House of Commons Hansard #41 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was trafficking.

Topics

Alleged impediment in the discharge of a member's duties
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I am hearing the same argument over again. I thought the purpose of the interventions today was not to rehash what was heard before, but to add additional material. The minister has submitted additional material. The hon. member for Mississauga South has expressed his dissatisfaction with some of it, but I do not need to hear the whole argument again about what happened in the telephone call or what the request was. We got all that detail when the matter came up initially.

I think we ought to move on pretty quickly with this. If he has more submissions about the minister's submission, fine.

Alleged impediment in the discharge of a member's duties
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, as a consequence of the matters that have gone on, that there was misinformation, whether deliberate or not, the fact remains that there was a system in place, a formal process. You may recall at a further intervention I had asked that a blank copy of that form simply be provided to me. That has not been done. I would like to have that to verify the representations that have been made.

I would then still ask, in view of the past events that have taken place where the privileges of members have come into some question because of the actions and activities of the government, that this matter continue and that it be referred to the procedure and House affairs committee to do a fair assessment of what is actually being done. This a matter of the privileges of all members of the opposition and I ask that it be referred to the procedure and House affairs committee.

Alleged impediment in the discharge of a member's duties
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his interventions. The member is an honourable member and surely there is a way that we can sort this out outside of the time of the House. I would be happy to do so at the earliest opportunity.

Alleged impediment in the discharge of a member's duties
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The Chair will take the matter under advisement. I believe we have now heard all the arguments that are likely to be advanced in respect to this matter.

I would point out to the hon. member for Mississauga South and to the minister that they can have meetings together and possibly resolve the whole matter. In addition, if there is a continuing perception that this is a problem that affects other members, the hon. member from Mississauga South can go to the procedure and House affairs committee and ask the committee to examine the matter without me referring it there or the House referring it there if I decide this is a question of privilege. I will look into it to see if the member's privileges have been infringed and I will come back to the House with a ruling on the matter.

In the meantime, I would urge the minister and the member to work together to see if the appropriate exchange of documents or questions or whatever can be arranged.

I understand the hon. member for Malpeque also has a point of order.

Bill C-219
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order to respond to the comments made earlier today by the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader, in which he stated that my private member's bill, Bill C-219, was improperly before the House. I was not in the chamber at that time so I did not have a chance to respond.

Bill C-219 would amend the Income Tax Act to allow voluntary emergency workers to deduct from their taxable income the amount of $1,000 if they performed at least 100 hours of volunteer service and $2,000 if they performed at least 200 hours of volunteer service.

The parliamentary secretary contends that Bill C-219 is improperly before the House as it has not been preceded by a ways and means motion because, in his view, the bill would increase the level of taxation. He argued that Bill C-219 would increase taxation.

As I have already indicated, the bill would increase the exemption from taxation. House of Commons Procedure and Practice at page 898 states:

...private Members' bills which reduce taxes, reduce the incidence of a tax, or impose or increase an exemption from taxation are acceptable.

Ways and means motions are necessary for bills that impose a tax or other charge on the taxpayer. This bill does not do that.

The fact is that the current bill is similar to Bill C-273 that was in the last Parliament. It went as far as the finance committee and at that level there were technical questions on who it applied to, the record-keeping procedures for hours, et cetera, but not about increasing taxes.

This bill does not propose the expenditure of public funds but rather affects the exemption from taxation which is permitted under our rules.

In conclusion, I believe this bill is properly before the House and I ask that you, Mr. Speaker, allow this bill to proceed as it is supposed to during private members' business tomorrow.

Bill C-219
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I thank the hon. member for his interventions and certainly I will take them into account in preparing a ruling on this matter for the consideration of members.

The hon. member for Don Valley West is also rising on a point of order.

Bill C-474
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

John Godfrey Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is with regard to the private member's bill that I introduced last year, Bill C-474, which is a bill to require the development and implementation of a national sustainable development strategy.

On December 7, 2007, the acting speaker invited comments as to whether this bill would require a royal recommendation and it was duly obliged on December 11 by the parliamentary secretary to the leader of the government in the House with a series of suggestions, the import of which was that yes, indeed this bill required a royal recommendation.

I have considered those remarks. I was invited to respond to that. As a result of consultations with House officials, I will be bringing forward a series of amendments, if the bill passes second reading and gets to the committee stage, which will address and amend any concerns there might be about this bill requiring a royal recommendation. I believe it will then satisfy the concerns raised by the parliamentary secretary.

Bill C-474
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I thank the hon. member for Don Valley West for his submissions.

Statements Regarding Afghan Detainee Policy--Speaker's Ruling
Privilege
Oral Questions

January 31st, 2008 / 3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The Chair is now ready to rule on the question of privilege raised on Monday, January 28, 2008 by the hon. member for New Westminster—Coquitlam concerning replies on the issue of Afghan detainees given by the Minister of Foreign Affairs during oral questions on November 15, 2007.

I would like to thank the hon. member for New Westminster—Coquitlam for raising this matter and for providing the Chair with additional documentation. The Chair also appreciates the contributions on this matter from the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and the hon. member for Saint-Jean.

