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Evidence of meeting #27 for Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was commons.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Clerk of the Committee  Mr. Chad Mariage

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Andrews Liberal Avalon, NL

I was in no way impugning or disagreeing with the Speaker over the ruling. I was simply pointing out that the Speaker has made a ruling and it seems that the members of this committee would like to challenge the ruling of the Speaker. That's what I'm hearing, and that's what I'm seeing the Conservative members of this committee do, to challenge the ruling of the chair.

Less than an hour ago, the Speaker made a ruling on a question of privilege, raised on February 27, 2012, by the minister of their own party, the Minister of Public Safety, Mr. Toews, regarding cyber-campaigns, following the minister's tabling of Bill C-30, an act to enact the Investigating and Preventing Criminal Electronic Communications Act and to amend the Criminal Code and other acts.

The Speaker, in his ruling, said:

I am now pleased to rule on the question of privilege raised on February 27 by the Minister of Public Safety regarding cyber-campaigns following the introduction in the House by him of Bill C-30....

I would like to thank the minister for having raised these matters, as well as the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, the House Leader of the Official Opposition, the member for Toronto Centre, the member for Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, and the member for Westmount–Ville-Marie for their interventions.

The Speaker went on to say:

In raising his question of privilege, the minister raised three issues, each of which he believed to be a contempt of the House.

The first concerned the use of the House resources for the so-called vikileaks30 account on Twitter, which he claimed was used to attack him personally, thereby degrading his reputation and obstructing him from carrying out his duties as a member of Parliament.

The interim leader of the Liberal Party then rose to inform the House that he himself had intended to rise on a question of privilege, having been informed on February 26 that it was an employee of the Liberal research bureau who had been responsible for the vikileaks30 site. The interim leader offered his unequivocal apology and that of the Liberal Party to the minister.

In view of this unconditional apology made personally by the member and on behalf of his party as a whole, and in keeping with what has been done in similar circumstances in the past, I am prepared to consider this particular aspect of the question of privilege closed.

I also wish to inform the House that the House of Commons policy on acceptable use of information technology resources was applied in this case, given that an unacceptable use of House IT resources occurred.

The minister also raised the matter of an apparent campaign to inundate his office with calls, emails and faxes. This, he contended, hindered him and his staff from serving his constituents, and prevented constituents with legitimate needs from contacting their member of Parliament in a timely fashion.

As the member for Windsor—Tecumseh reminded the House, my predecessor, Speaker Milliken, was faced with a similar situation in 2005 in a matter raised by the former member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell.

In his ruling on June 8, 2005, Speaker Milliken concluded that, while the member had a legitimate grievance that the normal functioning of parliamentary offices had been affected, the members involved and their constituents had still maintained the ability to communicate through several means. Thus, he could not find that it was a prima facie case of privilege, as the members were not impeded in their ability to perform their parliamentary duties.

Having reviewed the facts in the current case, I must draw the same conclusion on the second aspect of the question of privilege.

This brings us to the third and what I consider to be the most troubling issue raised in the question of privilege, that of the videos posted on the website YouTube by the so-called Anonymous on February 18, 22 and 25. These videos contained various allegations about the minister's private life and made specific and disturbing threats.

The minister has stated that he accepts that coping with vigorous debate and sometimes overheated rhetoric are part of the job of a politician but argued that these online attacks directed to both him and his family had crossed the line into threatening behaviour that was unacceptable. He contended that the threatened actions contained in these videos constituted a deliberate attempt to intimidate him with respect to proceedings in Parliament.

In House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, it states:

It is impossible to codify all incidents which might be interpreted as matters of obstruction, interference, molestation or intimidation and as such constitute prima facie cases of privilege. However, some matters found to be prima facie include the damaging of a Member's reputation, the usurpation of the title of Member of Parliament, the intimidation of Members and their staff and of witnesses before committees, and the provision of misleading information.

In spite of the able arguments advanced by the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie, the Chair is in no doubt that the House has full jurisdiction to decide the matter.

As is noted at page 108 of O’Brien and Bosc:

Speakers have consistently upheld the right of the House to the services of its Members free from intimidation, obstruction and interference. Speaker Lamoureux stated in a 1973 ruling that he had “no hesitation in reaffirming the principle that parliamentary privilege includes the right of a member to discharge his responsibilities as a member of the House free from threats or attempts at intimidation.”

Those who enter political life fully expect to be able to be held accountable for their actions to their constituents and to those who have concerns with the issues and initiatives they may advocate.

In a healthy democracy, vigorous debate on issues is encouraged. In fact, the rules and procedures of this House are drafted to allow for proponents and opponents to discuss, in a respectful manner, even the most difficult and sensitive of matters.

However, when duly elected members are personally threatened for their work in Parliament, whether introducing a bill, making a statement or casting a vote, this House must take [this]...very seriously.

As noted by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House...threats or attempts to influence a member’s actions are considered to be breaches of privilege.

I have carefully reviewed the online videos in which the language does indeed constitute a direct threat to the minister in particular, as well as other members. These threats demonstrate a flagrant disregard of our traditions and a subversive attack on the most fundamental privileges of this House.

