House of Commons Hansard #100 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was health.

Topics

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, with your permission, I should like to add a few brief remarks to what has already been said.

I would like to say that we support the question raised by the government House leader. In our opinion, there are two aspects to the current situation, the substance and the form.

First, there is the substantive issue: is the parliamentary privilege of members against participating in legal proceedings when Parliament is in session and for 40 days before and 40 days after the session still valid? That is a question that must be answered, but not, we think, in a court of law.

More importantly, there is a question of form. In my opinion, the authority of the House of Commons and its Speaker cannot be usurped by anyone else. The Speaker's first duty is to ensure that the rights and privileges of parliamentarians are respected. Any body that might wish, for the common good, to stand in the place of the Speaker of the House and the means that could be established for deciding such questions is, in my opinion, null and void.

As Speaker, it is your duty to safeguard our privileges. It is the duty of the House of Commons to define these privileges, enlarging or shrinking them according to circumstances and specific situations. But at no time should these recommendations come from any other place, not even a court of law.

Therefore, I support the government House leader. I believe that this is an extremely important opportunity for us to clarify the concept of parliamentary privilege, to explain it and help people understand it who might not have had the opportunity to study these issues sufficiently. I would like to tell you, Mr. Speaker, that you have our entire cooperation at every moment of this operation which, as far as we are concerned, is fundamental to protecting the parliamentary privileges of the elected members.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, on the same point, first I would like to thank the government House leader for raising this question of privilege. We agree with the general principle and the comments that have been put forward.

Clearly the court decision with which we are dealing has gone far beyond its jurisdiction in terms of now intruding into this arena and what has been a very long-standing tradition of parliamentary privilege, and in particular the issue where a member cannot be called as a witness for 40 days before or after a session and 40 days after dissolution.

However, I would note that this practice has been in effect, as the member noted, since 1867, so we are talking about something that happened more than 100 years ago. From the point of view of looking at the relevancy and the reality of what now is before us as members in terms of the business of the world and the courts and so on, it is something we should be looking at.

So while I agree with the principle and that a prima facie case exists for this to be sent to the procedure and House affairs committee, there is actually something worth examining here in terms of the 40 days and whether or not that is realistic. I think the minister is suggesting that if this were referred to the committee because you have decided that it is a prima facie case, Mr. Speaker, this is obviously something that could be examined.

In the NDP we have had other questions about parliamentary privilege. We have had instances of cases around the application of the Human Rights Act, for example, where we have had serious concerns about parliamentary privilege and the fact that the Human Rights Act does not apply to complaints.

There are some questions here, but on this specific issue of the ruling of the 40 days, we agree that it is important to allow this to go to committee to have some discussion and to consider what might follow as a result.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the leader of the government for giving me notice of his intention to raise this matter. It is an important question and it deserves our attention. In fact, I would I suggest this is an extremely important issue.

The Court of Appeal of British Columbia has taken issue with the scope of parliamentary privilege as the leader of the government has stated. The issue is the immunity of members and senators from being called to give evidence in a civil court during the period of 40 days before the summoning of the new session of Parliament and for 40 days following prorogation of a session.

I have only had a brief opportunity to read the unanimous decision of the Court of Appeal but it does raise serious questions for Parliament, and it does raise some serious questions for the government and for the member for LaSalle—Émard.

As members of the House we must protect the undoubted rights, protections and immunities that constitutionally guarantee our ability to attend in this place to debate and vote freely on the business of the Crown or that the Crown places before Parliament and to which we have been elected to serve.

Her Excellency the Governor General at the commencement of this Parliament on January 30, 2001 reinforced these protections and immunities. I want to quote those words again. They are more than pageantry; they are the heart and core of our Parliamentary constitution. Mr. Speaker said:

May it please Your Excellency,

The House of Commons has elected me their Speaker, though I am but little able to fulfill the important duties thus assigned to me. If, in the performance of those duties, I should at any time fall into error, I pray that the fault may be imputed to me, and not to the Commons, whose servant I am, and who, through me, the better to enable them to discharge their duty to their Queen and Country, humbly claim all their undoubted rights and privileges, especially that they may have freedom of speech in their debates, access to Your Excellency's person at all seasonable times, and that their proceedings may receive from Your Excellency the most favourable construction.

The hon. Speaker of the Senate answered as follows:

Mr. Speaker, I am commanded by Her Excellency the Governor General to declare to you that she freely confides in the duty and attachment of the House of Commons to Her Majesty's Person and Government, and not doubting that their proceedings will be conducted with wisdom, temper and prudence, she grants, and upon all occasions will recognize and allow, their constitutional privileges. I am commanded also to assure you that the Commons shall have ready access to Her Excellency upon all seasonable occasions and that their proceedings, as well as your words and actions, will constantly receive from her the most favourable construction.

