Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege regarding a grave matter relating to information that I requested through a question on the Order Paper. Recent events have led me to believe that there has been a deliberate attempt by the Department of Justice to deny me a correct answer.
My question of privilege will charge the parliamentary secretary who delivered the answer to the House and the Minister of Justice who is responsible for his department with contempt for sending me misleading information with regard to Question No. 131 from the last session.
I will present four points, Mr. Speaker, that you will need to consider together before a prima facie case of privilege can be made. I would ask that the Speaker examine, first, the question that I submitted to the government; second, the response given by the parliamentary secretary; third, the Auditor General's report and her comments following the tabling of her report; and fourth, the perception created in the public's mind through the media.
I will begin by laying out the procedural grounds on which this question of privilege is based.
I refer to a Speaker's ruling from December 16, 1980, at page 5797 of Hansard . The Speaker said:
While it is correct to say that the government is not required by our rules to answer written or oral questions, it would be bold to suggest that no circumstances could ever exist for a prima facie question of privilege to be made where there was a deliberate attempt to deny answers to an hon. member,...
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.
I refer to Erskine May's 21st edition which describes contempt as:
--any act or omission which obstructs or impedes either House of Parliament in the performance of its functions, or which obstructs or impedes any Member or officer of such House in the discharge of his duty, or which has a tendency, directly or indirectly, to produce such results may be treated as contempt even though there is no precedent of the offence.
I would place much emphasis on the word omission in that citation.
I requested information in accordance with Standing Order 39(1), which states:
Questions may be placed on the Order Paper seeking information from Ministers of the Crown relating to public affairs; and from other Members, relating to any bill, motion or other public matter connected with the business of the House, in which such Members may be concerned;...
This request of mine was done under our rules and is considered a proceeding of Parliament for the purpose of privilege. Joseph Maingot's first edition of Parliamentary Privilege in Canada defines a proceeding in Parliament on page 70. It states:
Since two of Parliament's constituent elements, the House of Commons and the Senate, were established for the enactment of laws, those events necessarily incidental to the enactment of laws are part of the “proceedings in Parliament”. However, Parliament has also always been a forum to receive petitions, and the Crown's satisfying the grievances of members before granting supply eventually led to straightforward requests for information. Therefore, the events necessarily incidental to petitions, questions and notices of motion in Parliament in the seventeenth century and today are all events which are part of “proceedings in Parliament”.
Mr. Maingot went on to state:
Privilege of Parliament is founded on necessity, and is those rights that are “absolutely necessary for the due execution of its powers.” Necessity then should be a basis for any claim that an event was part of a “proceeding in Parliament,” i.e., what is claimed to be part of a “proceeding in Parliament” and thus protected should be necessarily incidental to a “proceeding in Parliament.”
On page 72 there is a quote from the Report of the Select Committee on the Official Secrets Act in 1939, which stated:
(A proceeding in Parliament) covers both the asking of a question and the giving written notice of such a question,...
The question I asked was the following:
With regard to the Canadian Firearms Program: (a) what is the proposed budget allocation for fiscal year 2002-03; (b) what are the line-item cost projections for fiscal year 2002-03; (c) what are the cost projections by department and agency for 2002-03; (d) what is the total cost of the program since its inception in 1995; and (e) what is the projected annual cost for each of the next 10 years?
On Wednesday, April 24, 2002, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice responded. He said:
(a) The Canadian Firearms Centre’s, CFC, proposed budget allocation for fiscal year 2002-03 is $113.5 million.
(b) The CFC line item cost projections for 2002-03 are as follows:
Vote 1--Operating Expenditures: $97.3 million
Vote 5--Contributions: $10.4 million
Statutory--Employee Benefits: $5.8 million
(c) The cost projections by department and agency that will receive funding through the Canadian Firearms Centre in 2002-03 are as follows:
Department of Justice--CFC: $109.5 million
Solicitor General--RCMP: $3.0 million
Canada Customs and Revenue Agency: $1.0 million
(d) The total cost of the program since inception in 1995 is:
From 1995-96 to 2000-01 the net cost of the program incurred by the Department of Justice--CFC is $484.1 million. This consists of $551.5 million in gross expenditures minus $23.1 million in C-17 expenditures minus $44.3 million in net revenue.
As of March 31, 2002, period 12, the net cost of the program incurred by the Department of Justice--CFC for fiscal year 2001-02 is $88.6 million. This consists of $102.9 million in gross expenditures minus $14.3 million in revenue.
(e) The projected annual costs for the next 10 years are as follows:
i. For 2002-03 the net costs are projected to be $101.2 million (this consists of projected gross expenditures of $113.5 million minus $12.3 million in revenue);
ii. For 2003-04 the net costs are projected to be $59.8 million (this consists of projected gross expenditures of $95.0 million minus $35.2 million in revenue);
iii. For 2004-05 the net costs are projected to be $44.8 million (this consists of projected gross expenditures of $80.0 million minus $35.2 in revenue);
iv. Funding has not yet been finalized for fiscal years 2005-06 through 2011-12, but is expected to continue to decrease.
