Mr. Speaker, yesterday I gave notice to the Chair of a question of privilege concerning the public letter the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, George Radwanski, wrote to Information Commissioner John Reid. The letter was made public by wide dissemination through privacy commissioner facilities including the Internet and it appears on the website of the privacy commissioner.
It is important to note that the letter has received widespread distribution and is not a private piece of correspondence. Mr. Speaker, I will be sending you a copy of the letter from the website and I ask for consent of the House to table a copy at some point. The letter is a direct public attack by one officer of parliament on the work of another officer of parliament, as referred to by the Deputy Prime Minister today in the House. It seriously calls into question the impartiality of the privacy commissioner.
It will be my submission to the Chair that this public attack on an officer of parliament erodes public confidence in that officer. The fact that the attack was made by an officer of parliament erodes public confidence in this institution and is a contempt of the House and its officials. Both the privacy commissioner and the information commissioner are officers of parliament. They report to the House and operate under the authority of two statutes, the Privacy Act and the Access to Information Act.
I refer the Chair to page 155 of Erskine May, 19th edition, which states:
Both Houses will treat as breaches of their privileges, not only acts directly tending to obstruct their officers in the execution of their duty, but also any conduct which may tend to deter them from doing their duty in the future.
The duties and powers of the privacy commissioner are set out in section 29. I will not quote them here as you do not have to rule on questions of law, Mr. Speaker. It is sufficient to know that the privacy commissioner is empowered to investigate complaints from individuals.
The important feature is that there must be a complaint. There was no indication in the letter that a complaint had been made and we are not aware that any such complaint was made. The closest indication as to the motivation of the privacy commissioner is his statement found at paragraph five:
My duty as Privacy Commissioner of Canada is to champion and defend the legitimate privacy rights of every Canadian, whether it be an unemployed labourer or the Prime Minister of our country.
I do not know how many unemployed labourers are the subject of this sort of treatment, but I know there is a legitimate case before the Supreme Court of Canada for judicial determination. The privacy commissioner is attempting to alter its outcome on behalf of his friend the Prime Minister.
The relationship between Mr. Radwanski and the Prime Minister was raised in the House and in the second chamber of parliament prior to his appointment. It has been the subject of media comment. The unilateral and grossly improper attempt to make the information commissioner withdraw an action authorized by law gives the public the impression that an officer of parliament is primarily an agent of the Prime Minister and acting in such a way as to interfere with the process of the courts. The matter will be adjudicated in due course.
The Privacy Act empowers the commissioner to receive and to investigate complaints. He is empowered to make findings and to report his findings to government. He is empowered to examine databanks, to make findings and to report those findings. He is required to report to parliament annually. He is empowered to make special reports:
—commenting on any matter within the scope of the powers, duties and functions of the Commissioner where, in the opinion of the Commissioner, the matter is of such urgency or importance that a report thereon should not be deferred until the time provided for transmission of the next annual report of the Commissioner.
He is not empowered to unilaterally declare himself a champion of the Prime Minister's side in a court proceeding and to attack an officer of parliament who has lawful authority to seek judicial determinations on matters lawfully brought through the information commissioner's office. It is important and critical to my argument that the Chair consider that point.
There has been an increasing trend on the part of some parliamentary officers to involve themselves, mostly through public comment, in matters outside their statutory responsibilities.
I have refrained from raising questions on the issue until now. I find it particularly troublesome when individuals, in this instance the privacy commissioner, start telling other jurisdictions their views on what the laws should be. These people are appointed to fulfil their duties under the law and their appointments do not make them judge and jury on all matters relating to those subjects. They are first and foremost officers appointed to do their duty under the law.
We do not tolerate judges taking to the public platform to participate in public debate. There needs to be similar restraint exercised on officers of parliament. They do not speak for this place. They are not self-appointed, self-generated champions of what the law should be. Nor should they act in no way as agents for the Prime Minister or portray themselves in that fashion.
The issue of the information commissioner's access to the Prime Minister's agenda is before the Supreme Court of Canada, the highest court in the land, for determination. The court will do its job. The privacy commissioner seeks to subvert this lawful process and in so doing has been intemperate and accusatory. To call the lawful actions of an officer of parliament “tantamount to informational rape” is not only demeaning to the office holder. It reflects on the House of which he is an officer.
The information commissioner is a former parliamentarian empowered by the House. He is not freelancing or acting in some sort of nefarious purpose for the sole purpose of partisan exploration of the Prime Minister's agenda. He had a formal request to seek such information. He has a mandate and a responsibility to uphold that request and follow the chain of information. However the unprecedented attack by his counterpart the privacy commissioner is improper and I would submit illogical.
The privacy commissioner has concerns about the law. There is nothing in the law to establish the office of champion of the Prime Minister. We are aware of no complaint to the privacy commissioner unless it came from the PMO or the Privy Council Office. It appears he has set out to attack an officer of parliament for purposes other than his statutory framework. He is attempting to put the fix in for the Prime Minister's Office.
If the privacy commissioner has concerns about the law he has the ability to report those concerns to parliament. To my knowledge he has not done so. Instead he has, and this is important, publicly attacked the lawful activities of the information commissioner without the foundation of a complaint having been made to him.
This gives the appearance, whether true or not, that the privacy commissioner is the Prime Minister's agent, champion and client. It undermines public confidence in the independence of the privacy commissioner. He has become the champion of the Prime Minister against a fellow officer of parliament.
The ethics counsellor has cast himself in a similar role, and this is the complete opposite of what their offices should represent and are intended to do.
These actions, the unilateral and unauthorized public undermining of an officer of parliament in the execution of his lawful duties and the carrying out of a media campaign against an officer of parliament in the lawful pursuit of his duties, constitute prima facie evidence of contempt of the House.
Public confidence in all officers of parliament should be a matter of basic concern to every member of the House. The issue is sufficiently serious to merit examination by a committee, and I am prepared to move the necessary motion should you find there is a prima facie case of contempt before the House.