Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege respecting the premature disclosure of the contents of a bill between the notice and introduction period.
The member for Markham—Unionville gave notice of a bill entitled “an act to amend the Criminal Code (unlawfully imported firearms)”, on Friday, February 21. On February 24, the member for Markham—Unionville, in an article published on iPolitics, disclosed the contents of the bill.
The article in question revealed the following. It states:
[The member for Markham—Unionville] is introducing legislation that would amend the Criminal Code to increase the mandatory sentence to three years for someone found in possession of a gun illegally brought into Canada. If an offender were found guilty of owning a smuggled gun a second time, their prison sentence would be a minimum of five years.
The article continues to disclose the content of the bill. It states:
[The] proposed law changes would also see the maximum amount of prison time that could be awarded to somebody who owns a smuggled gun increased to 14 years, both the first time they break the law and in every offence that follows.
On Tuesday, February 25, the member for Markham—Unionville gave notice of a new bill entitled “an act to amend the Criminal Code (possession of unlawfully imported firearms)”. Today, February 27, the member introduced the bill as Bill C-238. While I would note that there was a slight change to the long title, Bill C-238 accords directly with the details of the bill that were published in the article by iPolitics on February 24.
Clause 2.1 of Bill C-238 states:
Every person who commits an offence under subsection (1) when the object in question was obtained by the commission of an offence under subsection 103(1) is, if prosecuted by indictment, liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years and to a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of
(a) in the case of a first offence, three years; and
(b) in the case of a second or subsequent offence, five years.
The provisions of Bill C-238, which I just quoted, accord directly with the characterization in the iPolitics article on February 24, which was provided earlier in my intervention. While I do not want to impute unworthy motives on the part of the member for Markham—Unionville with respect to his bill, it does raise certain questions.
I submit that the member for Markham—Unionville is attempting to do indirectly what he knows he cannot do directly. I submit that the practice of placing a bill on notice, making public the content of the bill, then placing another bill with a slightly different title to avoid a charge of premature disclosure of the content of a bill would set a dangerous precedent. In short, using this approach would subvert the principle that members should be the first to see the contents of a bill.
I would also like to draw the attention of members to the Speaker's ruling earlier this day concerning two bills that were substantially similar, despite a different long title.
The Speaker stated, “I would like to take a few minutes to inform members of an error on the Order Paper. Two private member's bills, which are substantially the same, are currently listed under Private Members' Business. Items outside of the Order of Precedence, specifically Bill C-221 on the Employment Insurance Act standing in the name of the member for Elmwood—Transcona was introduced and read the first time on Thursday, February 20, 2020, and Bill C-217 standing in the name of the member for Salaberry—Suroît was introduced and read a first time on Monday, February 24, 2020.
“Pursuant to Standing Order 86(4), the Speaker can refuse notice if he determines the two items as to be substantially the same. As a result, Bill C-217 is currently before the House in error. I therefore direct it that the order for the second reading of Bill C-217 be discharged and the bill be dropped from the Order Paper.”
It would be interesting to see if the first bill that the member for Markham—Unionville had placed on notice, if introduced, would be determined to be substantially similar to Bill C-238. While I cannot confirm this to be the case, it certainly gives rise to the assumption that the bills would be substantially similar.
I further submit that if this practice was determined to be an acceptable practice, I can only assume that this approach could become common practice. Imagine the government placing a bill on notice, then making a public statement which comprehensively discloses the content of a bill, then make a slight change to the long title and place this new bill on notice followed by its introduction. This would be seen by members and perhaps by you, Mr. Speaker, as a clear departure from the long-standing principle that members should be the first to see the contents of a bill.
I will not waste the precious time of the House reciting the numerous precedents that support the conclusion that the premature disclosure of the contents of a bill between the notice and introduction period has been determined to be a bonafide question of privilege.
I do not begrudge the member for Markham—Unionville for his attempt to get out his message about what his bill would accomplish and to provide the details of his bill to solicit the public's support for the bill. The fact remains that it is an affront to the privileges of the House to disclose a bill's contents before members of the House have had the opportunity to see the bill once introduced.
I understand that there was a very similar issue raised on February 25, with respect to the unfortunate premature disclosure of the medical assistance in dying legislation. As a result, if you determine, Mr. Speaker, that this matter is a prima facie question of privilege, I would suggest that both matters be heard together at the procedure and house affairs committee.
Mr. Speaker, I await your decision, and if you agree, I would be prepared to move the appropriate motion at the said time.