House of Commons Hansard #60 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was mechanics.

Topics

Privilege
Oral Question Period

Noon

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, yesterday I gave notice to the Chair of a question of privilege concerning the public letter the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, George Radwanski, wrote to Information Commissioner John Reid. The letter was made public by wide dissemination through privacy commissioner facilities including the Internet and it appears on the website of the privacy commissioner.

It is important to note that the letter has received widespread distribution and is not a private piece of correspondence. Mr. Speaker, I will be sending you a copy of the letter from the website and I ask for consent of the House to table a copy at some point. The letter is a direct public attack by one officer of parliament on the work of another officer of parliament, as referred to by the Deputy Prime Minister today in the House. It seriously calls into question the impartiality of the privacy commissioner.

It will be my submission to the Chair that this public attack on an officer of parliament erodes public confidence in that officer. The fact that the attack was made by an officer of parliament erodes public confidence in this institution and is a contempt of the House and its officials. Both the privacy commissioner and the information commissioner are officers of parliament. They report to the House and operate under the authority of two statutes, the Privacy Act and the Access to Information Act.

I refer the Chair to page 155 of Erskine May, 19th edition, which states:

Both Houses will treat as breaches of their privileges, not only acts directly tending to obstruct their officers in the execution of their duty, but also any conduct which may tend to deter them from doing their duty in the future.

The duties and powers of the privacy commissioner are set out in section 29. I will not quote them here as you do not have to rule on questions of law, Mr. Speaker. It is sufficient to know that the privacy commissioner is empowered to investigate complaints from individuals.

The important feature is that there must be a complaint. There was no indication in the letter that a complaint had been made and we are not aware that any such complaint was made. The closest indication as to the motivation of the privacy commissioner is his statement found at paragraph five:

My duty as Privacy Commissioner of Canada is to champion and defend the legitimate privacy rights of every Canadian, whether it be an unemployed labourer or the Prime Minister of our country.

I do not know how many unemployed labourers are the subject of this sort of treatment, but I know there is a legitimate case before the Supreme Court of Canada for judicial determination. The privacy commissioner is attempting to alter its outcome on behalf of his friend the Prime Minister.

The relationship between Mr. Radwanski and the Prime Minister was raised in the House and in the second chamber of parliament prior to his appointment. It has been the subject of media comment. The unilateral and grossly improper attempt to make the information commissioner withdraw an action authorized by law gives the public the impression that an officer of parliament is primarily an agent of the Prime Minister and acting in such a way as to interfere with the process of the courts. The matter will be adjudicated in due course.

The Privacy Act empowers the commissioner to receive and to investigate complaints. He is empowered to make findings and to report his findings to government. He is empowered to examine databanks, to make findings and to report those findings. He is required to report to parliament annually. He is empowered to make special reports:

—commenting on any matter within the scope of the powers, duties and functions of the Commissioner where, in the opinion of the Commissioner, the matter is of such urgency or importance that a report thereon should not be deferred until the time provided for transmission of the next annual report of the Commissioner.

He is not empowered to unilaterally declare himself a champion of the Prime Minister's side in a court proceeding and to attack an officer of parliament who has lawful authority to seek judicial determinations on matters lawfully brought through the information commissioner's office. It is important and critical to my argument that the Chair consider that point.

There has been an increasing trend on the part of some parliamentary officers to involve themselves, mostly through public comment, in matters outside their statutory responsibilities.

I have refrained from raising questions on the issue until now. I find it particularly troublesome when individuals, in this instance the privacy commissioner, start telling other jurisdictions their views on what the laws should be. These people are appointed to fulfil their duties under the law and their appointments do not make them judge and jury on all matters relating to those subjects. They are first and foremost officers appointed to do their duty under the law.

We do not tolerate judges taking to the public platform to participate in public debate. There needs to be similar restraint exercised on officers of parliament. They do not speak for this place. They are not self-appointed, self-generated champions of what the law should be. Nor should they act in no way as agents for the Prime Minister or portray themselves in that fashion.

