I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Scarborough--Rouge River on November 4, 2003 concerning the conduct of Mr. George Radwanski before the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River for having raised an issue which is of importance to all members and to the institution of the House of Commons. I would also like to thank the hon. member for New Westminster—Coquitlam—Burnaby, the right hon. member for Calgary Centre and the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre for their interventions.
On November 5, 2003, the hon. government House leader rose in the House to contribute to the discussion. Acknowledging the seriousness of this matter and the importance of the ruling of the Chair in this case, the hon. House leader called on the Speaker to render a ruling which would also provide two statements. To use his own words, the House leader looked to the ruling, first:
...to make it clear to every citizen who may come before a committee of the House the responsibilities that he or she has...and the consequences that may follow from a failure... to uphold those responsibilities...
...to provide the House with an outline of its options should [the Chair] find a prima facie case of contempt...
The hon. government House leader went on to discuss various issues surrounding the possible summoning of a private citizen to the Bar of the House. I wish to thank the hon. government House leader for his intervention.
Before rendering my decision, I want to address the two requests he has made to the Chair.
First, let me deal with the suggestion that my ruling should lay out the options before the House in this matter. As hon. members know, the role of the Speaker in matters of privilege is well defined in House of Commons Procedure and Practice at page 122, which states:
The function of the Speaker is limited to deciding whether the matter is of such a character as to entitle the Member who has raised the question to move a motion which will have priority over Orders of the Day; that is, in the Speaker's opinion, there is a prima facie question of privilege. If there is, the House must take the matter into immediate consideration.
The Speaker's ruling does not extend to deciding whether a breach of privilege has in fact been committed--a question which can be decided by the House itself.
It is clear to me that the Speaker's role in matters of privilege and contempt is well established in our practice. In my view, it is not the role of the Speaker to suggest how the House may wish to deal with a question of privilege or a case of contempt, always assuming that the House has decided that it is faced with such an offence. The ruling will therefore deal only on whether or not the Chair has found a prima facie case of contempt.
Secondly, it has been suggested that the ruling lay down guidelines for individuals appearing before committees of this House. However tempting the invitation, the Speaker cannot presume to articulate the expectations that committees have of the witnesses who come before them. Suffice it to say that I believe all hon. members will agree with me when I say simply that committees of the House and, by extension, the House of Commons itself, must be able to depend on the testimony they receive, whether from public officials or private citizens. This testimony must be truthful and complete. When this proves not to be the case, a grave situation results, a situation that cannot be treated lightly.
In the situation before us, I have carefully read the ninth report of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates tabled in the House. The committee's report sets out the testimony of Mr. George Radwanski, the former privacy commissioner, that it found misleading and concludes that, in its view, the former privacy commissioner should be found in contempt of the House. The report reviews the conflicts in the testimony and, it seems to me, draws its conclusions in a manner that seems reasonable in the circumstances.
Accordingly, I conclude that the matters set out in the ninth report of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates are sufficient to support a prima facie finding of a breach of the privileges of this House. I therefore invite the hon. member for Scarborough--Rouge River to move his motion.