Member of the federal parliament.

On the matter of a member's constituency duties, Speaker Sauvé pointed out in a decision delivered on July 15, 1980, at pages 2914 and 1915 of the Debates :

—whatever duty a Member has to his constituents, before a valid question of privilege arises in respect to any alleged interference, such interference must relate to the Member's parliamentary duties.

After careful consideration of the precedents, I conclude that activities related to the seeking of information in order to prepare a question do not fall within the strict definition of what constitutes a “proceeding in Parliament” and, therefore, they are not protected by privilege.

Let me now turn to another aspect of the matter before me. In the statement she gave to the House on October 2, 1997, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development made reference to the Access to Information Act as well as the Privacy Act. Whether the application of these two acts should be clarified is a matter for the courts, not the Speaker. I concur totally with Speaker Fraser when, in a ruling on March 17, 1987, at page 4262 of the Debates he emphasized that “The extent of the application of any law is a question that the courts should be asked to decide and not the Speaker”.

In the same decision Speaker Fraser further stated: “The Speaker's duty is confined to interpreting the procedures and practices of the House of Commons”.

May I draw members' attention to citation 168(5) of Beauchesne's sixth edition, at page 49, which states “The Speaker will not give a decision upon a constitutional question nor decide a question of law”.

Furthermore, I wish to remind the House that it is not up to the Chair to comment on the behaviour of public servants in the performance of their duties.

In order to fulfil their parliamentary duties, members should of course have access to the information they require. On the other hand, they should be aware of the constraints under which public servants must operate when providing information.

The Chair is mindful of the multiple responsibilities, duties and constituency related activities of all members and of the importance they play in the work of every member of Parliament. However, my role as your Speaker is to consider only those matters that affect the parliamentary work of members.

The hon. member for Wild Rose has explained that this matter touches upon his preparation for questions to the minister. I accept the hon. member's statement just as I accept the minister's explanation of the events.

There is clearly a dispute about the facts of the case and it does not fall to the Speaker to settle that dispute.

I have concluded that this case constitutes a grievance on the part of the hon. member, but since this situation has not actually precluded the hon. member from participating in a parliamentary proceeding the Chair cannot find that a case of a contempt of parliament has occurred.

I thank the hon. member for Wild Rose for his intervention and for bringing this matter to our attention.

Privilege

10:15 a.m.

Reform

Chuck Strahl Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I listened with interest to your ruling on the subject. You mentioned that the member for Wild Rose has a grievance, but you ruled that he did not have a case for contempt of parliament.

Could you explain for the benefit of the House what a grievance means for the member for Wild Rose, where a grievance goes from here, or what that means in this case so he can follow up on this further?

Privilege

10:15 a.m.

The Speaker

As a general rule once a decision has been given it should just rest where it is. A Speaker's ruling is of course not appealable.

In this particular case I will make an exception. If the hon. member has a grievance he should pursue it in my view with the minister.

I am now prepared to deal with the question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre on October 1 relating to the premature disclosure and subsequent publication of a preliminary draft of a committee report.

Privilege

10:15 a.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member contends that in the last Parliament a preliminary draft report of the Standing Committee on Industry was divulged.

She states that while the industry committee's fifth report was tabled in the House on April 25, 1997, the Department of Industry's response to an access to information request shows that on April 18, 1997 industry department officials were in possession of a preliminary draft of the report.

Let me first deal with the question of whether a breach of privilege that occurred in a previous parliament can now be taken up and dealt with by this House.

Erskine May's 20th edition makes clear, at page 168, that a breach of privilege in one parliament may indeed be punished by another. This is reflected again in the ruling of Speaker Jerome on November 9, 1978 which reaffirms the principle unequivocally. The Chair can therefore entertain the question raised by the hon. member.

In her presentation, the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre argued that the privileges of the House have been breached in so far as the preliminary draft report has been divulged prior to its presentation to this House.

I want to thank the hon. member for bringing this matter to the attention of the House as well as the government House leader and the hon. member for Winnipeg—Transcona for the assistance they have given the Chair.

In my view this is a matter of utmost importance. Since the standing committees of the House are holding their organization meetings and beginning their work in the 36th Parliament, this is also a most timely issue. It reminds us all of the responsibilities members assume when they serve on committees of the House.

