Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege concerning the premature disclosure of the contents of Bill C-288, an act to amend the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act. This bill is sponsored by the member for Sudbury.
On Sunday, April 18, 2021, the Toronto Star posted an article entitled “Liberal MP's bill aims to keep turmoil at Laurentian University from happening at other schools”. The member is quoted in the article disclosing the contents of his bill. The problem is that the bill, which was on notice at the time the article was published, was not introduced until Monday, April 19, 2021. The article attributes several statements to the member for Sudbury. The article says:
“I’m going to add post-secondary institutions to the exemptions for institutions that cannot avail themselves of CCAA protection. It’s as simple as that,” [the member stated], referring to the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act, which allows for court protection during financial restructuring....
The article also quotes the member as saying:
“This includes additional financial support from our CCAA lender in order to continue to operate as Laurentian implements its plans to position the university for long-term sustainability and a basis for recovery for its creditors and stakeholders.”
On March 10, 2020, the Speaker, ruled a prima facie case of privilege following the premature disclosure of the contents of Bill C-7, an act to amend the Criminal Code (medical assistance in dying). The Speaker said:
...based on a reading of the Canadian Press article on Bill C-7 on medical assistance in dying, and in the absence of any explanation to the contrary, I must conclude that the anonymous sources mentioned were well aware of our customs and practices and chose to ignore them. It seems clear to me that the content of the bill was disclosed prematurely while it was on notice and before it was introduced in the House....
The rule on the confidentiality of bills on notice exists to ensure that members, in their role as legislators, are the first to know their content when they are introduced. Although it is completely legitimate to carry out consultations when developing a bill or to announce one’s intention to introduce a bill by referring to its public title available on the Notice Paper and Order Paper, it is forbidden to reveal specific measures contained in a bill at the time it is put on notice.
On April 19, 2016, the Speaker, in finding a prima facie case of privilege regarding the premature disclosure of contents of Bill C-14, an act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other acts (medical assistance in dying), stated:
As honourable members know, one of my most important responsibilities as Speaker is to safeguard the rights and privileges of members, individually and collectively. Central to the matter before us today is the fact that, due to its pre-eminent role in the legislative process, the House cannot allow precise legislative information to be distributed to others before it has been made accessible to all members. Previous Speakers have regularly upheld not only this fundamental right, but also expectation, of the House.
Another question of privilege was raised on March 19, 2001, regarding a similar matter. Speaker Milliken, on page 1840 of the House of Commons debates, supported this principle and said:
In preparing legislation, the government may wish to hold extensive consultations and such consultations may be held entirely at the government's discretion. However, with respect to material to be placed before parliament, the House must take precedence. Once a bill has been placed on notice, whether it has been presented in a different form to a different session of parliament has no bearing and the bill is considered a new matter. The convention of the confidentiality of bills on notice is necessary, not only so that members themselves may be well informed, but also because of the pre-eminent rule which the House plays and must play in the legislative affairs of the nation.
In addition, there was another case of contempt on October 15, 2001, where the Department of Justice briefed the media on the contents of a bill prior to the legislation being introduced in the House.
Given the contents of the article, and that it was published before Bill C-288, an act to amend the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act, was introduced in the House, I ask that you find a prima facie case of privilege. I am prepared to move the appropriate motion.