In presenting her case, the hon. member for New Westminster—Coquitlam charged that the Minister of Foreign Affairs deliberately misled the House in responding to her questions regarding the government’s detainee policy in Afghanistan because he had not, in her opinion, provided all the information that was available to him at that time.

In particular, she stated that on November 15, 2007, the minister had not offered any information concerning the halt in the transfer of Afghan detainees to the Afghan authorities that had occurred 12 days earlier. The hon. member for Saint-Jean also noted that he found the minister's silence on this point particularly troubling. In his response, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons contended that the government made no misleading statement on this issue and insisted that no change in policy had occurred.

At the outset, I wish to remind hon. members that a minister may decide how or if he or she wishes to respond to an oral question. As indicated on page 433 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice:

Members may not insist on an answer nor may a Member insist that a specific Minister respond to his or her question. A Minister's refusal to answer a question may not be questioned or treated as the subject of a point of order or question of privilege.

Furthermore, the role of the Speaker with respect to oral questions is very limited. I refer the House again to Marleau—Montpetit which clearly states on the same page:

The Speaker ensures that replies adhere to the dictates of order, decorum and parliamentary language. The Speaker, however, is not responsible for the quality or content of replies to questions. In most instances, when a point of order or a question of privilege has been raised in regard to a response to an oral question, the Speaker has ruled that the matter is a disagreement among Members over the facts surrounding the issue. As such, these matters are more a question of debate and do not constitute a breach of the rules or of privilege.

With those principles in mind, the Chair has carefully read the two questions posed by the hon. member for New Westminster—Coquitlam, as well as the answers of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, as found in the Debates of November 15, 2007. Let me say, first, that my reading reveals that the hon. member for New Westminster--Coquitlam ran out of time before completing either of her questions that day and so these questions appear to be incomplete. Second, the Chair is unable to find in either question a precise request of the minister to provide the information the member is now alleging was not given.

Furthermore, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons has now made a categorical assertion that there has been “absolutely no change” in the policy of the government. This is an assertion the Chair is bound to accept, just as it would be bound to accept the word of any hon. member.

It appears to me that we are dealing with a matter of debate. I realize full well, not only from the content of statements but also from their tone, that there are strikingly different views on this subject held by hon. members in this House as to whether the current handling of detainees represents a change in government policy or not. There is also strong disagreement over whether the minister ought to have communicated to the House certain facts about the halting of prisoner transfers in Afghanistan.

However, as I stated earlier in this ruling and as I have mentioned before on various occasions in this House, any dispute regarding the accuracy or appropriateness of a minister’s response to an oral question is a matter of debate; it is not a matter for the Speaker to judge. The same holds true with respect to the breadth of a minister’s answer to a question in the House: this is not for the Speaker to determine.

As hon. members know, before finding a prima facie breach of privilege in situations such as these, the Speaker must be convinced that deliberately misleading statements were made to the House. The current case is a dispute about the lack of information in the minister's responses to questions on November 15, 2007.

The Chair acknowledges that there are strong differences about the issue of prisoner transfers as well as strong disagreements about what information on prisoner transfers has been or ought to have been provided. However, it is not for the Speaker to address or resolve these differences nor are they sufficient to convince the Chair that the House was deliberately misled.

Accordingly, the Chair cannot find that there is a prima facie question of privilege in this case.

I thank the hon. member for New Westminster—Coquitlam for bringing this matter to the attention of the House.

The House resumed consideration of Bill C-3, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (certificate and special advocate) and to make a consequential amendment to another Act, as reported (with amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

When the House broke for question period, the hon. Minister of Public Safety had the floor for questions and comments as a consequence of his speech. There are two minutes remaining in the time allotted for questions and comments. I therefore call on the hon. member for York South—Weston for questions and comments.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for clarifying the difference between Criminal Code violations and the processes and the security certificate process. He also made it clear that the security certificate process does not relate to Canadians.

However, I have been asked by constituents to clarify with the minister with respect to the role of the special advocates. In the criminal process there is protection with respect to client-solicitor relationship. If during the process of certificate implications are made with respect to allegations against Canadians, is there the same degree of protection that exists under the Criminal Code and natural justice? Could the minister explain whether that similar client-solicitor relationship applies?

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla
B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's question came up in the committee and it was as a matter of some concern.

A number of provisions are in place to protect the individual who is being detained from untoward situations that may arise in the course of the actions that would unfold. As a matter of fact, in the committee discussion it was agreed that there could be some things that would come up that would actually be unpredictable and that there needed to be something in place to allow for that.

One of the ways of addressing that is in clause 85.2(c), which is a catch-all provision that can be applied for and asked for by the special advocate himself or herself. There would also be provisions for the person being detained and I think, if in not all cases, in most cases they would have their own counsel. There would be provisions to ensure the person is protected from such an eventuality related to client-solicitor privilege.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Penny Priddy Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, the concern that the NDP and I as the critic have with this, and the reason for putting forward all of these amendments, is that we have considered this to be completely the wrong way to go about dealing with the issues of terrorism. We are as concerned as anyone else that this country is protected, that its citizens are safe and that terrorism has absolutely no place and no acknowledgement in our country.

