Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege based on a press release issued by the member for Etobicoke Centre in which he makes false statements, and accuses me of plagiarism and voting against a motion I did not vote against.
I believe this allegation by the member for Etobicoke Centre is an action taken with the intended affect of having me withdraw my private member's bill, Bill C-459, which directly affects the representation of my constituents and performance of my privileged parliamentary duties.
In order to begin to correct the public record on this issue, I want to outline the factual course of events culminating in the presentation of my private member's bill, Bill C-459, An Act to establish a Ukrainian Famine and Genocide Memorial Day and to recognize the Ukrainian Famine of 1932-33 as an act of genocide. All of these events can be backed up by emails sent and received by my office and those of my colleagues and legislative services.
First, as someone of Ukrainian heritage, I was in communication with other members of this House as early as last year on my interest in working on issues related to the Canadian Ukrainian community and my interest in Ukrainian issues.
In the spring of this year it was suggested to me that recognizing the Ukrainian famine as genocide with a memorial day in November would be an important issue to address this year, as it is the 75th anniversary of the famine of 1932.
I discussed this with Lisa Shymko of the Canadian Friends of Ukraine and my colleague Senator Andreychuk. I was also part of a meeting with the executive director of the Shevchenko Foundation on various issues related to the Ukrainian Canadian community in Canada and holodomor was discussed. I recently received an appreciative letter from this organization for my work on presenting this bill.
I want to give full credit to Senator Andreychuk who moved a similar motion a few years ago in the other place which was adopted unanimously. The senator shared her expertise and encouraged me to proceed with a similar motion or bill in the House, and provided assistance to me with the wording and communications strategy for my bill.
I consulted with two of my colleagues over the wording and whether it should be done as a motion or bill. I decided it should be a bill and I submitted my wording and requested legislative services on May 3, 2007 to have the bill drafted. My office received a rough draft of the bill on May 8 and it was approved on May 16. The request for final formatting and translation was made May 16, 2007. I gave notice of my bill on May 31, 2007, before the member for Etobicoke Centre gave notice of his bill, and I introduced the bill for first reading on June 13, 2007.
The member for Etobicoke Centre did not give notice of his bill until the day after I gave notice of my bill and he did not introduce it until much later. The notice paper, legislative services and my office emails can confirm all of these dates.
As is clear from this record of dates, I could not have possibly known of the content of his bill and therefore his accusations of plagiarism are truly false. I was only informed that there was a bill related to mine, but that the two bills were substantially different from each other and that there was no problem in proceeding with my bill.
I want to make it very clear that the wording of my bill was established in consultation with my colleagues in April and submitted for drafting on May 3, over a month before I heard about the member for Etobicoke Centre's bill and more than a month before his introduction of Bill C-450 only after which I would have first had the opportunity to see the text of his bill. Clearly, I could not have possibly plagiarized his bill.
On the evening of June 13, 2007 in the House, I sought further confirmation from the table officer on duty on the determination of any substantive difference between my bill and the bill of the member for Etobicoke Centre, who I was now aware had given notice of and introduced a similar bill.
I received confirmation on Monday, June 18 that the decision on whether a bill is substantively different is made by you, Mr. Speaker, after an initial assessment by the journals branch.
I am therefore raising this point of privilege because I believe, based on the events as outlined above, that it is clear that the member for Etobicoke Centre, who knows full well that I could not have seen the text of his bill when I gave notice of my bill, Bill C-459, and yet proceeded to issue the press release in question.
Further, when I submitted my wording and asked for it to be drafted in April of this year as a private member's bill, I had no knowledge of the member for Etobicoke Centre's intention to submit a similar bill.
Further to my question of privilege, he states in his press release that I voted against his motion to adopt his bill at all stages when he knows that I did not vote against his motion. That is the normal procedure for both Conservative and past Liberal governments not to fast track private member's bills, whether it be my own bill or an opposition member's bill.
The order paper is full of worthy bills and they all follow a uniform process of debate and vote in a fair system of precedence. The member for Etobicoke Centre is trying to queue jump in front of others in the order of precedence.
I would like to point to a statement made by a previous Speaker that I think applies to this situation. Speaker Fraser said:
The unjust damaging of a Member’s good name might also be seen as constituting an obstruction. The privileges of a Member are violated by any action which might impede him or her in the fulfilment of his or her duties and functions. It is obvious that the unjust damaging of a reputation could constitute such an impediment.
I think the statement makes it clear that my privilege has been violated by the member for Etobicoke Centre's slanderous and intimidating acts.
There are further examples where items published in newspapers and actions taken outside the House have been found by Speakers to establish a prima facie question of privilege due to their intimidating and chilling effect upon a member's ability to perform parliamentary duties. I point to Speaker Bosley's ruling of May 6, 1985, where a newspaper advertisement was deemed to impact a member's privilege. He said:
Any action which impedes or tends to impede a Member in the discharge of his duties is a breach of privilege. There are ample citations and precedents to bear this out.
Further examples include Speaker Jerome's ruling of December 6, 1978, as well as a ruling on a March 9, 1998 question of privilege where a newspaper article was argued to constitute an attempt to intimidate the Speaker and collectively the House. Speaker Parent ruled that there was a prima facie case of privilege.
On March 16, 1983 Mr. Mackasey raised a question of privilege in order to denounce accusations made in a series of articles appearing in the Montreal Gazette, to the effect that he was a paid lobbyist. On March 22, 1983 on page 24027 of Hansard the Speaker ruled that he had a prima facie question of privilege. The reasons given by the Speaker from page 29 of Selected Decisions of Speaker Jeanne Sauvé state:
Not only do defamatory allegations about Members place the entire institution of Parliament under a cloud, they also prevent Members from performing their duties as long as the matter remains unresolved, since, as one authority states, such allegations bring Members into “hatred, contempt or ridicule”. Moreover, authorities and precedents agree that even though a Member can “seek a remedy in the courts, he cannot function effectively as a Member while this slur upon his reputation remains”. Since there is no way of knowing how long litigation would take, the Member must be allowed to re-establish his reputation as speedily as possible by referring the matter to the Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections.
On page 251 of Joseph Maingot's Parliamentary Privilege in Canada, 3rd ed. there is a reference to members. It says:
The House of Commons is prepared to find contempt in respect of utterances within the category of libel and slander and also in respect of utterances which do not meet that standard. As put by Bourinot, “any scandalous and libellous reflection on the proceedings of the House--” and “libels upon members individually--”.
I would also refer to a Speaker's ruling from October 29, 1980 at page 4213 of Hansard. The Speaker said:
--in the context of contempt, it seems to me that to amount to contempt, representations or statements about our proceedings or of the participation of members should not only be erroneous or incorrect, but, rather, should be purposely untrue and improper and import a ring of deceit.
I also want to object to another factual error in his press release which is damaging to my reputation in the community. The member for Etobicoke Centre stated that I and the government House leader voted against his motion to pass his bill at all stages. Neither of us voted against his motion.
I therefore insist that the member for Etobicoke Centre immediately issue an apology and a retraction request to the Canadian and Ukrainian press for libellous claims and false statements. Further, I ask that he apologizes in the House for making a statement so damaging to my reputation.
Finally, I am very disappointed in the member for Etobicoke Centre for not even approaching me to discuss this issue and to get his facts straight before launching his offensive and slanderous press release.