As I stated in my ruling of February 15, 1995 on a similar matter, confidentiality is a key issue for committees. Members of committees and ministers working with committees have an obligation to ensure that they themselves and those whose expertise they seek, be they personal assistants or departmental officials, respect the confidentiality of their documents and the integrity of their deliberations.

Committees must address their work processes and be very clear about how they expect draft reports and other material relating to in camera meetings to be treated. Everyone present at such meetings, including officials from departments and agencies, must realize their obligation to respect the confidentiality of the proceedings they witness and the material they may therefore be privy to.

In a report tabled in the House on December 18, 1987 the Standing Committee on Elections, Privileges and Procedure recommended that:

Committees should make clear decisions about the circulation of draft reports—. Equally, committees should give careful consideration to the matters that should be dealt with in camera and matters that should be discussed in public.

That being said, however, the Chair has often expressed its reluctance to interfere in the affairs of committees unless difficulties arising in the committee are put before the House by way of a committee report.

I refer members especially to the ruling of Speaker Fraser given on December 7, 1991, which can be found at page 4773 of the Debates . In that ruling he stated:

According to our traditions and practices, the Chair does not intervene in the proceedings of a committee unless a problem has been reported by the committee to the House or in extremely unusual circumstances.

After careful review I have concluded that the present case is not one that compels the Chair to deviate from this well established practice, for it does not introduce any new element to the body of precedent in these matters.

If after examination a committee were to present a report recommending that this issue required further consideration, the House would have the opportunity of considering the issue at that time.

The Chair has concluded that there is no breach of privilege in this instance and that it is not appropriate for the Speaker to intervene at the present time.

As committees take up their work in this new Parliament, I know that all hon. members will be conscious of the responsibility they have been entrusted with and will strive to respect the traditions of this place.

On a point of order, the hon. member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre.

Privilege

10:20 a.m.

NDP

John Solomon Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the time you have taken to study this matter and to bring down the ruling to the House. I am not sure all the issues were considered. Perhaps you could respond to this in an answer for me.

With respect to the issue of committee in camera minutes, the Chair may or may not be aware that committees are now destroying in camera minutes at the end of parliament. Therefore there would be no evidence of any decisions taken in camera by a committee on an issue because the minutes would have been destroyed. We would have no record of what exactly happened.

Is this part of the decision or part of the input, or would this be grounds for the Speaker to intervene in the business of committees whereby they do not destroy the minutes but keep them on record?

Privilege

10:25 a.m.

The Speaker

With regard to the business of committees, the committees generally set up the rules under which they are to work. As for evidence being carried over from one parliament to another, the Chair must deal with the evidence that is put before the Chair. If this evidence does not exist then the Chair cannot rule on it one way or another. Did it ever exist? I guess that is another point that could be discussed at some further time.

However, for the time being the Chair must, on the basis of the information that is put before it in whatever case, make a decision at that time.

If there is question about how a committee proceeds, I suggest to all hon. members the matter should be raised in committee so that they provide for this information to be available one way or another, if they feel it is needed at some future time.

Interparliamentary Delegations
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Sarkis Assadourian Brampton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, on behalf of the hon. member for Mount Royal and pursuant to Standing Order 34(1), I have the honour to present to the House, in both official languages, the report of the Canadian group of interparliamentary union which represented Canada at the 1997 interparliamentary conference held in Seoul, the Republic of Korea, from April 9 to April 15, 1997.

Again on behalf of the hon. member for Mount Royal and pursuant to Standing Order 34(1), I have the honour to present to the House, in both official languages, the report of the Canadian group of interparliamentary union which represented Canada at the specialized interparliamentary conference on the close partnership between men and women in politics held in New Delhi, India, from February 14 to February 18, 1997.

Income Tax Convention Implementation Act, 1997
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Willowdale
Ontario

Liberal

Jim Peterson for the Minister of Finance

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-10, an act to implement a convention between Canada and Sweden, a convention between Canada and the Republic of Lithuania, a convention between Canada and the Republic of Kazakhstan, a convention between Canada and the Republic of Iceland and a convention between Canada and the Kingdom of Denmark for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income and to amend the Canada-Netherlands Income Tax Convention Act, 1986 and the Canada-United States Tax Convention Act, 1986.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Criminal Code
Routine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Reform

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-243, an act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of child before birth).

Madam Speaker, congratulations on your ascending to the position of Acting Speaker. We all are very happy that you are in this post.