As your Speaker and the guardian of those privileges, I have concluded that this aspect, the videos posted on the Internet by anonymous, therefore constitutes a prima facie question...and I invite the minister to move his motion.

The minister did move a motion to refer the matter to the proper committee, the procedure and House affairs committee.

So obviously the Speaker has ruled on three aspects of this privilege: one, two, and this third one. In his ruling—and I respect the Speaker's ruling—he is referring it to the House affairs committee to look at the third aspect. But what we're debating here today is a motion by Mr. Del Mastro to go into the first one, which has already been ruled on by our Speaker. I find it very disturbing that a committee would try to take on something like that.

As I said, the Speaker has ruled on this. The committee has no authority to be looking into this matter any further. The leader of the Liberal Party has apologized unequivocally for the actions of a staff person.

As a former staff person, I know what it's like to be on the staff of a political minister. Sometimes you push the envelope and you step outside your bounds, and this is what happened here. This particular staff person has done this and we have apologized for that. It was a heartfelt apology. I would like to quote the apology by the member for Toronto Centre, who said:

I do not share many things with the Minister of Public Safety all the time but one thing I do share with him is a sense of longevity. One of the things that makes public life difficult is when political attacks become personal. I have tried, but have not always succeeded, in my political life to make it very clear that matters of personal and private conduct are not to be the subject of political attack or political reference.

I concurred with the leader of the Liberal Party when he said that. Life is very difficult in this place when you try to do your job and the political becomes personal.

Getting back to the House of Commons Standing Orders, categorically on this issue, this matter has been ruled on, and this matter has been dealt with. Standing Order 10 states:

The Speaker shall preserve order and decorum, and shall decide questions of order. In deciding a point of order or practice, the Speaker shall state the Standing Order or other authority applicable to the case.

Noon

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Point of order.

Noon

NDP

The Chair NDP Jean Crowder

Mr. Andrews, I have a point of order.

Mr. Del Mastro.

Noon

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Thank you, Madam Chairman.

Madam Chairman, as this member would well know and as the chair knows, committees are in fact the masters of their own destiny. I don't see any relevance of a ruling by the Speaker of the House of Commons in the House of Commons related to House of Commons functions. Committees are the masters of their own destiny.

Perhaps you could relay that to the member. These are not relevant to the motion at hand.

Thank you.

Noon

NDP

The Chair NDP Jean Crowder

I'm going to allow Mr. Andrews to continue. I think he's attempting to lay a case for their position around why this shouldn't be considered.

I'm going to allow him to continue.

Noon

Liberal

Scott Andrews Liberal Avalon, NL

Thank you, Madam Chair.

To the parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister, we'll get to that. We know the rules regarding committees. You like to select which ones you like to use, so I'll get to that in a minute.

The House of Commons Standing Orders are categorical on this issue. Standing Order 10 states:

The Speaker shall preserve order and decorum, and shall decide questions of order. In deciding a point of order or practice, the Speaker shall state the Standing Order or other authority applicable to the case. No debate shall be permitted on any such decision, and no such decision shall be subject to an appeal to the House.

Furthermore, O'Brien and Bosc state the following on pages 1046 to 1047:

The Speaker of the House is regularly asked to rule on the procedural admissibility of matters before the House. Rulings from the Speaker constitute precedents for future Speakers of the House. The matter before the House may pertain to the proceedings of one or more committees. If the Speaker rules on a matter of that nature, the committees affected will be required to comply with any provisos in the ruling.

So we've just read the ruling out and it's out of respect for the ruling of the Speaker that this question of privilege is now closed. The issue could be no clearer. The Speaker has ruled. We must comply. Anything else would be contrary to the standing order and a challenge to the ruling of the Speaker.

O'Brien and Bosc are clear that committees derive their authority from the House itself. On page 973, they say:

The House delegates certain powers to the committees it creates in order that they can carry out their duties and fulfill their mandates. Committees have no powers other than those delegated to them in this way, and cannot assume other powers on their own initiative....[C]ommittees can invoke these powers only within and for the purposes of the mandate that the House (and the Senate, in the case of joint committees) has entrusted to them.

Page 1044 states the following:

Committee procedure includes all of the rules and practices governing the proceedings of parliamentary committees. The primary sources are the Constitution and Acts of Parliament; orders of reference, instructions and Standing Orders of the House of Commons; rulings by the Speaker of the House and committee Chairs; and, finally, practice.

For the sake of emphasis, I'd like to repeat that the primary sources are the Constitution and acts of Parliament, orders of reference, instructions and Standing Orders of the House of Commons, and rulings by the Speaker.

O'Brien and Bosc also state the following on pages 1047 to 1048:

The idea that committees are “masters of their proceedings” or “masters of their procedures” is frequently evoked in committee debates or the House.

As the parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister just mentioned, “The concept refers to the freedom committees normally have—”

12:05 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Jean Crowder

Could you read a little more slowly? I don't believe the interpreters have a copy of this, and they're having trouble keeping up.