I think most Canadians would consider safety to be some kind of balance between freedom and security. They expect security in the country in which they live and raise their children but also they have a certain expectation of freedom.

I am a bit puzzled, I have to say, by the motions today to sit until the bill has finished report stage and by the rush to get it through. I understand perfectly well the deadline of February 23, but that was a year ago. If we had come back in September when we were due to come back, we would have had an extra month to work on this. Instead, we have had nine weeks.

It seems to me rather inconsistent that a bill that is of such great importance, and, by the way, I think it is, is left to the last two months of the year, because it has to go to the Senate as well, which has been known since the date was established last February. It seems to me that unless there is some other motive, the action does not reflect the gravity of the issue the bill has presented.

From the beginning, we have always seen this as the wrong way to go about dealing with terrorism, espionage and organized crime, and let us be sure that we are talking about all three things. Although terrorism is the phrase that is used most frequently, this is about also espionage and organized crime.

As members can see, we believe that if one has come to Canada to commit a terrorist act one should be charged and punished. To consider an act of terrorism in any country, but speaking of our own country, is one of the worst things imaginable. We have seen those examples in other countries as well as countries to the south of us.

So why would we not put in place legislation that would allow punishment of people instead of sending them back to their country of origin, where they may very well wish to go, and where they can or may continue their activities? I think in many cases they do continue to engage in the planning of terrorist activities, again, perhaps toward Canada, and it may not be them but somebody else they have trained.

But to send them back with no repercussions whatsoever is not acceptable. I expect people to be punished for such an odious type of crime. I also, by the way, expect people to prove that the odious crime is in the process of being committed or that there is a demonstration of its planning.

I think we know that significant numbers of members in this House will publicly say they think this bill is flawed. Some will privately say they know this bill is flawed. We know that members of the legal community believe that this bill will not withstand, albeit its rewriting, a constitutional challenge again, and there will indeed be another constitutional challenge. I do not think we should mistake that at all.

The human rights issue within this bill is a concern for all Canadians, I would hope, because human rights are something that we hold dear. Standards, procedural fairness and due process are things we consider to be inherent in human rights.

The ability to fully answer and defend ourselves is a basic human right. That is not reflected at all in this piece of legislation, unless we say there is a level of human rights and we believe only certain people have human rights, but I do not think that is what most Canadians believe. I think they believe people have a right to know fully what they have been accused of and to be able to defend themselves against it.

The NDP believes, and many community organizations who made presentations to the public safety committee said the same thing, that the use of what we would call secret evidence is a grave threat to fundamental justice. This bill proposes that if a special advocate were to be put in place, the advocate could speak to the detainee and his or her counsel and then see the full file, but could not talk to the detainee again, or at least have any conversation about what is in the file, even if it might be helpful to the detainee.

We know it is a flawed system because there have been other circumstances where we have used information without the full advantage of having all of it. We have seen the kind of prosecution people have been put through.

The special advocate is being championed by this piece of legislation, but it does not explicitly give any kind of special powers to the special advocate to seek and obtain other government records that might be believed to be relevant. If the advocate reads in a file something that refers to another record that he or she thinks would be helpful, there is nothing that explicitly states the advocate has the right to see that information.

Certainly there are other models that people have suggested, such as the SIRC model, where there has been full disclosure of information that CSIS has available. That kind of process was used and was in place before the current process.

There also is a concern about how long people can be detained without any charge being laid at all. One individual has been in detention for seven years. Other individuals have been in detention for somewhat shorter lengths of time, but certainly not short lengths of time. There is nothing to protect them. Yes, detainees can have their cases reviewed on a regular basis, but that does not mean they cannot continue to be told no for some indefinite length of time.

They can be kept in prison-like settings that I think are built for two or three people, without any idea of why they are there, and without anybody presenting the charges to them. If we were to even consider that as a principle we would use anywhere else, Canadians would rise up in anger, as they should.

It is a basic premise. If we are charged with something or detained in jail, we have a right to know why. We have a right for our counsel to see the evidence and a right to defend ourselves. Under this piece of legislation, which we do believe is completely flawed in dealing with the issue of terrorism, which we believe should be criminally punished, we do not have that.

I look forward to other speakers.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to have seconded the motions my colleague put forward this afternoon, which delete all the clauses of this legislation as a way of showing our fundamental disagreement with this security certificate process, as well as the fundamental flaws and the supposed fix that the government has provided for this legislation.

Earlier I was incredulous when I heard the Minister of Public Safety say that he believed the security certificate process was appropriate, even though its sole aim, the whole deal, was to send someone accused of some of the most serious crimes against our society, those of terrorism, security threats and espionage, out of the country. It did not matter if they were ever charged, convicted or punished for perpetrating those serious crimes. What is more is that the only thing this legislation and this process seek to do is to get them back to their country of origin, where there is no guarantee that they will be charged, convicted or tried for those very serious crimes either.

This seems to be a piece of legislation that seeks to avoid dealing with the most serious crimes in our society. Would the member comment on that? How does this legislation make Canada or Canadians safer? How could a Minister of Public Safety support that kind of legislation?