I am introducing two private members' bills today, both dealing with the Criminal Code. The first one deals with protection of the child before birth. This is not an abortion issue but deals with an extremely serious issue occurring in our country. It is the epidemic of fetal alcohol syndrome, fetal alcohol effects.

This bill is a last ditch resort and is an attempt to ensure that women who continue to take substances that are injurious to their unborn children can be put into a treatment facility against their wishes if necessary.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Criminal Code
Routine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Reform

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-242, an act to amend the Criminal Code (violent crimes).

Madam Speaker, again pursuant to the standing orders and seconded by my colleague and friend from Nanaimo—Alberni, I am introducing a private members' bill dealing with the Criminal Code and violent offences.

Essentially this is a three strikes and you are out bill. This bill is designed so that if an individual commits three violent offences, the courts must incarcerate that person for life imprisonment. The purpose of this bill is to target individuals who have clearly demonstrated to the Canadian public that they willfully disregard the basic essence of respect for another person's life.

I hope we will find agreement in this House to pass this bill sometime in the near future.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Income Tax Act
Routine Proceedings

October 9th, 1997 / 10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-244, an act to amend the Income Tax Act and the Canada pension plan (transfer of income to spouse).

Madam Speaker, managing the family home and caring for preschool children is an honourable profession which has not been recognized for its value to our society. Unpaid work is still work and deserves to be compensated for its contribution to our society.

This bill would allow spouses to split up to $25,000 of income between them so that one could stay at home and care for preschool children. It would allow that income to be eligible for RRSPs as well as extend eligibility for Canada pension plan benefits.

I am very pleased to rise to reintroduce this bill. I look forward to debating this issue and earning the support of my colleagues throughout the House.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Criminal Code
Routine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

John Finlay Oxford, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-245, an act to amend the Criminal Code (penalties for sexual offences involving children).

Madam Speaker, I introduced this bill in the 35th Parliament and I am pleased to reintroduce it today.

Enactment of this bill would ensure that the definition of publication in the case of child pornography covers transmission by electronic means or posting the material on the Internet or any other electronic net.

It also provides for an increase in the maximum punishment of imprisonment for life with no parole eligibility for 25 years if guilty of sexual assault on a child under eight or on a child under 14 who is under the offender's trust and authority or dependent on the offender.

It also provides for an increase in the maximum penalty for forcible confinement from 10 to 14 years in the case of a parent or ward who confines a child and thereby harms the child's physical or mental health.

I look forward to the support of my colleagues on this bill.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Public Safety Officers Compensation Act
Routine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-246, an act respecting the provision of compensation to public safety officers who lost their lives while on duty.

Madam Speaker, I am pleased and honoured again to reintroduce this bill which would establish a registered charitable trust fund for the benefit of families of police officers, firefighters or other public safety officers who are killed in the line of duty. The fund is proposed to be administered by an independent board that would be set up to receive such money, gifts or bequests and to determine awards on the basis of need.

Canadians are aware of the risks that face our police officers, firefighters and public safety officers on a daily basis as they serve our emergent needs. When one of them loses their life in the line of duty, we all mourn that loss. This fund would be a tangible way to honour their courageous service and to assist their loved ones in their time of need.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Criminal Code
Routine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

Bloc

Pauline Picard Drummond, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-247, an Act to amend the Criminal Code (genetic manipulation).

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to introduce in the House a bill aimed at amending the Criminal Code on genetic manipulation. The purpose of this bill is to ban the cloning of human embryos. I believe it is important to set limits within which science can develop in the service and the best interests of all.

Medically assisted reproductive techniques give rise to a number of questions: ethical, moral, religious and scientific. There may be much debate still to come on how these techniques will be monitored but there is, I believe, a broad consensus on the necessity of banning the cloning of human beings.

Yet there is no legislation at the present time to reflect that desire. Over and above science, medicine and politics, human cloning is also a question of human dignity, which transcends all partisan politics.

For this reason I am asking all members of this House to support this bill, which reflects the will of those who elected us.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Organ Donors
Routine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.

Reform

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, pursuant to the standing orders I put forth a motion dealing with an epidemic in our midst, the crisis of organ donations in the country.

This motion if adopted by the government would enable us to save the lives of hundreds of people in the country who are waiting for organ donations, some of whom are in the House today. It is a four point plan. It is an effective, cost saving and life saving plan. I hope the government will adopt it as a votable motion and will pass it forthwith.