House of Commons Hansard #152 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-19.

Topics

Privilege

10 a.m.

The Speaker

I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Scarborough--Rouge River on November 4, 2003 concerning the conduct of Mr. George Radwanski before the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates.

I would like to thank the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River for having raised an issue which is of importance to all members and to the institution of the House of Commons. I would also like to thank the hon. member for New Westminster—Coquitlam—Burnaby, the right hon. member for Calgary Centre and the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre for their interventions.

On November 5, 2003, the hon. government House leader rose in the House to contribute to the discussion. Acknowledging the seriousness of this matter and the importance of the ruling of the Chair in this case, the hon. House leader called on the Speaker to render a ruling which would also provide two statements. To use his own words, the House leader looked to the ruling, first:

...to make it clear to every citizen who may come before a committee of the House the responsibilities that he or she has...and the consequences that may follow from a failure... to uphold those responsibilities...

And secondly:

...to provide the House with an outline of its options should [the Chair] find a prima facie case of contempt...

The hon. government House leader went on to discuss various issues surrounding the possible summoning of a private citizen to the Bar of the House. I wish to thank the hon. government House leader for his intervention.

Before rendering my decision, I want to address the two requests he has made to the Chair.

First, let me deal with the suggestion that my ruling should lay out the options before the House in this matter. As hon. members know, the role of the Speaker in matters of privilege is well defined in House of Commons Procedure and Practice at page 122, which states:

The function of the Speaker is limited to deciding whether the matter is of such a character as to entitle the Member who has raised the question to move a motion which will have priority over Orders of the Day; that is, in the Speaker's opinion, there is a prima facie question of privilege. If there is, the House must take the matter into immediate consideration.

The Speaker's ruling does not extend to deciding whether a breach of privilege has in fact been committed--a question which can be decided by the House itself.

It is clear to me that the Speaker's role in matters of privilege and contempt is well established in our practice. In my view, it is not the role of the Speaker to suggest how the House may wish to deal with a question of privilege or a case of contempt, always assuming that the House has decided that it is faced with such an offence. The ruling will therefore deal only on whether or not the Chair has found a prima facie case of contempt.

Secondly, it has been suggested that the ruling lay down guidelines for individuals appearing before committees of this House. However tempting the invitation, the Speaker cannot presume to articulate the expectations that committees have of the witnesses who come before them. Suffice it to say that I believe all hon. members will agree with me when I say simply that committees of the House and, by extension, the House of Commons itself, must be able to depend on the testimony they receive, whether from public officials or private citizens. This testimony must be truthful and complete. When this proves not to be the case, a grave situation results, a situation that cannot be treated lightly.

In the situation before us, I have carefully read the ninth report of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates tabled in the House. The committee's report sets out the testimony of Mr. George Radwanski, the former privacy commissioner, that it found misleading and concludes that, in its view, the former privacy commissioner should be found in contempt of the House. The report reviews the conflicts in the testimony and, it seems to me, draws its conclusions in a manner that seems reasonable in the circumstances.

Accordingly, I conclude that the matters set out in the ninth report of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates are sufficient to support a prima facie finding of a breach of the privileges of this House. I therefore invite the hon. member for Scarborough--Rouge River to move his motion.

Privilege

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Reg Alcock Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have some additional information on this matter that just arrived in my office this morning. I wish to share it with the House.

I have a letter addressed to myself from Mr. George Radwanski in which he says the following:

I am writing to apologize to you and your Committee, and through you to Parliament as a whole, for mistakes that were made during my tenure as Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

It was never my wish to show any disrespect whatsoever for Parliament or any of the members. I have, on the contrary, the greatest respect for Parliament--not only for the institution, but for the individuals who comprise it. I have been a close observer of politics and government my whole adult life, and I know well the importance and the challenges of what Parliamentarians do.

I apologize sincerely and without reservation for anything and everything that may have given you and your colleagues cause to believe that I misled your Committee or showed insufficient respect.

I also want to take this opportunity to apologize, through you, to Parliament and to all Canadians for any errors in judgment with regard to administrative and financial matters. I deeply regret that these matters disappointed and offended so many people, including Members of Parliament, on whose behalf I was seeking to work to the very best of my abilities.

Clearly, in hindsight, there are things I wish I had done differently during my tenure as Privacy Commissioner. These past months have been a period of intense reflection, during which I have assessed the events of the past three years and sought the advice of others in order to fully learn from mistakes that were made and be able to do better in the future.

You may also be assured that I have already paid very dearly over these past four months for any and all errors in judgment I made in the exercise of my duties. There is no aspect of my life that hasn't suffered enormous, perhaps irreparable, blows.

It is very much my wish to be able to put these matters behind me--with some very painful lessons learned--to restore some semblance of normalcy in my life, and to continue trying as a private citizen to make a positive contribution in whatever ways may remain open to me.

Yours sincerely,

George Radwanski.

I wish to table this letter, Mr. Speaker.

Privilege

10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

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

Privilege

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Privilege

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will speak to the motion momentarily, but I first want to acknowledge the efforts of all our colleagues on the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, as well as those on the subcommittee of that committee dealing with this issue, in particular our colleague, the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam—Burnaby, who co-chaired the subcommittee.

I also want to acknowledge the very valuable assistance of the counsel to the House of Commons, Mr. Walsh; the Clerk of the House; the research staff for the subcommittee and the committee; and the witnesses who appeared at the committee. I also want to acknowledge the valuable assistance among members on both sides of the House and the member for Mississauga South.

I am surprised but pleased to take note of the letter that was read by our colleague and which has now been tabled.

The receipt of the letter from George Radwanski to the House, through the chair of the standing committee, in my view, will allow or can allow the House to conclude this matter in a way that respects and upholds the privileges of the House and the traditions of the House.

