Mr. Speaker, I rise today on a question of privilege under the provisions of Standing Order 48. It has been demonstrated that misleading information has been deliberately given to the House.
On October 25, in responding to a question on behalf of the minister, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence made the following statement to the House in reply to my question to keep the Emergency Preparedness College in Arnprior open. He said, “no final decision has been made yet”.
While I was certainly encouraged by that response, on the same day the parliamentary secretary was responding to my question, the staff at the Emergency Preparedness College in Arnprior were being instructed by the director of the college to start clearing out their desks in preparation for the closure.
The Minister of Public Works and Government Services has been far more forthcoming, and I thank him for taking the lead in arranging a meeting to disclose the details of its closure. This cooperation is in stark contrast to the department of the Minister of National Defence and the refusal of his officials from the Office of Critical Infrastructure and Emergency Preparedness to return phone calls.
Indeed, as I stated in my question, staff from the Prime Minister's Office had already confirmed to the media that it had ordered the college in Arnprior to be closed. A meeting was being arranged to provide the details of the closure. I submit that the parliamentary secretary, or his advisers, deliberately misled the House when the parliamentary secretary stated, “no final decision has been made yet”.
On page 111 of the 22nd edition of Erskine May, it states:
The Commons may treat the making of a deliberately misleading statement as a contempt.
On page 141 of the 19th edition of Erskine May, it states:
Conspiracy to deceive either House or any committees of either House will also be treated as a breach of privilege.
On November 3, 1978, a member raised a question of privilege and charged that he had been deliberately misled by a former solicitor general. Acting on behalf of a constituent who had suspected that his mail had been tampered with, the member had written in 1973 to the then solicitor general who assured him that as a matter of policy the RCMP did not intercept the private mail of anyone.
On November 1, 1978, in testimony before the McDonald Commission, the former commissioner of the RCMP stated that they did indeed intercept mail on a very restricted basis and that the practice was not one which had been concealed from ministers. The member claimed that this statement clearly conflicted with the information he had received from the then solicitor general. The Speaker ruled that there was a prima facie case of contempt against the House of Commons.
In the case involving the parliamentary secretary, we also have a statement that clearly conflicts with information from other officials from other departments indicating that the government did indeed make a decision and it obviously knew it had made a decision because it was in the process of acting on it.
With respect to the Department of National Defence, I have a copy of an internal e-mail confirming that the Department of National Defence was aware of the decision, and I will provide the Chair with a copy. It is dated October 15, 2002. It states:
The following information is not yet public knowledge, but I am advising key CEPC stakeholders prior to a public announcement. The Canadian Emergency Preparedness College (CPEC) will relocate to the Federal Study Centre at 1495 Heron Road in Ottawa. The projected relocation date is March 2003. The existing CEPC facilities, which date from the early 1940s, have exceeded their useful life expectancy and are no longer able to support CEPC's current and expanding training program requirements.
Therefore, either the department offered false information to the parliamentary secretary, who inadvertently offered false information to the House, or the department advised the parliamentary secretary of the decision, in which case the charge of contempt should be laid against the member.
You ruled on a similar case, Mr. Speaker, on Friday, February 1, 2002, in regard to misleading statements made by the then minister of defence.
The hon. member for Portage--Lisgar alleged that the former minister of national defence deliberately misled the House as to when he knew that prisoners taken by Canadian JTF2 troops in Afghanistan had been handed over to the Americans. He said:
The authorities are consistent about the need for clarity in our proceedings and about the need to ensure the integrity of the information provided by the government to the House. Furthermore, in this case, as hon. members have pointed out, integrity of information is of paramount importance--
Mr. Speaker, if you find this to be a prima facie question of privilege, I am prepared to move the appropriate motion.