House of Commons Hansard #101 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was police.

Topics

Disturbance in Gallery
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am familiar with the references made by the hon. House leader but I would simply point out to the House leader and to you, Mr. Speaker, that that is the party that brought forward a 200 page manual on how to obstruct the work of committees.

A former deputy speaker, Bill Blaikie, once said to the House that demonstration and filibustering are part of the democratic process. Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives Canadians the right to express their freedom of expression. That is what happened here.

Mr. Speaker, I would just indicate that freedom of speech is not just for parliamentarians. It is for all Canadians.

Disturbance in Gallery
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, we saw indeed the disturbance caused by people in the gallery yesterday during question period, as did many members of the House.

However, I deplore the fact that the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons is using this situation to play petty politics. Let me explain.

When we had, two or three weeks ago—

Disturbance in Gallery
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Disturbance in Gallery
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to finish making my point and then it can be decided if what I said was relevant or not.

When we had the three protesters disguised as nuns two or three weeks ago, our security services acted quickly and effectively even though it was not necessarily easy. I am sorry, but the appropriate forum to discuss this situation is not here.

The Leader of the Government in the House of Commons is trying to play politics, and he knows it. He was elected at the same time I was, in 1993. It was 16 years ago last Sunday. Like me, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons has been a member of the Board of Internal Economy of the House of Commons for several years, and he knows full well that discussing such issues is part of the mandate, the responsibilities and the duties of the Board of Internal Economy.

Having been sworn in, I do not have the right to disclose the substance of our discussions, but the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons knows full well that the case of the protesters disguised as nuns was discussed in the appropriate forum, namely the Board of Internal Economy of the House of Commons. Therefore, I do not think this issue has to be settled in the House. It must be discussed at the Board of Internal Economy.

Disturbance in Gallery
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, first I would like to say that I know the government takes great exception to anyone who dares to protest. The question the government House leader has raised today is absolutely absurd. As others have pointed out, it is simply political grandstanding. It is that particular House leader who has told the House repeatedly that when such matters arise, the appropriate place to raise those issues is in the House leaders' meeting, which, by the way, will take place at 3:30 this afternoon. If he were concerned about security issues, that would be the appropriate place to raise that matter.

What I have to say to the House in response to these ludicrous allegations is that the member for Toronto—Danforth had nothing whatsoever to do with the protest that took place in the gallery yesterday. Let us be very clear. There were members from different parties who met with the young people on Parliament Hill. It is part of our responsibility and mandate to book rooms and meet with constituents and organizations on Parliament Hill.

The member for Toronto—Danforth was simply doing his job. As the leader of the New Democrats, I am glad that he met with that very enthusiastic group of young people who came to Parliament to raise their concerns about climate change. To charge the member with contempt, saying that somehow we organized the protest in the House is ludicrous. There is no conspiracy except in the mind of the government House leader. The fact is we knew nothing about the protest. If members will recall, the protest took place in the middle of the question by the leader of the NDP in question period.

This is an absurd allegation. It is simply being made for political grandstanding. The fact is, yes, our party's leader met with the group, as did other members of Parliament. We had no knowledge of the protest. However, in a broader spectrum, we uphold and respect the rights of people to protest and put forward their points of view.

The government House leader is simply trying to make political points in the House. It is not a question of privilege. The member for Toronto—Danforth has done nothing wrong in terms of his responsibilities as a member. To charge him with contempt of the House is absolutely absurd. I would ask the member to withdraw his question of privilege on the basis that it has no factual or evidentiary information whatsoever.

Disturbance in Gallery
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Langley
B.C.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Conservative members on the Standing Committee on the Environment met at 1:30 p.m. At 1:45 p.m. there was a chant or yell, a war cry like I have never heard since I was elected in 2004. It was substantial enough that we stopped the meeting to find out what was happening. We proceeded from room 238-S and opened the door to room 237-C to find out what was happening. It was a meeting of the same young people that were in the gallery yesterday during question period. I recognized many of them in that room.

Because it was so out of the norm, I checked to find out who had reserved the room, who had hosted that meeting. It turned out it was the NDP. The House leader is absolutely right.

Then I was shocked to discover during question period that there was a well organized strategy. Guests of the NDP were sitting in the gallery for this well organized event, which was disgraceful in my opinion. It was well organized and put other citizens of Canada who were present and security officers at extreme risk.

After the event, I climbed up in the gallery. It was a very dangerous situation in which the protestors put our security staff. People could have been hurt. In fact, as the House leader said, two of the officers were injured and had to go to hospital.

