House of Commons Hansard #59 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was information.

Topics

Privilege

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege. I am thankful for this opportunity to add some points on a matter that was raised as a question of privilege by the chair of the public accounts committee on Monday, February 10.

At that time allegations were made that I may have committed a breach of privilege as a member of Parliament or be in contempt of Parliament for releasing information regarding a draft report being dealt with by the public accounts committee on the subject of the Groupaction sponsorship scandals.

I should point out that this allegation has more to do with my position as the critic of the official opposition than it does any breach of privilege as a member of Parliament in the House.

I will point out that clearly someone did release information about the draft report being dealt with by the public accounts committee because on January 31 the National Post wrote quite a comprehensive article about the contents of this draft report in great detail. We believe that someone did release a copy of that draft report to the National Post . I want to say categorically here and now, that person was not me.

Further, information that was written in the National Post was picked up by other subsequent newspapers. I would argue that once it was printed in the National Post it became part of the public domain. Other newspapers that were in fact part of the same media chain and own the National Post started to use information that was printed first in the National Post . I did not believe that any comments made by me about the article in the National Post breached parliamentary privilege.

I am very aware of the rules of the House of Commons. Every day that I take my seat in the House of Commons I am very aware of the honour that is mine to be a member of Parliament and I would never knowingly contravene the rules of the House of Commons.

Having said that, I would like to add that one of the points raised by the chair of the public accounts committee in his criticism of me had some merit in that I did schedule a news conference for Monday, February 10, where I planned to speak about some of the issues surrounding the Groupaction affair. Some of those issues were in the National Post already. When it was brought to my attention that holding a news conference to talk about those topics would in fact be crossing that line the news conference was cancelled. It never took place. I do not believe that anything that I have done or said subsequent to that day in any way breaches parliamentary privilege.

I am glad to have this opportunity to express my opinion and clear that up. I believe the issue is more a matter of the concentration of ownership in the media, where when one newspaper gets a story its fellow newspapers in that chain often comment on the same thing. Someone leaked that draft report and I share the concern of the chair of the public accounts committee that it was wrong. That person was not me. With that, I thank the House for its time.

Privilege

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

I thank the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre for his clarification of the events that we heard about on Monday at some length. The Chair took the matter under advisement then. It is still under advisement and I will get back to the House in due course.

Privilege

10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve on December 12, 2002, concerning the premature disclosure of the report of the Special committee on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs.

I should explain that the unusual delay in returning to the House in this case is due to the adjournment and is a result of the Chair waiting to give an opportunity to all members involved to intervene on the question.

I would like to thank the hon. member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve for having raised this matter as well as the hon. member for Brossard—La Prairie, the hon. opposition House leader, the hon. member for Langley-Abbotsford and the hon. member for Laval East for their contributions.

The hon. member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve claimed that newspaper reports published prior to the tabling of the Special Committee’s final report on December 12, 2002, revealed premature disclosure of parts of the report dealing with the committee’s recommendations related to the decriminalization of marijuana. He alleged that the premature release of information could be traced to the hon. members for Laval East and the hon. member for Langley—Abbotsford.

As the hon. member for Hochelaga--Maisonneuve rightly noted, this is contrary to our practices and is a breach of the privileges of the House and of all members and, as he went on to point out, past Speakers’ rulings have consistently indicated the need to include the source of the leak in raising any charge of this nature. House of Commons Procedure and Practice sets this out clearly on pages 884 to 885:

Speakers have ruled that questions of privilege concerning leaked reports will not be considered unless a specific charge is made against an individual, organization or group, and that the charge must be levelled not only against those outside the House who have made in camera material public, but must also identify the source of the leak within the House itself.

The hon. member for Langley—Abbotsford acknowledged that he had discussed the topic of decriminalization in the media, but contended that he had not done so in the context of the special committee's report. He stated that the topic of decriminalization is one that has generated considerable public interest in recent months and that his remarks were directed at the position of the government made public by the Minister of Justice.

The hon. opposition House leader, citing House of Commons Procedure and Practice , p. 128-9, argued that our practice has clearly been to have such questions dealt with first by the committee concerned so that the House is seized with the question of a leak only upon receiving a report from a committee raising that issue.

I will deal with his latter point first. While it is true that committees are masters of their own proceedings and have primary responsibility for dealing with their own questions of order, the situation is somewhat more complicated for a special committee. While a special committee, like any other committee of this House, should deal with procedural matters as they arise, it is unable to take the initiative in this regard once it has presented its final report. House of Commons Procedure and Practice makes this quite clear at page 812, “Special committees cease to exist with the presentation of their final report”.

