Mr. Speaker, I am raising a point of order with respect to an answer given today by the Minister of National Defence and the answers which he gave to me yesterday on the same question.
Yesterday I put the following question to the Minister of National Defence:
Do all Canadian troops on ships in the gulf have gas masks and chemical suits to protect them against potential chemical or biological attacks? Yes or no.
The minister answered that he had already answered the question. Then he went on to say “I do not think it is appropriate for me to deal with such issues in public”, and he offered to meet me privately. That is what he said yesterday.
Today he provided to the House of Commons, in public, the information which he deliberately denied to me yesterday in the House of Commons.
I am raising this for a variety of reasons. First, I am obliged to raise this at the most timely occasion. Second, the issue was obviously one of grave importance. We would not want Canadians in the gulf to be exposed to potential chemical weapons attacks without adequate provision.
My concern is that the minister was trying to hide behind a rule set out in Beauchesne's. I draw your attention to Beauchesne's 6th edition, page 123, citation 416(1) and (2) which says:
(1) A Minister may decline to answer a question without stating the reason...
(2) An answer to a question cannot be insisted upon if the answer be refused by the Minister on the ground of the public interest; nor can the question be replaced on the Notice Paper. The refusal of a Minister to answer on this ground cannot be raised as a matter of privilege.
Clearly what the minister was attempting to do yesterday was claiming that this was a matter that could not be responded to on the ground of the public interest.
Yesterday the public interest in his interpretation said he could not reply. Today the public interest in his interpretation said he could reply. I believe that is a breach of the rules of order of the House. We have a right to count upon the veracity and completeness of the answers of ministers in the House.
I would appreciate your judgment on this, Mr. Speaker.