We hear an endorsement of that type of action from the Liberals, endorsement and acceptance from the Bloc and justification from the NDP. It is absolutely disgraceful. It should never have happened. It should not have been hosted and supported by the NDP. The NDP owes the House an apology.

I came here to represent my wonderful community of Langley. It is an honour to be here. That type of disrespect for the House should never happen again. This House deserves an apology.

Disturbance in Gallery
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I am not sure we need to hear a whole lot more on this point. I think I have heard enough on the point that I can at least take the matter under advisement at this stage. I am not sure that there has been a breach of the privileges of members from what I have heard, but I will look into the matter further.

Of course, in the proceedings yesterday, I could not see what was happening behind me at all. In this seat, I cannot see what is happening in that gallery, but I appreciate the hon. member's intervention on the point and I will look into it.

I will come back to the House with a ruling. The other thing that can happen with a question of privilege, and it is not a matter of workload, is for it to be referred to a committee for review. I imagine that if there is a problem with privileges, the hon. Leader of the Government in the House of Commons will move a motion to refer the matter to a committee. I do not know. I believe it is usual for a question of privilege.

We will move on. I have notice of a point of order from the hon. Minister of Public Safety.

Introduction of Bills
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:20 p.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, I want to address an issue that was raised by the House leader of the Bloc Québécois. This is with regard to whether Bill C-53 was improperly prematurely disclosed in advance by me. I want to speak to that.

The rule in the case that we are talking about is not one that one will find referenced in Marleau and Montpetit. One will not find any reference to it in Erskine May or in Beauchesne's. In fact, Mr. Speaker, the rule essentially comes entirely in one single finding of contempt that you yourself made in 2001 with regard to an action of my predecessor, the first public safety minister, who was the Minister of Justice at that time.

What your ruling clearly indicated and what those circumstances produced is an indication that the rule about disclosing or discussing a bill in advance is a very circumscribed rule. The restrictions are fairly simple. First, the time period in question is limited only to the time between a bill being put on notice and its actual introduction. That is the period in question. Of course, the principle is that the first availability of the text of a bill should be to members of Parliament.

The approach that I adopted in the particular circumstance was not to disclose the contents of the bill. Rather, it was simply to discuss a policy problem that existed and discuss the intention of the government to fix it. It was not a specific explanation of what those fixes were nor an indication of what the text of the bill was going to be. None of those things occurred.

Second, in the case in 2001, the justice minister's actions must be looked at. What occurred specifically was that the justice minister held a briefing with the media. This was after a bill was put on notice and before it was introduced in the House. The justice minister circulated an actual copy of the text of that bill to the media and provided comment on it. Mr. Speaker, that was the basis on which you made a ruling. Your ruling was that was a prima facie contempt of the House.

The test that arises from that case is that one cannot disclose the text of a bill to a select group ahead of parliamentarians seeing it. In your words, Mr. Speaker, “with respect to material to be placed before Parliament”, that is, the bill itself, “the House must take precedence”.

In the arguments before you, the opposition is looking to significantly expand this rule, both in the case of the issues they raised with my colleague the Minister of Justice on Bill C-52 and me and the Minister of Public Works on Bill C-53. They would wish to ask you to expand that rule to effectively prohibit the government from ever discussing any policy that might in the future be the subject matter of a bill before the House.

Obviously, that is not the purpose of the rule. The purpose of the rule is not to stifle discussion or debate, or an exploration of policy issues. That would offend the privileges of members of the House. That would offend our freedom of expression. In fact, if that were to be the rule, it would effectively stifle any public debate of policy, including what we do in question period, what we do in debates on allotted days, what we do in committees all the time and what we do in election campaigns.

That is clearly not the intent of the rule. Clearly, the intent of the rule is restricted to the actual disclosure of the text of a bill. Mr. Speaker, as I said, it is a rule that has emanated entirely from a ruling made by you in 2001.

To address specifically the approach that I adopted with regard to any discussion of the introduction of Bill C-53 in advance of it, I took great care. As a former House leader, I was sensitive and cognizant of the issues that existed there. I was well encouraged by our current House leader to exercise due care.

The best way of examining whether any such contempt occurred is simply to look at the words of my availability to the media and what was discussed. I will read them.

Currently, many criminals get out of jail early through a process called accelerated parole review. First-time criminals who have committed non-violent offences can access day parole at one-sixth of their sentence and are granted almost automatically full parole at one-third of their sentence.

