Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 48, and with regard to my prior notice, I rise on a question of privilege. The incident at issue, which had the effect of impeding and obstructing my duties as a parliamentarian, occurred during the parliamentary recess and resulted in a contempt of the House of Commons.
As a result of the recess, I am bringing this matter to your attention at the earliest possible opportunity, since the House only resumed this week.
In dealing with the charge of contempt I am bringing to your attention, it is essential for you, Mr. Speaker, and all members to understand that contempt as opposed to privilege cannot be enumerated or categorized.
It is on that very point that I refer to an October 29, 1980, ruling by Speaker Sauvé who stated:
--while our privileges are defined, contempt of the House has no limits.
She also said:
When new ways are found to interfere with our proceedings, so too will the House, in appropriate cases, be able to find that a contempt of the House has occurred.
That sentiment was duly reiterated by Speakers Fraser and Parent in their rulings made respectively on October 10, 1989 and October 9, 1997. Those rulings concerned contempt of the House where no precedent existed and for proceedings that had not been envisioned.
Those rulings are significant because the contempt I am highlighting is similar in that it is somewhat unprecedented.
In Marleau and Montpetit, 2000 edition, House of Commons Procedure and Practice , it states, at page 50, that:
“Parliamentary privilege” refers more appropriately to the rights and immunities that are deemed necessary for the House of Commons, as an institution, and its Members, as representatives of the electorate, to fulfil their functions. It also refers to the powers possessed by the House to protect itself, its Members, and its procedures from undue interference, so that it can effectively carry out its principal functions which are to inquire, to debate, and to legislate.
It is in respect of exercising my rights of inquiry as a parliamentarian that I was unduly interfered with by certain individuals within various government departments.
Specifically, on December 27, 2002, and from January 2 through January 6, 2003, I made inquiries with public servants about the discriminatory effects that the government's bilingualism scheme had on anglophones seeking employment and promotion within the federal public service. In both cases my parliamentary e-mail account was used to communicate proceedings of the House with public servants.
The information provided to civil servants on December 27, 2002, was taken directly from Hansard and contains my intervention and that of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury Board Minister during the adjournment proceedings of December 4, 2002. This information was communicated as a public service, to provide information about government policy debated in Parliament.
From January 3 until January 6, 2003, and in the absence of any effort by the federal government or unions to consult public service workers, I inquired and surveyed public servants about the extent to which discriminatory bilingualism has impacted and obstructed their careers.
At this point, I would like to reiterate my reference to Marleau and Montpetit and their emphasis on what constitutes parliamentary privilege in respect of protecting members from undue interference in the course of their duties.
Further to this point, I also refer to a ruling on a question of privilege by Speaker Francis, February 20, 1984, which established that efforts by a public servant to withhold co-operation from a member constitutes a prima facie question of privilege.
In regard to the December 27, 2002 e-mail, on January 4, 2003, an employee of the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, Peter Paton, directed employees in the department to not reply and to delete the e-mail.
On January 16, 2003, and in respect of the survey sent out on my parliamentary account January 3 to 6, 2003, the Secretary of the Treasury Board and Comptroller of Canada, Jim Judd, sought to undermine the confidentiality of the survey and discourage public servants from responding to the survey.
On January 17, 2003, an employee with the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, Rob Wright, did the same when he advised employees in the department that my assurance of confidentiality could not be guaranteed, an effort to intimidate public servants from responding.
On January 14, 2003, Cathy McLaughlin, who is the Assistant Director of Diversity and Official Languages Program at Human Resources Development Canada, demanded that staff in the department not respond to the questionnaire.
On that same day, HRDC director Shirley Kimery instructed employees in the department to not respond to the questionnaire. Each of those unwarranted interferences breached my privilege as a member of this House as they relate to free speech, inquiry and the use of e-mail as an extension of the proceedings of Parliament. More important, if you find, Mr. Speaker, that the actions of these individuals did not breach a specific privilege, they nonetheless are a contempt of Parliament.
In that regard, I refer to Marleau and Montpetit, 2000 edition, at page 52, which points out that:
Contempt may be an act or omission; it does not have to actually obstruct or impede the House or a Member, it merely has to have the tendency to produce such results.
Over the years members have brought to the attention of the House instances in which attempts were made to impede, obstruct or interfere in members abilities to conduct their duties, but there are no hard and fast rules about the manner in which such obstruction occurs.
This is what Speaker Sauvé conveyed in her ruling of October 29, 1980, and the point Marleau and Montpetit are making on page 52. Pointedly, such instances ought not be solely viewed in the context of whether such obstruction was physical in nature, but whether the effect of the action was to impede a member's parliamentary privilege, the discharge of his or her duties or which offends the authority or dignity of the House.
In a similar vein, I refer to Erskine May's 21st edition which deals with contempt at page 115. It notes that it is not possible to list every act which might be considered to amount to contempt. Accordingly, such incidents need to be measured and weighed against the rights of members to perform their duties without undue interference.
The last point I want to make on the issue relates to the manner in which the contempt occurred. This is very significant because, as noted in Joseph Maingot's Proceedings in Parliament , at page 94:
One must not lose sight of the fact that “proceedings in Parliament” is not the only criterion or the only criterion for the House of Commons when determining whether it has jurisdiction in any matter. Contempt of Parliament rarely occurs during a “Proceeding of Parliament” but rather it emanates from outside the House...
This very point was at the heart of the issue, which Speaker Francis ruled on and to which I previously referred. In that precedent setting ruling of February 20, 1984, Speaker Francis found that the action of public servants to withhold cooperation, “would undoubtedly hinder that member in fulfilling his duties”.
By way of summary and conclusion, I am confident that a contempt of Parliament has occurred with regard to the actions of the individuals who undermined my effort to inquire and communicate with public servants.
I believe your review, Mr. Speaker, of this matter will find that I have established that the individuals named, through their actions, produced results that had the effect of impeding me as a member of Parliament in the discharge of my duties. Again I reiterate the point made in Maingot that:
Contempt of Parliament rarely occurs during a “Proceeding of Parliament” but rather it emanates from outide the House...
As such, Mr. Speaker, if you find that a contempt of the House has occurred, I am prepared to move the appropriate motion.