I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on Thursday, November 19, 1998 by the hon. member for Toronto Centre—Rosedale concerning the publication of a draft report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade on Canada's foreign policy regarding nuclear weapons.
First, I would like to thank the hon. member for his succinct and emphatic presentation as well as the hon. members for Fraser Valley, Beauharnois—Salaberry, Richmond—Arthabaska, Scarborough—Rouge River and Crowfoot for their valuable contributions on this question.
The hon. member for Toronto Centre—Rosedale and several other members explained that this is, by no means, the first time a case of this nature has been raised on the floor of the House.
In fact, a case virtually identical to this one was before us this time last year, to be precise, on December 9, 1997. I noted at page 2945 of Debates that:
No potential breach of in camera proceedings can be taken up without a specific allegation of misconduct directed against particular individuals... a complaint concerning premature publication of a committee report is incomplete without reference to a specific source responsible for the disclosure of the report.
The present case resembles both last year's case as well as a number of other recent cases where committee reports or draft reports have been leaked before the committees had presented their findings to the House.
Speakers' rulings are consistent in these cases. For example, Speaker Jerome on June 23, 1977 dealt with the premature publication of a subcommittee document where the question of privilege cited a press source for a leak but did not attempt to identify the source of the leak itself.
The Speaker declined to find the matter of privilege prima facie because the complaint did not deal with the responsibility of the House and its members with respect to premature disclosure. At page 1209 of Journals Speaker Jerome stated: “Since it misses that point, it misses something I think most important with respect to the privileges of the House”.
In the case before us today, I must therefore rule, as I have consistently done in the past, that the matter raised by the hon. member for Toronto Centre—Rosedale does not constitute a prima facie matter of privilege. However, that does not mean that the matter is not a serious one or that no action should be taken.
I would like to remind the House once again of a caution I issued in dealing with another case of this type on October 9, 1997, at page 689 of Debates :
Members of committees and ministers working with committees have an obligation to ensure that they themselves and those whose expertise they seek, be they personal assistants or departmental officials, respect the confidentiality of their documents and the integrity of their deliberations.
Committees must address their work processes and be very clear about how they expect draft reports and other material relating to in camera meetings to be treated. Everyone present at such meetings, including officials from departments and agencies, must realize their obligation to respect the confidentiality of the proceedings they witness and the material they may therefore be privy to.
With respect to the present case, it certainly remains open to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade to pursue the question of how their draft report has been dealt with. Concerning the broader issue raised by the hon. member for Toronto Centre—Rosedale, it may be that the House or those whom the House has mandaterd to oversee the practices and procedures of this place will decide that it is time to examine this question in its entirety.
I thank the hon. member for Toronto Centre—Rosedale and all of the other interveners for raising the matter which I know both the Chair and the House itself view as one of great seriousness.