Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I'd like to thank the committee for the invitation to appear today on the question of privilege raised by the member for Acadie—Bathurst regarding the free movement of members within the parliamentary precinct.
I'm accompanied by Mr. Kevin Vickers, Sergeant-at-Arms of the House of Commons, and by Mr. Patrick McDonell, Deputy Sergeant-at-Arms and director general of security services.
We are here to provide context to assist with your inquiry into the events that occurred on September 25, 2014, which then gave rise to the question of privilege.
In these opening remarks, I will outline the importance of the unimpeded access of members, describe the roles and responsibilities of our security partners, and explain how we prepare for the special events that take place within the parliamentary precinct.
The House administration takes the issue of members' access to the parliamentary precinct, as well as the issue of the safety and security of all those who come on the Hill, very seriously. A key challenge with respect to security on the Hill is to guarantee security and access for all without infringing on members' rights and privileges. This is a task that is challenging on any given day, but particularly so on days when special events take place.
Unfortunately, this committee has previously had to study the matter of a breach of a member’s privileges during an official visit. It summarized the importance of members’ unimpeded access to the Hill in its 26th report from the last parliamentary session, and I quote:
Members of the House of Commons should not, in any case, be denied or delayed access to the Hill and the precinct when they are known to be Members. The Member’s pin, the Member’s House of Commons ID card and any other piece of identification, as well as the use of the booklet by the security forces, may help to establish the identity of a Member, but he or she should not be denied access when he or she has forgotten his or her ID and/or pin and the security agent recognizes him or her to be a Member of this House.
The 26th report also goes on to describe what should be done in terms of trying to identify a member of Parliament before a decision to refuse him or her access to the parliamentary precinct is taken. Its recommendations set the standard we strive to apply on an everyday basis, as well as during special events.
In terms of roles and responsibilities, security in the parliamentary precinct is a shared responsibility involving various partners, and in the vast majority of cases, these partnerships work efficiently and effectively. I would like to reiterate that the security services of the Senate and the House of Commons respectively are responsible for security inside the parliamentary buildings and within the areas occupied by their respective chambers.
The grounds of Parliament Hill, on the other hand, are under the jurisdiction of the RCMP. Notably, on the grounds, the RCMP is responsible for providing immediate armed response, monitoring daily activities, and screening vehicle access.
A key step towards interoperability was taken five years ago through the creation of the master security planning office, which is comprised of representatives from the Senate, House of Commons and RCMP. The mandate of this office is to provide guidance and strategic direction, and to ensure a proactive and coordinated security approach within the precinct.
Specifically, the House of Commons security services works closely with its security partners to help ensure that special events do not adversely affect the functioning of Parliament, including members’ access to and within the precinct. As you would expect, there is a great deal of planning that goes into the preparation for the security of a VIP/state visit to Parliament Hill. The goal is to provide the appropriate level of security relative to the potential risk to the visiting VIP or head of state, while respecting the traditions and practices of our Parliament.
I can assure you that the issue of parliamentary privilege is repeatedly stressed throughout the planning of such events. Please allow me to repeat that member access to and around the parliamentary precinct is continually prioritized by the House administration.
House of Commons Security Services initiates its planning upon receipt of a draft scenario from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. Our security services representatives then typically participate in an advance visit to Centre Block along with DFATD protocol, the Prime Minister's office, parliamentary protocol and others.
Ongoing meetings with the key partners, including security and protocol representatives from the Senate, RCMP, and, for larger visits, the Ottawa police, continue leading up to the event itself. These meetings help address any ongoing changes to the itinerary and serve to finalize operational plans for the visit.
Great care is also taken to ensure that members are provided with accurate and timely advance notice of special events. This information is provided to members through communiqués from the office of the Sergeant-at-Arms and covers matters including the time and date of upcoming visits, access to Centre Block and public galleries, pedestrian and vehicle access, shuttle bus service, and tours.
These messages aim to provide information that will facilitate members' access during special events, while providing advance notice.
Needless to say, given the great care we take in preparing for these kinds of situations, we are deeply disappointed that your committee is again seized with a matter of this nature. We fully expect that the committee will wish to pursue its inquiry with those of our partners better able to explain the chain of events that took place in this case.
We're now prepared to take your questions.