“Currently, many criminals get out of jail early through a process called accelerated parole review. It is the law now. First-time criminals who have committed non-violent offences can access day parole at one-sixth of their sentence and are granted almost automatically full parole at one-third of their sentence”. That is simply a description of the law as it exists today. There is nothing inappropriate with that kind of discussion.

Unless the National Parole Board has reasonable grounds to believe that offenders will commit a violent offence once released, it must automatically grant their release into the community.

“Canadians are surprised to learn that unless the National Parole Board has reasonable grounds to believe these offenders will commit a violent offence, not another offence, but a violent offence once released, they must automatically release those prisoners into the community”.

This means, believe it or not, that in some cases, a fraudster, a thief or a drug dealer, for example, could be back on the streets early. Such a criminal could be sentenced to 12 years but would actually be released into the community on day parole in just 2 years, and, notwithstanding having a 12 year sentence, could be fully paroled in 4 years, and the Parole Board would have no choice but to make that order.

Again, it is a description of the existing law. Nothing inappropriate there.

It goes on to state that ”the status quo gives the Parole Board no discretion in dealing with these cases. The test is simple, whether or not the offenders is likely to commit a violent offence. Well as you can imagine, with someone who has never committed a violent offence in the past, the ability to pass that test to be held there longer is a pretty tough one. As a result, even if the Parole Board believes the offender is likely to go out and commit another fraud, another theft or another drug offence, the Parole Board has no choice. They must, under the present law, release that offender into the community. We think that is a problem”.

Again, that is a statement of the law that, in my view as Minister of Public Safety, is a problem. There is nothing inappropriate about doing that. It is a wholly legitimate discussion of policy.

In a number of cases, criminals who received a sentence that seemed appropriate can leave prison and be back on our streets shortly after their crime makes the headlines. This situation upsets Canadians' sense of justice and undermines their trust in the justice system and the correctional system.

It goes on to read, ”This offends Canadians' sense of justice, it undermines their faith in our justice system and our correctional system. Canadians want change and that is what our government intends to deliver”.

Again, that is a very simple, very broad statement of disapproval of the current law and a desire to change it. There is no disclosure of the contents of any bill.

I continue, “This morning, I'm pleased to announce our commitment to reforming the parole system in this country. Our government is committed to fixing the problem of early parole for criminals”.

The commitment I am announcing today is another step toward a system of earned parole where early release is a privilege granted to offenders who have proven that they have truly made an effort in their rehabilitation, rather than a right available to all criminals.

I go on to say, “The commitment I'm announcing today will move us one step closer to a system of earned parole in which early release is a privilege granted only to those who have shown they are committed to rehabilitation rather than a right granted to every criminal. Earlier this year, I introduced legislation that would make the protection of society paramount in all decisions in the correction process. It includes reforms that would hold criminals more accountable for their actions and rehabilitation more effective. Today's commitment will build on these proposed reforms”.

Again, I have not in any place tendered on the table a draft of the bill, as happened in the case of the justice minister in that situation in 2001 where the Speaker found contempt. I did not even discuss the contents of what a solution would be. I simply said, “Here we have a policy problem. We as a government intend to fix that problem. We are going to take action to fix it”.

We could do that in any number of ways. We could do that by changing the one-sixth day parole eligibility to perhaps one-fifth or one-third or one-quarter. I did not in any way disclose at that point in time what that solution would be. We could have changed the full eligibility parole from one-third to one-half to one-quarter. I have not disclosed that.

We could simply change the test from an automatic one to one where we shift the burden to a prisoner to prove why he or she should be released or to one that would create a presumption that could be dissuaded perhaps by victims. We did not discuss what particular solution there would be, We also could simply do away with the whole system of accelerated parole, which is what we did ultimately, but nowhere in this announcement did I ever state which of those many myriad of solutions could have been the ones approached.

Certainly it falls far short of the test that is established in the 2001 decision of yourself, Mr. Speaker, which relates to the actual disclosure of the text of a bill in advance, to a limited audience of not parliamentarians. That is the real test. It is over here. I am in fact fa away from that, simply dealing in a policy discussion, indicating that we have a problem in our society that we need to fix.

For the opposition members, who have been complaining a lot about the fact that we go out and talk about what we are doing, what we think needs to be done and what we want to fix, and who do not like to have us communicating with Canadians, I can understand why they want that rule expanded to stifle any discussion of policy or of problems that we intend to fix in this country, including in the justice area.