I, on behalf of all members of the House, was prepared today to move a motion, which procedurally would happen now, that would have summoned Mr. Radwanski to the House to conclude this procedure. I mention this so that the record will show that this is what should happen or would happen. The fact that we have not done this in some 90 years may well be enough reason for putting it on record so that we are all aware of how it may be done in the future in the unfortunate circumstance where it might have to happen.

Mr. Radwanski's letter, in my view, and hopefully in our view, allows us to put on record what we might well have had to do using the Bar of the House right here. We wish to do the right thing and we wish to do the right thing for Canadians in their House.

Mr. Radwanski's communication this morning I hope will be taken as good judgment on his part and that the matters raised by the committee had foundation.

Therefore I will not move the motion that I had drafted and submitted to the Speaker. I ask colleagues in the House now to agree that this matter of privilege and the alleged contempt be concluded now and that we return to House business.

Privilege

10:15 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am somewhat distressed about this. I believe that if any individual were to commit perjury in one of the courts in our country, it is not very likely that the judge would say that since they were sorry, it was okay, and they should just carry on because it really did not matter. That would not happen.

Perjury in court is a serious matter. This particular matter is very serious if we want to uphold the supremacy of Parliament as the highest court in the land. For us to simply pat Mr. Radwanski on the back and say that it is okay, is insufficient

It is obvious that he now sees that the committee was determined to ensure that justice was done. This is, on his part, nothing more than a defence reaction on how to get out of this, probably on the advice of his lawyers.

We err as a House of Commons if we give the message to anybody who comes in front of any of our committees that the person can say whatever he or she wants, whether it is truthful or not, and if that happens, there will be no sanctions or consequences. It is a very serious error.

Privilege

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I wish to speak to the same point of order that was raised by the member for Winnipeg South, who read a letter from Mr. George Radwanski.

I believe that it is a poor substitute for the actions that we as a standing committee chose to take, which was to point out our displeasure with Mr. Radwanski from the very start of this painful exercise.

The member for Elk Island made a good point. We should be concerned with what kind of precedent we are setting. If in fact we are the highest court in the land, we have a person who has made misrepresentations, possibly stolen public funds, lied to a standing committee, falsified documents and records, and ultimately will walk away with nothing more than a stern talking to.

It is not unusual for people, once they are found guilty, to do a few mea culpas and try to minimize the impact. I do not believe that Canadians would be satisfied that in one of the most obvious cases in recent history of abusing the system as a civil servant and violating the public trust, that it is satisfactory to simply accept a letter of apology from this person.

We have watched the standing committee move to a fairly firm consensus that we should be calling Mr. Radwanski to the Bar. The House of Commons should find him in contempt with consequences and sanctions up to and including time in prison. That was the starting point in our standing committee. We have seen that position watered down to the point now where we are going to accept a letter of apology from Mr. Radwanski.

Surely, we are not satisfied with this. We believe that this sets a terrible precedent for other courts and other situations. We have other cases where senior civil servants have been caught in the maladministration of funds that are yet to be dealt with by Parliament. I am talking about the Groupaction sponsorship scandals and the scandal around the Virginia Fontaine Treatment Centre with Health Canada in the Province of Manitoba.

We will have senior civil servants in the same situation and this sets a precedent where they, too, will simply write letters of apology. That is not satisfactory. I believe we should at the very least today find Mr. Radwanski to be in contempt of Parliament and nothing less will be satisfactory.

Privilege

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will not repeat the history of how we got here; however, in discussions with all parties, it was understood and agreed that it was necessary for us to find an expeditious resolution to this matter.

It is a fact that in the subcommittee report, as approved by the main committee, the unanimous position was that the committee would seek only an admonishment of Mr. Radwanski for the contempt should the Speaker find a prima facie case of privilege.

Mr. Speaker, you have found that prima facie case of privilege. Our position would have been to summon Mr. Radwanski to the Bar. He would have then given the letter, apologized to the House and we would have concluded that he was in contempt of this place.

I think it is the will of this place to accept Mr. Radwanski's letter of apology as his statement as if it were from the Bar. Therefore, at the appropriate time, I would be prepared to move that this House find Mr. George Radwanski in contempt of Parliament.

Privilege

10:20 a.m.

The Speaker

With respect, there has already been a finding in the committee and it reported a contempt. Based on the evidence the committee heard, I have made a finding that there is a prima facie case of contempt.

The hon. member for Scarborough--Rouge River, who brought the matter to the attention of the House and got this ruling from the Chair, has indicated he does not wish to proceed with his motion. I would have thought that this might conclude the matter.

The hon. member for West Vancouver--Sunshine Coast on a point of order.

Privilege

10:20 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC

Mr. Speaker, the House leaders are trying to work something out on this issue right now. May I suggest that, with unanimous consent, we go to routine proceedings and come back to this issue when those talks are finished?

Privilege

10:20 a.m.

The Speaker

Is it agreed.?

Privilege

10:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Indian Specific Claims Commission
Routine Proceedings

November 6th, 2003 / 10:20 a.m.

Kenora—Rainy River
Ontario

Liberal

Bob Nault Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, under the provisions of Standing Order 32(2), I have the honour to table, in both official languages, copies of the 2002-03 annual report of the Indian Specific Claims Commission.

Yukon Comprehensive Land Claims Agreement
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Kenora—Rainy River
Ontario

Liberal

Bob Nault Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I also have the honour of tabling copies of the 2000-01 annual report on the implementation of the Yukon Comprehensive Land Claims Agreement.

Broadcasting
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Niagara Centre
Ontario

Liberal

Tony Tirabassi Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Minister of Canadian Heritage, I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to the report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage from the second session of the 37th Parliament entitled “Our Cultural Sovereignty: The Second Century of Canadian Broadcasting”.