There now appears to be a dispute within Her Majesty's courts as to the extent of our immunity from being called to give evidence in a civil case. Does it extend for 40 days before and after a session of Parliament? Clearly that is the question that should be resolved if it is in doubt. Three learned justices from the British Columbia Court of Appeal have cast doubt, so the issue should be resolved definitively.

There is another side to this matter. It is the issue of simple justice for those who seek redress from the courts. As the Court of Appeal states in paragraph 51, it is open to a member of the House to voluntarily appear and give evidence. The court is quoting from the 1983 edition of Maingot's

Parliamentary Privilege in Canada.

On page 134 the author discusses the parliamentary privilege of not being required to attend as a witness. The following appears:

Since Parliament has the paramount right to the attendance and service of its members, any call for the member to attend elsewhere while the House is in session is not in law a call that need be answered. Thus the member is not compelled to attend as a witness before any court or tribunal in Canada while the House is in session, whether in a criminal, civil or military matter.

Further, on the same page it states:

In Canada, a member of the House of Commons who has received a subpoena to appear in civil or criminal court while the House is in session may wish to attend where he feels his absence might affect the course of justice, particularly after having been apprised in advance by the party in question. However, members have the legal right to claim this privilege and while the service of a subpoena would not normally be raised in the House, the counsel who authorized the service would probably be advised by the member or by the Law Clerk of the lawful claim to this privilege.

It is clear that if the member for LaSalle--Émard wants to appear, he is completely free to do so. He is not prevented by the House from appearing. In this case the member for LaSalle--Émard is involved because he was the minister of finance, and we understand that, and on behalf of himself or the people under him, he was asked to appear.

One of the issues that should be examined is the degree to which ministers of the crown use parliamentary immunity to avoid appearing in court to answer for their actions. Even though our rights and privileges have to be protected, we must also ensure that people have the right to bring others before the courts.

Let me summarize by saying that abuses took place in the 18th century. There are quotations that show us that people questioned the rights of parliamentarians. These abuses can just as easily occur in the 21st century if members of the House hide behind the claim of immunity when they could easily appear to give evidence in the interest of justice.

We have rights and privileges but we should not abuse them. Immunities exist to protect the ability of members to attend and speak freely in the House and we must make sure that these are clarified. They should not be used by ministers to frustrate those who seek justice in the courts. I cannot believe that the member for LaSalle--Émard is so busy that he cannot find time to give evidence.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I find the position of the government House leader to be somewhat hypocritical, or at least contradictory.

When it comes to protecting the people against poor decisions of the court, the minister stands with the courts every time. When it comes to the courts threatening members' privileges, he stands on the side of members. I am somewhat surprised that he would take the narrow position of protecting members' interests but not the interests of the populace at large.

And I would like to ask, where is the member for LaSalle--Émard in respect to this issue?

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:30 p.m.

The Speaker

I thought the hon. member was going to be helpful on the question of privilege, but I do not think we are discussing the question of privilege in the remarks that are being made. I had some concerns in earlier remarks too on this point.

I will take the matter under advisement and get back to the House in due course. I thank hon. members for having raised this very important matter.

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

3:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order regarding a motion on the Order Paper in the name of the member for Ottawa--Vanier seeking concurrence in the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Official Languages. I believe this is a clear conflict of interest and a violation of Standing Order 21.

As you are aware, I raised the issue of the signature of the member on the report and whether or not that violated Standing Order 21. I argued that the member had a pecuniary interest with the recommendation in the report and as a result, he ought not to have signed off on it.

Mr. Speaker, while you ruled that the member's signature did not violate Standing Order 21, you did make some statements that I believe make a case that the concurrence motion may violate our practices with respect to pecuniary interest. On May 8, 2003 you stated:

In the present case, I believe that it is important to note that the reimbursement is being recommended to the hon. member for Ottawa--Vanier as a reimbursement for legal costs he incurred as a third party intervener. The funds are not, strictly speaking, a grant of money to the member personally, though it must be admitted that, if no reimbursement is made, the hon. member will have suffered a loss and so can be said to have a pecuniary interest in the matter.

The Speaker recognized that the member had a pecuniary interest but that his signature alone did not violate Standing Order 21. Mr. Speaker said:

There is not, as the hon. member for Ottawa--Vanier pointed out, any suggestion either in our written rules or our practice that, in signing a report, the chair takes a position for or against its contents. The signature merely attests that the contents of the report reflect the decisions of the committee.

I concede that in signing the report, the chair of a committee is not taking a position for or against. What I am talking about today is the concurrence motion in the name of the member for Ottawa--Vanier.

As you are aware, Mr. Speaker, concurrence motions are voluntary. As chairman of the official languages committee he may have been obliged to sign the report, but there is absolutely no obligation for him to table a concurrence motion. The motion seeks the House's concurrence in the report. That is taking a position. Therefore the act of giving notice of a motion concurring in a report in which the member has a pecuniary interest puts him in a conflict of interest.