However, that is not what the rule stands for in the decision that was taken in March 2001 that established this principle that it would be a contempt on Parliament to circulate and disclose in advance the text of a bill. In fact, in my case we do not even come anywhere close to that: none of the provisions, none of the potential mechanisms, none of the solutions, let alone the specific text, which is what the principle stands for.

Mr. Speaker, I submit to you that you should dispense with the request from the leader of the Bloc Québécois in the House of Commons, supported by the other parties in this matter, because it simply falls far short of the test that would constitute any contempt of Parliament.

I have been very careful in this matter, as was my colleague, the public works minister, in the exact same availability to the media, in addressing these issues in a cautious fashion that respected, to the utmost, the principles of respecting the supremacy of Parliament, that the content of a bill should be, once put on notice, submitted to this Parliament first before it is submitted to any other group, and that is exactly what was done in this case.

Therefore, to expand that rule significantly to stifle any discussion of policy would be a highly inappropriate approach.

Introduction of Bills
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The hon. Minister of Public Works and Government Services is rising on a point of order regarding the same issue, I believe.

Introduction of Bills
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:30 p.m.

Mégantic—L'Érable
Québec

Conservative

Christian Paradis Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, regarding the question of privilege raised by the member for Joliette concerning Bill C-52 and the press conference I held with my colleague, the Minister of Justice, I offer my sincerest apologies to the House.

I fully support what the Minister of Justice has said about this issue in this House. The details about Bill C-52 were disclosed when it was placed on the order paper, before being read the first time. It was a mistake that should not happen again. That is what I wanted to say about Bill C-52.

With respect to Bill C-53, I heard the comments made by the Minister of Public Safety, and I also agree with his argument that the details of this bill were not disclosed at the press conference yesterday. I am also in agreement with his comments on Bill C-53.

Introduction of Bills
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I appreciate the apology by the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Works concerning Bill C-52. However, as I said this morning, I have the impression that the message has not been adequately understood on the government side. It seems to me, with respect to Bill C-53 which was made public at a press conference by the Minister of Public Safety, that we had the same problem as with Bill C-52. The Minister of Public Works also took part in that media event.

Essentially, the Minister of Public Safety is telling us two things: first, when he held the press conference, the bill was on notice. What I contended in my point of privilege on Thursday, if I recall correctly, is precisely that when a bill is on notice on the order paper it must not be disclosed publicly until it has been given first reading in this House. As a result, his argument completely fails to address the argument I made. I had referred to a number of decisions and quotations, some of which came from your decisions, Mr. Speaker. I am still wondering about that initial aspect, that is, that it seems to me that a press conference should not disclose the content of a bill before the bill has received first reading. That is his first argument.

His second argument is that the press conference did not give explicit details of the content of the bill. However, Mr. Speaker, I would still like to refer you to a document that I sent you this morning, entitled “Backgrounder—Government of Canada to Fix the Problem of Early Parole for Criminals”. It contains some very short phrases that give the essence of the bill, “Changes to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act… towards the abolition of statutory release”.

They are announcing that, essentially, the bill will deal with that. When we read Bill C-53 we can see that, in fact, the purpose of the proposed amendments is to eliminate accelerated parole review in the Corrections Act. The issue is not the quantity of details but the quality of the details provided in that backgrounder. In the news release, which I have not had a chance to read as carefully, the Minister may have stuck to the ins and outs of the environment in which the bill is being introduced. However, in the technical information sheet that accompanied the news release, it is very clear that the essence of Bill C-53 is being disclosed to the public and the media before being disclosed through first reading in this House. I believe that is contempt of the House.

I defer to your decision, Mr. Speaker.

Introduction of Bills
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to respond very briefly to what the Minister of Public Safety had to say and I am hoping you will not accept as a given two things that he said.

His remarks were quite lengthy, and I could not disagree with almost all of them, except two points that he made. First, he suggested, but did not say it outright, that there was not much of a foundation for the ruling made in 2001 because he could not find it in various text. I hope, Mr. Speaker, you will not accept that. I hope you will accept that there was plenty of foundation for your ruling at the time and there continues to be up to now.

Mr. Speaker, the second thing he said was that your ruling and the principle behind it was that a minister could not release the text of a bill when the bill was on notice in the House. I do not think that is the case at all and I hope you will be able to clarify this for him and for all of us.

It is quite possible for someone familiar with a bill that is on notice to talk about the contents of that bill publicly without releasing the actual text. The principle, as I understand it, is that when a bill is on notice the House is entitled to receive the bill and information about the bill and not anyone else. I think that is the principle that we must go on.

