I think it's very important, though, because we are talking about what was ethical and what happened in the behaviour, and I'm going to get to that.
In the Speaker's ruling this morning he said that this claim of having to listen to outraged constituents was somehow a breach of parliamentary privilege. Of course that was absurd, so he took that aside. Then there was the issue of the so-called Vikileaks, and I have to admit I've never read a single one of these Vikileaks. I will get to Vikileaks in a moment.
It seemed that he took the standard parliamentary response, which is that there was this gentlemen's agreement. In the old days they would have called us gentlemen; now, fortunately, we have many more women involved, and it's made us a better place. There was a gentlemen's agreement that when you apologize for your actions this was sufficient. The Speaker said the Liberal leader had apologized for the action of one of his staffers, so he felt the issue should be dropped. Of course that doesn't fit the Conservative frame where they're trying to divert attention from electoral fraud, so they want to beat this into the ground.
The third part of his ruling, which he handed over to the procedure and House affairs committee, was on the issue of the anonymous posting. I think this is very interesting. What makes the anonymous video worthy of investigation is the issue of threat: you either change what you're doing or we will embarrass you or we will reveal documents about you. That is a direct interference with the right of a parliamentarian. And that is a serious interference, because since Parliament began we've seen the issue of protecting the privilege of the members of Parliament to carry out their work.
In terms of Twitter and Vikileaks, we're moving into all kinds of uncharted territories. There are perhaps dangerous precedents the Conservatives may be attempting to intervene with in order to change the channel on the electoral fraud. In the world of Twitter, everything's anonymous. I receive messages all day. Some of them are ugly; some of them are hateful. When I speak up for first nations I regularly receive hate mail from anonymous people. I guess I could find out who they were if I looked hard enough, but they tell me they hate me. They think I'm a liar. They think first nations people should freeze to death in the cold. I've received those.
That's Twitter; it's a different world. Now, if someone called me at home and said that, I might consider calling the police, because I'm being interfered with. But in the world of Twitter, anonymity is part of it. But what we're seeing here is the issue of treating Twitter feeds the same as the anonymous leaks, which is different. The anonymous threat is a direct threat: you change this or we will punish you. Whereas in Twitter, people can write to me and say they hate me. They can twist my words. They can take what I said in the House and they can mix it all up. I guess if I were thin-skinned, I could go after them. Or they can actually say things that are true, and that's another issue.
I have not looked at the Twitter feed at all on Vikileaks. I'm not interested in the personal affairs of Mr. Toews. But the issue of ethical behaviour then becomes a question that I feel our committee is going to have to determine. Were these claims true or false? Because this is a different issue. If Twitter is being used to libel someone, if Twitter's making things up about someone's personal life, then that is certainly an abuse of privilege.
As we go forward, the last thing I want to do is spend my weekend getting caught up on the Vikileaks feed. I think the Conservatives need to understand that if we're talking about what is ethical in Twitter and what's not, the fundamental question is whether or not it's true. Was this staffer making up these allegations? Is there validation in court documents? Is this something that will be verifiable? Because I certainly expect that if we're going to start charging people on Twitter who make fun of us, we're creating a dangerous precedent. I'm certainly more than willing to take my lumps from whatever Twitterati are out there who can say whatever they want about me. But if they're saying something libellous, well, that's a different story.
So on the question of the Vikileaks question, I think it's very distasteful that we're being asked to adjudicate on this. But we are going to be needing to ascertain whether this Vikileaks feed is truthful or whether it was made up, whether it's verifiable or whether it wasn't. If it's verifiable, then it's a whole different issue from whether this was some allegation or smear. I think the Conservatives are desperate to change the issue of electoral fraud.
I don't think it's fair that they put one of their own ministers out in the limelight like this and turned the light back on them, saying that we are now going to look at the Vikileaks, we're going to find out what was in it, and we're going to find out what was said. I think that exposes all manner of people to a more degraded system, but that seems to be where they're willing to use our committee. Rather than our addressing ethics issues, or much of the stuff we could be updating on privacy, we're now going to be focusing on someone with a BlackBerry with apparently a court document, retyping it out into the public realm. What does that mean for Parliament?
I don't think we're going to be able to ascertain that someone who has a copy of a court document who releases it publicly has committed a crime, but it's certainly embarrassing, and it's certainly difficult. Part of what we face as parliamentarians is that sometimes what's personal and what's private does get out there. It is distasteful. We've seen parliamentarians use it in past attempts to embarrass elected ministers because of their personal lives. I would think our committee is not one where we should be going there, but obviously this is a government that thinks very differently from me.
I'm concerned that this government is also setting up two really cynical standards. We go back to the issue of the role of the committee to hold government accountable. When we see political staffers interfering in the work of ministries, when we see political staffers trying to deep-six information that citizens have a right to obtain, that is within the purview of our committee because that is interfering with the work of government. That's where our committee has a right to ask and to find out.
The Conservative Party told us that all their staffers are protected, that it was unacceptable that their staffers would be brought forward to explain their actions in interfering with the public's right to know, or their monkeywrenching with the public service. They have shielded their staffers within a cloak, so that the political staffers within the various departments may be able to do anything, and yet the ethics committee would not be able to ask them a single question. They said they'll send in Minister John Baird, who said “The buck stops with me”.
Now, when it comes to a former member of the Liberal caucus staff who sends out some Twitter messages, the Conservative Party is taking a completely different point of view, which is that they are going to use the power of their majority to go after a staffer in the third party on something that has absolutely nothing to do with the workings of government.