I remind the House that the report names the member and it states that the House of Commons suggest to its Board of Internal Economy to make available a maximum budget of $30,000 to cover a portion of the legal fees incurred by the member for Ottawa--Vanier.

As I stated in my first point of order on this matter, Marleau and Montpetit on page 189 is concerned with members being seen to be impartial and that they should not derive personal benefit or gain from their decisions.

The voluntary action of placing a concurrence motion on the Order Paper is a clear conflict of interest. The motion in the name of the member for Ottawa--Vanier should be removed from the Order Paper.

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

3:30 p.m.

Halifax West
Nova Scotia

Liberal

Geoff Regan Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, this is a matter the essence of which has already been ruled on by Mr. Speaker. I am surprised that it is being raised again because we know this is not a case in which the chair of that committee, the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier, had a personal pecuniary interest. He was acting on behalf of the committee. Obviously he is not a member of the bar. He could not have gone and argued the case himself, so he is not receiving money himself.

In fact when he rose in the House, that is the usual practice of chairs of committees; they stand and table the report and a few minutes later they ask for concurrence in the report. Those are the responsibilities of the chair of the committee. We see it here on a regular basis, as you know, Mr. Speaker.

This is not a case where he was acting on his own behalf, but purely on behalf of the committee and in his duties as chair of that committee. In my view the substance and pith of this has been ruled on already.

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am rising to share information with you and with members of the House. They will remember that the report was not tabled in the House of Commons by the member for Ottawa—Vanier, but rather by me, as first vice-chair of the Standing Committee on Official Languages. That is what I wanted to share with the House. It was not the member for Ottawa—Vanier.

He is not the person who tabled the report in the House of Commons. I personally, as a member of the committee and as first vice-chair of the committee on official languages, am the one who presented the report in the House of Commons on behalf of the official languages committee.

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

3:35 p.m.

The Speaker

I think I can deal with this matter at once.

The notice of motion given by the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier is merely a notice, it is not a motion moved in the House. Should the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier choose to move this motion at some time, the Chair will rule on the point of order raised by the hon. member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast. But in my view it is premature in the sense that the notice that has been given is merely a notice and has no procedural value except to constitute a notice should it be subsequently moved.

The hon. member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, of all people, is thoroughly familiar with the Order Paper. He knows there are hundreds of motions for concurrence in various committee reports on the Notice Paper at the moment. They have never been moved and I suspect a good number of them never will be. Sometimes there are 10 for one committee report and only one could be moved, yet the others all sit there and languish. This one will sit there and languish until it is moved and if it is moved, I will rule on the point of order raised by the hon. member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast and we will deal with the matter, but until that time we will treat it as an academic exercise.

Government Response to Petitions
Routine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Halifax West
Nova Scotia

Liberal

Geoff Regan Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8), I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to 16 petitions.

Interparliamentary Delegations
Routine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to present a report, in both official languages, of the Canada-Europe Parliamentary Association. It is a report of the delegation to the Fourth Annual Conference of the Parliamentary Network of the World Bank which was held in Athens, Greece on March 9 and 10, at which time we were participating in a dialogue with Mr. Wolfensohn of the World Bank and Mr. Horst Kohler of the IMF.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

David Pratt Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the first report of the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs.

In accordance with its order of reference of Monday, April 28, the committee has considered and held hearings on Bill C-31, an act to amend the Pension Act and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act, and agreed on Thursday, May 8 to report it without amendment.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Barrie—Simcoe—Bradford
Ontario

Liberal

Aileen Carroll Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade entitled “A Contribution to the Foreign Policy Dialogue”.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

May 12th, 2003 / 3:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36, I am pleased to table six petitions calling upon Parliament to protect our children by taking all necessary steps to ensure that all materials which promote or glorify pedophilia or sado-masochistic activities involving children are outlawed.

The six petitions contain approximately 1,500 signatures from concerned citizens from all over Canada. I would like to note that these petitions were compiled by Focus on the Family Canada. I would like to congratulate it for its efforts on behalf of children in Canada.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have further petitions. I have over 12,000 petitions presented today on behalf of the Vancouver based group Canadian Alliance for Social Justice and Family Values: 6,346 express support of the traditional definition of marriage and 5,841 petitions express opposition to Bill C-250, a bill that proposes to criminalize statements critical of homosexuality.

The Canadian Alliance for Social Justice and Family Values is a non-denominational, non-partisan grassroots association. Its principal purposes are to redress social injustice to advocate and protect constitutional charter and social rights, traditional family values and parental rights. Based in Vancouver, this group is 90% Chinese Canadian.

Since these petitions do not strictly conform to the specifications of the House of Commons, I would like to request unanimous consent to table those today as well.