It is also noteworthy that bills on notice are routinely marked by the Privy Council as secret, so that if a person is talking about the bill, not just releasing the text, after the bill is on notice, there may also be a breach of the Security of Information Act in terms of releasing information about something that is secret. However, in this case, we are dealing with parliamentary law and not the markings on the bill by the Privy Council.

Therefore, Mr. Speaker, if you will be making a ruling on this, I hope you will clarify those two points.

Introduction of Bills
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, with regard to my hon. friend from Scarborough—Rouge River, in no way was I suggesting there was no foundation for your ruling in 2001. I simply indicated it was not covered, for example, in Marleau and Montpetit, the most recent edition of which was published in 2000. Unless they were clairvoyant, they could not have foreseen your ruling, which constituted a valid ruling in 2001, one year later. That in no way diminishes the basis for that ruling.

In fact, I was looking to that ruling as the authority that should guide us in this particular case. Of course, it is common, as my colleague indicated, for bills to be discussed. What is at issue is the specific content or text of the bill. That is what was called into question. In that particular case it was the text of the bill that had been released to the media, rather than to the House, in advance. The release of that text created the contempt of Parliament.

In terms of simply indicating that we are going to fix the bill, as I said, to say that I could not pass judgment or have any views on the existing system of accelerated parole because a bill was coming forward would be quite unreasonable. It is quite appropriate for us to say that there was a problem. To discuss the existing law could hardly be considered a contempt of Parliament. To indicate that we were going to bring in legislation to fix it was self-evident in the fact that it was put on notice. That is simply a statement of fact that is available to everyone. It was publicly on notice that a bill was coming forward to do that. This was the sum total of the announcement that was made and it cannot in any way be considered contempt.

Some media reports speculated on what the bill might do. Certainly that would be the case. Some members of the Bloc Québécois have been asking questions in the House, asking us to take action in that particular direction as well. It is reasonable for the media to speculate that perhaps it might see something like that in a bill. But that constitutes merely their speculation, their best guesses. As we see, the media is sometimes right and very often wrong.

However, in no way does that constitute a member of this Parliament, this House, this government having expressed such views in public or having expressed such views in private to any individuals. Doing so would have represented contempt had it occurred, had members disclosed the content of the bill to the media through a copy of the bill, but that was not done in this case.

Introduction of Bills
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The Chair will continue to take the matter under advisement, as I indicated earlier when I dealt with the point of order when it was first raised, and will get back to the House in due course.

The hon. government House leader has another point of order.

Business of Supply--Opposition Motion
Points of Order
Oral Questions

October 27th, 2009 / 3:40 p.m.

Prince George—Peace River
B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a different point of order.

I am rising in regard to a supply motion that is on notice in the name of the member for Thunder Bay—Superior North and it reads as follows:

That Bill C-311, An Act to ensure Canada assumes its responsibilities in preventing dangerous climate change, be deemed reported from committee without amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage and deemed read a third time and passed.

I point out that what this motion is proposing can only be done by unanimous consent. Page 625 of the House of Commons Procedure and Practice states that:

The practice of giving every bill three separate readings derives from an ancient parliamentary practice which originated in the United Kingdom.

This leads us to Standing Order 71 which states:

Every bill shall receive three...readings, on different days, previously to being passed.

It goes on and mentions the exception:

On urgent or extraordinary occasions, a bill may be read twice or thrice, or advanced two or more stages in one day.

That does not mean that a motion can cover several stages with limited debate.

As you are aware, Mr. Speaker, the common urgency when bills are advanced two or more stages in one day is when back-to-work legislation is required. You will also know that even under those circumstances the rules do not allow for the advancement proposed by this supply motion.

The best we can do to expedite legislation in an emergency situation and without the unanimous consent of the House is to offer a motion that considers each stage separately with a separate vote. The House can only move on to the next stage when it concludes the previous stage.

In the case of back-to-work legislation, the House sits beyond the ordinary hour of daily adjournment and does not adjourn until each stage is dealt with by adopting separate motions, one for each stage.

This supply motion is proposing that we deal with committee stage, report stage and then third reading stage all at once with one motion and only after a few hours of debate. While I recognize that this has been done many times before by way of unanimous consent, we cannot consider this to be a precedent.

On page 502 of the House of Commons Procedure and Practice and in citation 14 of Beauchesne's, the case is made that, “Nothing done by unanimous consent constitutes a precedent”.

Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I submit that this motion is out of order.