So, while it is true in general that committees are responsible for their own procedural matters, in a case such as this, the only way in which a special committee can consider the question is by receiving an order from the House re-establishing it and empowering it to do so. Out of necessity, then, in this case, the matter must be considered here in the House.

I would like to say to the hon. member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve that I view this matter very seriously since the confidentiality of committee reports has been a constant source of concern to your Speaker and to the House itself. On that basis, I have examined all the press reports submitted to me with particular care. Taking them at their face value, it does appear that confidentiality has been breached with respect to the report of the Special Committee on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs. I know that all hon. members will share my disappointment and frustration at such an occurrence

However, with respect to the charges levelled against the hon. members for Laval East and Langley--Abbotsford, the situation is somewhat different. In addition to the general interest in the subject of how marijuana is to be treated, there enters the further complicating factor that on December 10, 2002, the hon. Minister of Justice made statements concerning the government's position with respect to decriminalization.

I would further point out that there are many similarities between the views expressed by the minister and those contained in the committee's report.

My examination of the press reports shows that several members made comments concerning decriminalization of marijuana. None of these remarks actually quoted in the media constitutes a direct disclosure of the contents of the committee’s report, nor do any of the stories allege that a member of the committee provided the information they contain

I am therefore not inclined to accept that these press reports can be accepted as prima facie evidence of the involvement of the hon. members for Laval East and Langley—Abbotsford in the premature disclosure of the Committee’s report.

At the same time, as I have said, it appears that at least parts of the report were provided to the media prior to its tabling in the House. I would urge all hon. members to remember their responsibilities in this regard to their colleagues and to the House.

Privilege

10:15 a.m.

The Speaker

I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Yorkton--Melville on February 5, 2003, concerning the reports tabled by the hon. Minister of Justice on Monday, February 3.

I would like to thank the hon. member for Yorkton--Melville for raising the issue, as well as the hon. government House leader and the hon. members for Vancouver East, St. John's West and Provencher for their contributions.

In presenting his case, the hon. member for Yorkton--Melville claimed that when the Minister of Justice tabled reports related to the administration of the firearms registry the minister withheld a part of the report. According to the hon. member, the part he alleges was withheld contained information vital to his ability to carry out his duties as a member of Parliament.

Charging the minister with deception, the hon. member further alleged that, in withholding information he knew to be essential, the minister failed to keep the commitment he made to the House on December 12, 2002. The hon. member concluded that, in so doing, the minister had acted in a manner that constituted a contempt of the House.

In response, the hon. government House leader cited Standing Order 32 (2), which states:

A Minister of the Crown, or a Parliamentary Secretary acting on behalf of a Minister, may, in his or her place in the House, state that he or she proposes to lay upon the Table of the House, any report or other paper dealing with a matter coming within the administrative responsibilities of the government, and, thereupon, the same shall be deemed for all purposes to have been laid before the House.

He pointed out that the Minister of Justice had voluntarily tabled the two reports laid before the House on February 3, contending that the minister could not then be faulted for not making available different information or a different report.

On this point, the hon. government House leader is quite correct. The Journals of February 3, 2003, at page 359 indicate that the Minister of Justice did indeed table the documents related to the firearms registry pursuant to this standing order.

The hon. government House leader also claimed that the additional document referred to by the hon. member for Yorkton--Melville was not in fact part of the report but a background document. The same claim was also made by the hon. Minister of Justice at page 3179 of Debates , when he characterized the document as one that had been provided to help prepare the report actually tabled.

I would point out to hon. members that there are only two conditions which oblige ministers to table documents. First, there are a great many documents that are tabled pursuant to statute or an order of this House. Marleau and Montpetit explains that one of the chief means by which the House obtains information is through the presentation of reports and returns stating at page 371:

In addition to the administrative documents that may be tabled in the House by Ministers, certain returns, reports and other papers are required to be laid before the House each year or session by statute, by order of the House, or by Standing Order. A number of statutes set forth the specific circumstances for tabling: for example, some statutes require Ministers to table annual reports of the departments, agencies and commissions which fall under their administrative responsibilities.

The second condition requiring the tabling of a document occurs when a document has been cited by a minister—that is, when a minister goes beyond referring to a document and actually quotes from the text.

Again I quote from Marleau and Montpetit, page 518:

Any document quoted by a Minister in debate or in response to a question during Question Period must be tabled. Indeed, a Minister is not at liberty to read or quote from a dispatch (an official written message on government affairs) or other state paper without being prepared to table it if it can be done without injury to the public interest.

