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Evidence of meeting #35 for Procedure and House Affairs in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was rcmp.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Audrey O'Brien  Clerk of the House of Commons, House of Commons
Kevin Vickers  Sergeant-at-Arms, House of Commons

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Okay, I just need one or the other.

If somebody was told that he had to go through the East Block tunnel to get into the building, that is not really a requirement.

11:50 a.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons, House of Commons

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

I just wanted to be clear on that. Many of the questions that I was going to ask have already been asked.

On special days, such as the upcoming visit of the President of Israel, there is a requirement for security. Has there ever been consideration given to having one or two access points into the parliamentary area, so that it's clear to everybody that you either go here or there? You would have staff there who are not going to get confused because they've been briefed on allowing parliamentary access to members of Parliament. You say this keeps happening every seven or eight years.

11:50 a.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons, House of Commons

Audrey O'Brien

I'll ask the sergeant to confirm this. My understanding is that we reduce the number of points to which staff have access, but we don't want to reduce the number of points to which members have access. We want to give them freedom of movement so that they can come in one way or another. We don't want what appears to have happened with Madame Laverdière—being told to go through the tunnel. She's a member of Parliament, and she ought to be able to walk unhindered.

Sergeant, am I correct in this?

11:50 a.m.

Sergeant-at-Arms, House of Commons

Kevin Vickers

Absolutely. Madam Clerk, you're absolutely correct. There should never be any interference to a member of Parliament coming onto the Hill. We do have, during these visits, points where the RCMP check ID and facilitate people's access, but there's no real reduction in the number of points you can access.

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

If we stick to the principle that an MP can come in anywhere she likes, then is this all just boiling down to the fact that the RCMP were not aware of what constituted providing ID?

11:50 a.m.

Sergeant-at-Arms, House of Commons

Kevin Vickers

Yes, though it's frustrating to say. If MP Garneau comes up and he's not wearing his pin or his card, I'm not sure how much more simple it can be than opening the book and checking to see if that's you.

11:50 a.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons, House of Commons

Audrey O'Brien

We haven't restricted the access of members to a single point. We err on the side of cooperation by members, who have a pin or an ID. Failing that, there's the booklet. In this case, there were officers who were not sufficiently briefed, or they were briefed and decided to be more zealous than....

and to be holier than the Pope. So we find ourselves...

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

Mr. Kerr.

May 3rd, 2012 / 11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Greg Kerr Conservative West Nova, NS

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and my thanks to the witnesses for being here today.

It would concern me very much if a member had showed her ID and was not allowed to go into the normal entrance. Being sent around the East Block would be a major concern.

Generally, when we have these unusual circumstances where we have special visits, members ought to be prepared to show their ID. I think it's a bit over the top to suggest that everybody should know who I am. I can walk off this Hill and nobody knows who I am.

When we are advised that it's a special event, I think the onus is on us to be prepared for some interference, some confusion. But if a person shows his ID and is sent somewhere else, I think that's either plain ignorance or abuse of authority. I'd separate those issues, but I'm always curious. I know the difference in the security responsibilities. When we run into RCMP officers stationed outside, is there any reason why they can't at least let the person go to the House and be greeted by House security?

I'm talking about common sense. If I as a police officer have a concern, isn't the next level the House security people? Is there no way to bring those two together? The officer outside could always say he had a question and wanted to make sure that, before allowing a person in, he'd need to go through the House authority people.

That would be my first question.

11:55 a.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons, House of Commons

Audrey O'Brien

Perhaps the sergeant can respond.

11:55 a.m.

Sergeant-at-Arms, House of Commons

Kevin Vickers

It certainly would be an option, Mr. Kerr, through Mr. Preston. Certainly, something that we can consider is, if the RCMP were to stop somebody to call for our assistance in identification, that would be something we could consider.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Greg Kerr Conservative West Nova, NS

We get frustrated over the levels and numbers of security activity, and I'm sure it must be a frustration for those who work in it. I agree that will not solve every problem, but is there something the committee can do through the parliamentary process to perhaps try to insist that it take place?

It seems like it's a missing gap. Obviously, we'd never have a problem if we ran into one of the House officers. They all know who we are, and they are very polite and all that sort of thing. But it's possible that some members of the RCMP, even though they should be briefed, may arrive as a fill-in or whatever takes place, and they may not take the seriousness of that process. It seems to me, as one further step, to have a lock-in with the House security would take care of a lot of difficulties.

11:55 a.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons, House of Commons

Audrey O'Brien

Certainly that is a very interesting suggestion, and it is something that the sergeant, the director of security, and I will look at perhaps so that there's even a kind of emergency number where you could send somebody who can identify the person who's being held up.

To your point about wearing pins and ID, I have to say that members have been very cooperative. Mr. Comartin cited earlier the example of the very amiable Mr. Stoffer and we, generally speaking, have had very excellent cooperation by members who understand this sort of dilemma. But sometimes there are very young officers, who are very inexperienced. It's their first experience on the Hill, and basically they come with the idea that under no set of circumstances is something bad going to happen that could be pinned on them. You have a certain degree of sympathy for them, but at the same time, you do kind of want to whop them upside the head when they do stuff like this.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Greg Kerr Conservative West Nova, NS

That seems like a good point.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

It's obviously a technical term.

11:55 a.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

Please go ahead, Madame Latendresse.

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Thank you very much.

I would like to go back to Ms. Laverdière's situation and to that of other MPs who might have encountered the same type of problem. In my view, what we really have to understand is that Mr. Stoffer and Mr. Martin’s first reaction will obviously be to go see you or that they will understand there is a problem.

Perhaps that happens more to the new MPs who are younger. It still often happens to me; I go into one of the parliamentary buildings and they ask me who I am, and I have to tell them that I am an MP. I am used to that. That is why I got used to always wearing my pin. Otherwise, everyone is uncomfortable when they find out that I am actually an MP. People say they are really sorry. I show some sympathy, because, if I were in their place, I also would not have thought that I was an MP. I understand perfectly well that it is important to identify yourself in those sorts of situations for security reasons.

In cases where we are told to go another way and to take a detour, many will just agree without realizing that there is a problem because they don’t necessarily need to do that. If I understand correctly, the MPs did not have to pass through the tunnel in the East Block that day.

Noon

Clerk of the House of Commons, House of Commons

Audrey O'Brien

No.

I understand and you are really kind to accept the fact that, given the age of many of the members of your caucus, people are sometimes surprised to see an MP instead of a staffer, for example.

You are quite right to say that new MPs in particular don’t necessarily know that they don’t have the right to insist like that. If it helps, we can perhaps come to meet with you at some point. The sergeant-at-arms and the director of security could hold an information session for the caucus or even just for interested MPs so that they are aware of the context we work in and their rights in similar situations.

Noon

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Okay.

Noon

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

You know you have time, if you have more.

Noon

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

That's fine.

Noon

Clerk of the House of Commons, House of Commons

Audrey O'Brien

Thank you, Madam.

Noon

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

If there are a couple of minutes I just have a brief—