The issue of the information commissioner's access to the Prime Minister's agenda is before the Supreme Court of Canada, the highest court in the land, for determination. The court will do its job. The privacy commissioner seeks to subvert this lawful process and in so doing has been intemperate and accusatory. To call the lawful actions of an officer of parliament “tantamount to informational rape” is not only demeaning to the office holder. It reflects on the House of which he is an officer.

The information commissioner is a former parliamentarian empowered by the House. He is not freelancing or acting in some sort of nefarious purpose for the sole purpose of partisan exploration of the Prime Minister's agenda. He had a formal request to seek such information. He has a mandate and a responsibility to uphold that request and follow the chain of information. However the unprecedented attack by his counterpart the privacy commissioner is improper and I would submit illogical.

The privacy commissioner has concerns about the law. There is nothing in the law to establish the office of champion of the Prime Minister. We are aware of no complaint to the privacy commissioner unless it came from the PMO or the Privy Council Office. It appears he has set out to attack an officer of parliament for purposes other than his statutory framework. He is attempting to put the fix in for the Prime Minister's Office.

If the privacy commissioner has concerns about the law he has the ability to report those concerns to parliament. To my knowledge he has not done so. Instead he has, and this is important, publicly attacked the lawful activities of the information commissioner without the foundation of a complaint having been made to him.

This gives the appearance, whether true or not, that the privacy commissioner is the Prime Minister's agent, champion and client. It undermines public confidence in the independence of the privacy commissioner. He has become the champion of the Prime Minister against a fellow officer of parliament.

The ethics counsellor has cast himself in a similar role, and this is the complete opposite of what their offices should represent and are intended to do.

These actions, the unilateral and unauthorized public undermining of an officer of parliament in the execution of his lawful duties and the carrying out of a media campaign against an officer of parliament in the lawful pursuit of his duties, constitute prima facie evidence of contempt of the House.

Public confidence in all officers of parliament should be a matter of basic concern to every member of the House. The issue is sufficiently serious to merit examination by a committee, and I am prepared to move the necessary motion should you find there is a prima facie case of contempt before the House.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

12:10 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I will not take a long time to discuss the issue brought to the floor of the House by the hon. member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, the House leader for the Conservative Party.

The House will know that Mr. Radwanski, in responding to a media question, indicated he had not spoken to the Prime Minister about this case. Nor had anyone in the Prime Minister's Office encouraged him to speak about the issue. Let us be clear on that.

Both officials in question are officers of parliament, not only of this House but of both houses. They are officers of parliament as an institution. Just as the information commissioner responds to questions involving access to information, the privacy commissioner has a role to comment on what he believes to be privacy issues. His task in that regard is of solemn importance.

It is not for me to say which of the two tasks is more important. The fact that both officials have existed in a parallel way presumably means that the House and all of us consider both roles equally important.

The hon. member across the way said, and the blues will verify the precise words, that the privacy commissioner commented as to what the law should be. I do not believe the privacy commissioner has made remarks as to what the law governing his position should be. I do not think that is the case.

Second, the hon. member, while claiming to defend an officer of parliament, made very strong accusations about another officer of parliament. He said the officer in question had exceeded his mandate.

The hon. member has a right to state his opinion. I may or may not agree with it but that is a different proposition. However the member has said on repeated occasions, and I think there were five of them, that the officer in question was a champion of the Prime Minister. The member has no knowledge or information to support that and has produced no evidence before the House. Repeating a sentence he had said previously in the same discourse does not constitute proof.

Comments like that about an officer of parliament are inappropriate. As to whether the privacy commissioner is entitled to comment on privacy matters, I am sure that he is. Whether he commented in the proper forum is a debate which is perhaps of interest to some of us. If it is, there is nothing wrong with discussing the issue.

We could call one or both officers before the appropriate parliamentary committee under estimates, under Standing Order 108(2) or otherwise to ask them to define how they see themselves doing their jobs in that regard. That is fine. It is the privilege of the House and its committees to do so.

However, I do not believe that justifies making accusations of the kind that were made about an officer of parliament while alleging at the same time to defend the other officer of parliament. Both officers were appointed by resolutions of both Houses and carried with the vast support of this House. I do believe, Mr. Speaker, that is the issue before you to consider.