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Andrews Liberal Avalon, NL

O'Brien and Bosc also says the following on pages 1047 and 1048:

The idea that committees are 'masters of their proceedings' or 'masters of their procedures' is frequently evoked in committee debates or the House. The concept refers to the freedom committees normally have to organize their work as they see fit and the option they have of defining, on their own, certain rules of procedure that facilitate their proceedings.

This is common with most committees and we've done this regularly here.

These freedoms are not, however, total or absolute. First, it is useful to bear in mind that committees are creatures of the House. This means that they have no independent existence and are not permitted to take action unless they have been authorized/empowered to do so by the House.

The freedom committees have is, in fact, a freedom limited on two levels. First, committees are free to organize their proceedings as they see fit provided that their studies and the motions and reports that they adopt comply with the orders of reference and instructions issued by the House. Second, committees may adopt procedural rules to govern their proceedings, but only to the extent the House does not prescribe anything specific. At all times, directives from procedural sources higher than parliamentary committees (Constitution; statutes; order of reference, instructions and Standing Orders of the House; and rulings by the Speaker) take precedence over any rules a committee may adopt.

This committee is specifically mandated by the House of Commons. This is clear in Standing Order 108. The mandate involves the Access to Information Act, the Privacy Act, the Conflict of Interest Act. None of those acts apply to members of the House of Commons or their staff. An examination of a former House of Commons employee is beyond the scope or the authority of this committee given to it by the House of Commons.

In light of all this, I would ask the parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister a very important question. In light of the Speaker's ruling, is he still going to pursue this motion? If the answer to this question is yes, then Mr. Del Mastro is voting non-confidence in our Speaker. The parliamentary secretary--

12:05 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Jean Crowder

I need to intervene on that. I'm not sure you can drag the Speaker into this in that way. The Speaker is neutral, selected by all members of the House, and a decision by the committee doesn't relate to the Speaker's role. So please proceed without drawing that inference.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Andrews Liberal Avalon, NL

Madam Chair, I think I just laid out the case for directives from procedural sources higher than parliamentary committees. We've already dealt with that; I've laid that out. I'm just trying to come full circle on this, Madam Chair.

12:10 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Jean Crowder

My understanding is that the Speaker rules on a prima facie case and is not into the substance of the case itself. He's made a ruling on the prima facie aspect of it, but it is now, I understand, if the motion passes tonight, being referred to the procedure and House affairs committee for further investigation on the anonymous piece.

I think in terms of getting into talking about non-confidence or confidence in the Speaker, that's not relevant. So continue with your argument.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Andrews Liberal Avalon, NL

With due respect, Madam Chair, not this aspect of the ruling. The Speaker made the ruling on the aspect of the very motion the parliamentary secretary was putting forward.

12:10 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Jean Crowder

There's a point of order from Mr. Del Mastro.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

The Speaker made a ruling on a question of privilege. The Speaker did not make a ruling on the motion before the committee.

Thank you.

12:10 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Jean Crowder

As you know, I made a ruling on the mandate of this committee. It has been overturned by a majority of the members. The committee has decided, with a majority of the members, to proceed with the motion before us. The committee has made a decision about the study it's choosing to undertake, and that's the matter that's before us at this point, not what the Speaker ruled or did not rule on.

Please continue.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Andrews Liberal Avalon, NL

It's hard to separate the weeds on this. This is pretty specific. The motion relates directly to the Speaker's ruling. The parliamentary secretary wants to ignore the ruling of the Speaker. This is just another attempt by the Conservative Party to draw attention away from the issue of electoral fraud that is ongoing right now in the House of Commons and the public domain. Now they're trying to attack Parliament and the Speaker himself.

The parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister is saying the rules do not apply to him or the Conservative Party. They're bringing shame on themselves and throughout Parliament. I think the apology was made. The apology was accepted by your own party. Why can't you leave it at that, Mr. Del Mastro? Why do you have to go dragging before the committee a staff person of the Liberal Party, who is sorry for his actions? The matter has been dealt with. This is just an attempt to discredit this particular individual. He has lost his job, and that's hard enough on a family.

I don't think we live in a place here in Parliament that deals with this kind of stuff. We're dealing with people's lives and families. The very matter that at heart we apologized for dealt with that. So there's really no need to carry that on. I'm saddened that the parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister would continue in this vein.

12:10 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Jean Crowder

Thank you, Mr. Andrews.

Mrs. Davidson.

March 6th, 2012 / 12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

First of all, I would like to ask a clarification from the clerk, and then I'd like to propose a friendly amendment.

If this motion proceeds and passes, will it be treated under the rules of the routine proceedings? Will there be a ten-minute presentation and then a set rotation for questions?

12:10 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Jean Crowder

It's a study the committee would be undertaking--

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Okay, so it would fall under the same rules.

12:10 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Jean Crowder

That's right.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Thanks very much for that clarification.

I'd like to propose a friendly amendment deleting the last words, "Thursday, March 8", and replacing them with "Tuesday, March 13”.

12:10 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Jean Crowder

We have an amendment.

The mover accepts the motion; the amendment is accepted.

Are you done, Mrs. Davidson?

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Yes, I am, thank you.

12:15 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Jean Crowder

Monsieur Dusseault.