Thank you to all honourable members here for the opportunity to appear before committee to address the alleged breach of privilege with respect to Bill C-14, a matter that I take incredibly seriously.
First, I'd like to speak to various measures and policies that are followed by my department and my exempt staff to protect legislation prior to its introduction. I want to be very clear that none of my staff nor any of my officials were involved in any alleged leaks in this matter. Second, I want to highlight that the drafting of legislation spanned several departments and agencies. Third, I'll turn briefly to the article in question.
To begin, I can assure my honourable colleagues that my department and my exempt staff take the safeguarding of information regarding the contents of all bills intended for introduction very seriously, and they adhere to all relevant policies and procedures.
My departmental officials, through my deputy minister, are instructed to follow all precautions as outlined in “A Drafter's Guide to Cabinet Documents” and the policy on security of cabinet confidences, both of which can be found on the Privy Council Office website. According to the PCO policy on security of cabinet confidences, draft bills, with the exception of versions used for public consultation, upon agreement of cabinet, are deemed confidence of the Queen's Privy Council. These documents must be marked, handled, and safeguarded accordingly. Documents may only be handled by those with valid security clearance at the appropriate level, and a valid need to know the information to perform their duties. Restricted access to cabinet confidences extends to all stages of drafting.
The following individuals are considered to have a need to know status: employees who are responsible for developing policy and for developing proposals for the minister; ministerial and departmental personnel supporting a minister on a particular policy proposal or issue that is the subject of cabinet discussion; central agency employees who help advance policies and proposals brought forward by departments of sponsoring minister; and legal advisers providing advice relating to a policy proposal or issue that is the subject of a cabinet discussion.
As per PCO policy, these individuals are required to use appropriate means, including IT systems, to prepare, store, and transmit cabinet confidences; mark cabinet confidence information at the appropriate level of sensitivity, and with the caption “Confidence of the Queen's Privy Council” on every page of the document; handle such information in restricted access areas; use security equipment and procedures approved for the level of sensitivity of the information to transport, transmit, store, and dispose of cabinet confidences on paper or in electronic format; ensure that the information is not discussed with, viewed, or overheard by unauthorized individuals; and refrain from discussing such information on cellular telephones or wireless devices, unless approved security means are used.
All my departmental officials who worked on this draft legislation, as well as all of my exempt staff, had valid security clearance at appropriate levels.
As a general practice, any security incident involving cabinet confidences, however slight, must be immediately reported to the responsible departmental security officer. This would include unauthorized disclosures, loss, theft, transmission, and discussion over non-secure channels, unaccounted documents, and other actual or suspected compromises. The departmental security officer, in turn, must immediately report the incident to the PCO security operations division. Unless directed otherwise by PCO, the departmental security officer is expected to conduct an initial administrative inquiry to determine what happened and to identify corrective action.
Generally, an inquiry would include an examination of the circumstances surrounding the incident; if possible, the source of the unauthorized disclosure; the adequacy of the departmental procedures for the protection of sensitive information; an assessment of injury to the national interest arising from the compromise; and an outline of corrective measures that have been or will be put in place to minimize the risk of similar occurrences in the future.
The Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, after consultation with the appropriate department heads, may involve the RCMP. The RCMP will then determine if there is sufficient grounds to investigate. Where appropriate, department heads are responsible for applying sanctions.
Let me be clear. I have spoken with my deputy minister and I can assure you that my department follows all necessary precautions. In this particular matter, I can assure you that no breach of information nor evidence of such a breach was reported from departmental staff, and therefore, no internal inquiry was initiated.
Further, I can personally assure you that I spoke to all of my exempt staff about this matter, and none of them were involved in any breach of information. I believe and trust my departmental officials and my staff, and I take them at their word.
Second, honourable colleagues, it's worth remembering that this sensitive piece of legislation was not crafted by the Department of Justice alone. My department worked closely and collaboratively with officials in other departments, and my exempt staff worked with their counterparts in other offices.
Further, as per PCO guidelines, drafts of memorandums to cabinet containing specific policy recommendations were shared with central agencies and other departments and agencies to solicit feedback and to address any potential concerns from various policy perspectives. As the Minister of Justice, I certainly cannot speak on behalf of other departments or agencies.
Third, I want to briefly address the article in question. As you know, on April 12, 2016, public notice was given for the introduction of Bill C-14 in two day's time. Like my honourable colleagues, I was dismayed to learn that the article was published in The Globe and Mail that same day and made reference to specific aspects of the bill, mainly what would not be included in the legislation, and to a source familiar with the legislation who was not authorized to publicly speak about the bill.
Let me be clear. I did not know the identity of the source at that time, nor do I know it sitting here today.
What I can offer, honourable colleagues, is that the few details about the bill in this article are not entirely accurate, and this inconsistency between the bill and the article may be relevant to your investigation.
Specifically, the article begins by stating that the bill will exclude those who only experience mental suffering, such as people with psychiatric conditions. While it is the case that those who suffer from mental illness alone may not be likely in practical terms to qualify for medical assistance in dying, pursuant to the eligibility criteria set out in Bill C-14 as it was originally drafted and tabled in the House, the proposed legislation in no way categorically excludes such individuals. It is possible, although unlikely, that someone who only experiences mental suffering could meet all of the eligibility criteria, and therefore be able to obtain medical assistance in dying under the proposed scheme.
It is also worth noting that the article mostly speaks to what will not be in Bill C-14 and does not disclose major elements of the bill. For example, it does not address items like the eligibility criteria, the safeguards, and the monitoring regime proposed in the legislation.
Finally, I would highlight that I'm quoted toward the end of the article referring to various principles that our government sought to balance with this legislation, but of course, refusing to go into any detail about its contents.
In conclusion, honourable colleagues, let me assure you that my department, my staff, and I take this issue incredibly seriously. All matters of privilege implicate the foundational principles of our constitutional democracy, and so I commend you on the work you are doing, and I am happy to participate and take questions.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.