Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased that you have given me a chance to speak to this very important issue. In my presentation I will explain why I do not believe in fact that I was in contempt of parliament. I would like to elaborate on that a bit.
I will begin my statement by quoting from the constitution of our country. There are a number of procedural requirements of the House of Commons provided in the constitution. These procedural requirements make up the rules of the House. These rules must be respected by the House and by its committees.
Section 49 of the Constitution Act provides that questions arising in the House of Commons shall be decided by a majority of voices. Further, Standing Order 116 states that in a standing committee the standing orders shall apply.
The Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration did not decide to go in camera by a majority vote. It did not decide to go in camera as a result of a motion or a vote of any kind. The committee did not make the decision. The chair made the decision unilaterally. In fact it decided the opposite and reaffirmed this on March 2, 2000.
Even though in my opinion the committee could go in camera by way of a motion pursuant to the rules and practices, it only confirmed what these rules are. Specifically the evidence from the committee meeting of March 2 shows that the committee reconfirmed the House rules and therefore committee rules requiring a vote to pass by a majority to cause the committee to go in camera.
At the very next meeting the Liberal chair of the committee decided on his own and against the clear rules of the committee to ignore the democratic process and move the proceedings away from public scrutiny.
I think it is important to note that the reason the issue came up on March 2 at the committee meeting and at previous meetings is that the chair of the committee, the hon. member for London North Centre, had unilaterally moved meetings in camera, in other words to become secret, apparently to protect the government from possible embarrassing comments that Liberal members might make during discussion of what the committee had heard. That is what the discussion was on.
The discussion was on what the committee had heard from witnesses who appeared before the committee. There was no apparent reason other than political considerations. After all, all the witnesses were heard in public. I protested this improper decision and the committee chair agreed there was no good reason to hold these discussions secretly. I fully expected of course then that the next meeting would be a public meeting.
At the same March 2 meeting of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration the committee agreed, and I quote from the minutes of proceedings “that the draft report be considered in public”. This is from the minutes of proceedings of the Thursday, March 2, 2000 meeting, the very meeting before the chair unilaterally chose to hold this meeting in camera with no vote from the committee. I would be happy to table this document, the minutes of proceedings.
Therefore the chairman did not only breach the constitution and the rules of the House, I would argue, but he breached the committee's own internal rules and the clearly documented will of the committee.
Furthermore I would like to draw the Speaker's attention to an argument at page 10464 of Hansard . On October 9, 1997, the Speaker ruled that 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. That was your ruling, Mr. Speaker.
In my opinion the committee had set out very clearly that the draft report was to be discussed in an open meeting prior to meetings being held in camera and that prior to any meeting being held in camera a vote would be taken.
The Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration was in camera illegally. If anyone were in contempt, I would charge that the chairman was in contempt of the House for usurping the authority of the House as provided for in the constitution of our country, in the rules of the House of Commons, and as decided by this committee itself. Therefore I believe the House should find the member for London North Centre in contempt for exercising authority beyond the authority granted by the committee.
For all these reasons I believe that I was not in contempt of parliament. To make it clear, the committee was not in camera. Therefore I was providing public information to the public. I am not in contempt, in my view.
There is one important and very pertinent piece of information which I feel I should present. The document I released was not the final draft of the committee report. Because the committee had gone illegally I believe in camera, this draft document was the only record I had of the proceedings of the committee. As the House knows the official record of the committee is not available to the public if the meeting is declared to be an in camera meeting.
As I have already explained, I believe the meeting was in fact a public meeting because the chair of the committee, the member for London North Centre, had illegally convened the committee in secret. The final draft of the committee has yet to be tabled in the House, but as I am sure you will find when it is tabled, Mr. Speaker, that draft is not the same as the draft of the document which I released in public.