Yesterday the Auditor General tabled her report in Parliament. It states:
In 1995, when the program was introduced, the Department of Justice told Parliament that the program would cost taxpayers about $2 million after cost recovery from license and registration fees. The Department now estimates that by 2004-05 the cost will be well over $1 billion and only about $140 million in fees will have been collected. What's really inexcusable is that Parliament was in the dark. I question why the Department continued to watch the costs escalate without informing Parliament and without considering the alternatives.
She made the comment that: “Even though the department has many explanations for this ballooning of costs, it never shared any of them with Parliament”.
She points out in her report that:
The information the Department provided states that by 2001-02 it has spent about $688 million on the Program and collected about $59 million in revenues after refunds. We believe that this information does not fairly present the cost of the Program to the government. The Department also did not report to Parliament on the wider costs of the Program as required by the government's regulatory policy. Furthermore, the entire Program was designated as a Major Crown Project. Treasury Board policies require departments, at a minimum, to annually report the following types of information to Parliament: description of the program, total expenditures to date and planned expenditures to future years to the completion of the project, etc.
She then states:
The Department has not fully reported this information.
Finally, the Auditor General reports:
The financial information provided does not fairly present all costs. 10.48 in our view, the financial information provided for audit by the Department does not fairly present the cost of the program to the government. Our initial review found significant shortcomings in the information the Department provided. Consequently we stopped our audit of this information that because we did not believe that a detailed audit would result in substantially different findings.
The second edition of Joseph Maingot's Parliamentary Privilege in Canada at page 234 explains that in order for the Speaker to find a prima facie case in a matter involving a deliberate misleading statement there must be “an admission by someone in authority, such a Minister of the Crown or an officer...”
The Auditor General is a very senior officer of Parliament. If information was withheld from her, then that too is inexcusable, but information being withheld from Parliament is contempt. It was not as if no one asked the government for this information. Clearly my question did ask for that information and I was given unreliable and bogus information.
When I received my answer to Question No. 131 I had no choice but to take those figures the government provided as the answer. Had I known that the department either really did not know, which would have been a better answer, at least I would know the truth and not use information that was misleading.
There is a chain reaction of using misleading information. The department misleads the parliamentary secretary who misleads Parliament who then misleads the members. Sometimes the right answer is “I don't know”. The other possibility, and this is the position of the Auditor General and the media, is that the government knew and did not share that information, deciding instead to provide me with numbers for the sake of providing me with numbers, perhaps to avoid the 45 day review of a committee, I do not know, but it is clear it did not provide the correct numbers and it was deliberate.
Whether you are of the opinion personally, Mr. Speaker, that the government did or did not deliberately mislead or withhold information from Parliament, there is the perception out there that it did. On that basis only this House must take action and get to the bottom of this issue for, if nothing else, preserving the dignity and authority of this institution and its members.
I refer you, Mr. Speaker, to the headline in the Globe and Mail which says, “Lies and contempt for Parliament at root of scandal in gun registry”. What impression does that give? I have never seen that in all my years as a member of Parliament.
The Ottawa Citizen reads, “Government accused of hiding secret audit. Different issue but same AG report and same theme”.
The Winnipeg Sun states, “Liberals lied”.
There was a case in 1973 when the member for Northumberland--Durham received a letter from the then solicitor general stating that the RCMP did not make a practice of opening mail. Subsequent questions in the House by the same member on November 9, 1977, to the then solicitor general regarding mail openings by the RCMP provided a sufficient and direct relation with the proceedings in Parliament for the purpose of privilege. Later remarks before a royal commission by a former commissioner of the RCMP “the practice was very often ministers' letters were not exactly drafted on precise statements of fact”.
The sum of this evidence permitted the Speaker in 1978 to find a prima facie case of contempt where the RCMP were alleged to have deliberately misled a minister of the crown and the member for Northumberland--Durham, resulting in an attempt to obstruct the House by offering misleading information.
Whereas, Mr. Speaker, the case of the member for Northumberland--Durham dealt with the matter of an official deliberately misleading a member, this case that I bring to your attention is a case where a department is deliberately trying to interfere with me as a member of Parliament by deliberately not being forthright with resources and causing information to be withheld.
In summary, I established that the government was asked this information through a proceeding of Parliament. I have provided the bogus answer to the Speaker. The Auditor General has confirmed that the government withheld this information from Parliament, and the impression in the public domain is that the government lied to Parliament.
Mr. Speaker, I ask that you review this matter and I trust that you will find that there is a prima facie question of privilege here.