In reviewing the facts of the case before us, it is clear that neither of the two documents tabled by the hon. minister on Monday, February 3, 2003, falls in a category of documents that require tabling. They were not required by statute or by order of the House, nor were they documents the minister had quoted from. As for the information under dispute, it is contained in an entirely separate third document that provides technical background to the recommendations in one of the tabled reports.

The Minister of Justice was under no obligation to table any of these documents. However, following a commitment he made to the House on December 12, 2002, the minister chose to table the two reports and not the background document as, pursuant to Standing Order 32(2), he sought to provide further information to members on matters that lie within his administrative jurisdiction as Minister of Justice.

That being said however, the Chair is troubled by the miscommunication which seems to exist in this case. Several hon. members indicated they were unaware of the existence of the background document despite the fact that the hon. government House leader stated that the document was available to members through several avenues.

It had been pointed out that the press release issued by the Department of Justice provided a phone number where members might request additional technical documents related to those tabled in the House. That may well be true, but it nonetheless left us in the unhappy situation where the House received one set of documents while a more complete set of materials was available outside the House. The Chair notes that this situation was rectified on February 12 when the Minister of Justice tabled the background document in the House.

Clearly, a disagreement exists between hon. members as to both the nature of the documents originally laid before the House by the hon. Minister of Justice and the extent of the commitment made by him in December when he agreed to provide further information on the firearms program. That distribution inside and outside the House was at the outset inconsistent--and, that the House arguably originally received the less complete set of documents--only exacerbated the disagreement.

However, the fact remains that no procedural obligation existed for the minister to table these documents in the first place. So, while it is certainly regrettable that the original distribution of documents was inconsistent, this in itself is not sufficient for the Chair to find that a prima facie question of privilege exists in this case.

I thank the hon. member for Yorkton--Melville for having drawn this matter to the attention of the Chair.

Points of Order

10:25 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

John M. Cummins Delta—South Richmond, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order regarding statements that were made in the House last week on February 6.

The allegation was made that I somehow was involved in the release of ministerial speaking notes regarding an announcement that the minister would be making on the morning of February 6.

I have spoken to the minister and to the government House leader and have advised them that neither I nor my office were responsible for the leaking of those notes. In fact, my office was advised that morning that there would be a ministerial statement the next day but we were not given any indication as to what it would be about. At the same time there was a media advisory that suggested it would be about the dive team.

Nevertheless, not knowing, my office contacted people in the coast guard who advised us that the announcement would be about the dive team, and they made further inquiries relating to that instance.

I was not aware of the matter because I did not arrive in Ottawa until later that afternoon. When I was given a copy of the document, which I did read, I answered questions from a reporter later on in the day assuming he was aware of the incident.

However, I want to emphasize again that I did not release documents, nor did my office. I regret any upset that may have occurred over this matter. I assure the minister that in the future I will be even more cautious in my comments on matters such as this.

Points of Order
The Royal Assent

10:25 a.m.

The Speaker

Order, please. I have the honour to inform the House that a communication has been received as follows:

Rideau Hall

Ottawa

February 13, 2003

Mr. Speaker,

I have the honour to inform you that the Honourable John Major, Puisne Judge of the Supreme Court of Canada, in his capacity as Deputy of the Governor General, signified royal assent by written declaration to the bill listed in the Schedule to this letter on the 13th day of February, 2003, at 8:50 a.m.

Yours sincerely,

Barbara Uteck

Secretary to the Governor General

The schedule indicates the bill assented to was Bill C-4, an act to amend the Nuclear Safety and Control Act--Chapter No. 1.

Government Response to Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Bras D'Or—Cape Breton
Nova Scotia

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to 12 petitions.

Interparliamentary Delegations
Routine Proceedings

February 13th, 2003 / 10:25 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Williams St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34(1) I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the report of the Canadian delegation to the Interparliamentary Forum of the Americas to the sixth meeting of the executive committee in Panama City, Panama, December 6 and 7, 2002.

Canadian Bill of Rights
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Mac Harb Ottawa Centre, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-360, an act to amend the Canadian Bill of Rights (right to education).

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

Canadian Bill of Rights
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Mac Harb Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, would it be possible to have unanimous consent to reintroduce a series of bills, 30 in total, with the exception of Bill C-390, an act to establish a national registry of medical devices, and Bill C-391, an act to establish a National Civil Defence Force, which I will introduce and speak to?

If I could have unanimous consent we would not have to go through those 30 bills one by one?

Canadian Bill of Rights
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

The Speaker

Is it agreed?

Canadian Bill of Rights
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Canadian Bill of Rights
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

The Speaker

Perhaps the Chair could dispense with reading the titles of the 30 bills?

Canadian Bill of Rights
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Canadian Bill of Rights
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

The Speaker

Accordingly, leave to introduce the bills is deemed granted.