As I said, I do not want to belabour the point here. I believe I have addressed the issue. I do not believe it is my role to make a trial of one person while accusing another, nor the reverse thereof. Both of those would be inappropriate action on my part.

I would suggest that if we have questions about how these two officers discharge their functions there is an existing mechanism for us to do that.

One should also be prudent when making comments in the House about an issue that is presently before the courts. Prudent language on behalf of all of us is extremely important. The comments we make here can and have been used in the past.

The honourable and learned member across the way, who is a member of the bar, will know that the comments we make here can and have been used in the past to make points before the courts. Therefore, we should be twice as prudent. I invite the House to behave in that manner.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

12:15 p.m.

Scarborough—Rouge River
Ontario

Liberal

Derek Lee Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I have two quick points which might assist the Chair.

I have listened to the matter raised by the hon. member. I have noted, and I hope all members have as well, that in our statutes governing access to information and privacy we have constructed a bit of a dynamic and a conflict between the two. The objectives and goals of access to information move in a certain direction and the goals and objectives of the privacy legislation operate in the opposite direction. As a result of that, there is a natural potential conflict between the goals of privacy and the goals of access to information.

In this particular case, parliament having constructed both of those mechanisms, it is natural that the dynamic of conflict would always be there. It is therefore my view that this is more a case of legitimate differences between the operation of a statute and its mandate than it is a question of privilege.

On the issue of whether or not this is a question of privilege, I personally do not grasp the difference between the information commissioner and the privacy commissioner, and our day to day privileges and operations here in the House. To be sure, it is a conflict and a very public issue, but I do not see the connection between that conflict and our day to day operations in the House as it pertains to our privileges.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

12:15 p.m.

The Speaker

The Chair will take this matter under advisement and come back to the House in due course. I thank hon. members for their interventions on the point.

Inuvialuit Final Agreement Report
Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Oxford
Ontario

Liberal

John Finlay Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Madam Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 32(2) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, copies of the 1999-2000 annual report of the implementation co-ordinating committee on the Inuvialuit final agreement.

Gwich'In Land Claims Agreement Report
Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Oxford
Ontario

Liberal

John Finlay Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Madam Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 32(2) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, copies of the 1999-2000 annual report of the implementation committee on the Gwich'in comprehensive land claim agreement.

Order In Council Appointments
Routine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Scarborough—Rouge River
Ontario

Liberal

Derek Lee Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to table, in both official languages, a number of order in council appointments recently made by the government. Pursuant to Standing Order 110(1) these are deemed referred to the appropriate standing committees, a list of which is attached.

Government Response To Petitions
Routine Proceedings

May 11th, 2001 / 12:20 p.m.

Scarborough—Rouge River
Ontario

Liberal

Derek Lee Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to three petitions.

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Scarborough—Rouge River
Ontario

Liberal

Derek Lee Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I have the honour to present the 15th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs regarding the provisions of Standing Order 87(6). The report recommends extending the temporary suspension of the 100 signature rule for private members' business.

If the House gives its consent, I intend to move concurrence in the 15th report later this day.

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Nancy Karetak-Lindell Nunavut, NU

Madam Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the fourth report of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, Northern Development and Natural Resources.

The committee has concurred in the conclusions of the fourth report of the former standing committee on natural resources and government operations, 36th parliament, second session, entitled “Forest Management Practices in Canada as an International Trade Issue”, and pursuant to Standing Order 109 requests the government to table a comprehensive response to the report.

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. In reference to my earlier point of privilege, I neglected to seek unanimous consent to table the letter which is the subject of the point of privilege.

I would now ask the permission of the House to table the letter that was written by the privacy commissioner, Mr. Radwanski, to the information commissioner, Mr. Reid. It is available on the Internet but I would like it to form part of the public record.

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Does the hon. member have unanimous consent to table the letter?

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Scarborough—Rouge River
Ontario

Liberal

Derek Lee Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I move that the 15th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, presented to the House earlier this day, be concurred in.

(Motion agreed to)