Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege pertaining to what I believe are circumstances or words leading to an act of contempt of Parliament. My remarks relate to that.
Contempt of Parliament as you know, Mr. Speaker, is very analogous to contempt of court. If you consult any authority you will find that the definitions for contempt of Parliament and contempt of court are very similar.
Just to give a very quick example, contempt of Parliament is an offence against the authority and dignity of the House or an act which offends against the authority and dignity of Parliament or against its officers or members.
A contempt of court is any act calculated to embarrass the court or lessens its authority or dignity. Contempt is that which is expressly aimed against the dignity and authority of the court itself in the person of its judges and its officers.
We take contempt of court and contempt of Parliament very seriously and provision is made for severe penalties on those who are found in contempt of court or contempt of Parliament. The reason is that the courts and Parliament are two institutions that must maintain the confidence of the people. The people must believe that the judges act with integrity and that parliamentarians act with integrity and honesty at all times. Contempt provisions exist to make sure that the courts and Parliament are not attacked in a malicious or unfounded fashion.
Indeed, severe penalties are available to judges when for example a newspaper were to accuse a judge of being a hanging judge because it did not agree with the findings of that court. Indeed, jail terms are possible in this case.
So you may be very surprised to learn in that context, Mr. Speaker, that my complaint of contempt of Parliament is aimed at a justice, Mr. Justice Louis Marcel Joyal.
The context of that contempt of Parliament occurred because on December 2 the Minister of Labour rose in this House and announced that he was taking legal steps to fire the chairman of the Canada Labour Relations Board. This entire House rose in unanimous support, including the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, indeed all members.
The chairman of the Canada Labour Relations Board took his situation to federal court. He was trying to get an injunction to prevent the legal proceedings that would lead to his firing. His case was heard in federal court before Mr. Justice Joyal.
The next day the Ottawa Citizen came out with a newspaper headline across the front page. It was at the very top, a banner headline. The headline read “Judge slams Weatherill firing”. More interestingly the subheading read “Parliamentarians compared to `people around guillotine' in French Revolution”.
The remarks that I complain about in my address to you as a contempt of Parliament are contained in two paragraphs in this story. I will read them as quickly as I can: “Yesterday, in the Federal Court of Canada, Mr. Justice Louis Marcel Joyal compared such behaviour”—that is the applauding of the decision to take legal action against the chairman of the Canada Labour Relations Board—“to the bloody actions of the French Revolution and said it worried him”.
“I'm concerned as a citizen,” Judge Joyal said from the bench, “that with immunity, a minister of the Crown can get up in the House—on the basis of I don't know what—and say, `I'm going to fire this guy,' and everybody is up and cheering. I was thinking of these people around the guillotine. I don't know if I have a right to intervene. But it left a bad taste in my mouth”.
This was not said in evidence. This was a justice musing from the bench. For example, by suggesting that the Minister of Labour uses parliamentary immunity to take an unfair action against a person, he is implying that if he spoke outside the House of Commons the Minister of Labour would be subject to some kind of civil suit, so he is imputing motives to the Minister of Labour. Not only that, he is comparing all of us, not one side or the other side, not backbenchers or frontbenchers, but all of us to the rabble of the French revolution, to people who are not in control of our ability to make good judgments in this House, people who are not in fact representatives of the people.
Mr. Speaker, I feel there is a prima facie case of contempt of Parliament in the judge's remarks. There seems to be three possible courses of action in a situation like this. One is that the House could decide to move a motion of censure. Second, the House could decide to send the issue to committee where it could be debated and appropriate action determined. Finally, the judge could be called to the bar to explain the context and the intention of his remarks. There is something to be said for that.
I did apply to the federal court to get the transcript of his remarks so I could see the context of what he said and so I could see what else he said. Unfortunately the transcripts are not available. Apparently it is a case where the judge has control over the transcripts and a parliamentarian like myself cannot obtain them.
I do not want to suggest that we should be unfair to the judge but I think we should look very seriously at this third option of bringing him to the bar to explain himself. But Mr. Speaker, this is subject to whether you feel there is a prima facie case of contempt of Parliament in the circumstances I have just described.