Mr. Speaker, I will begin by giving a brief chronology of the events leading up to this day and perhaps into the near future.
In the spring of 2000, a gentleman by the name of Louis Quigley, who is a resident of Riverview near Moncton, New Brunswick, wrote to the Commissioner of Official Languages of the day complaining about not being able to follow the debates in the House of Commons in his own language. Mr. Quigley is an anglophone and the cable distributor in his municipality offered strictly the floor sound.
Whenever someone intervened in the House in French, he could not follow that discussion and interventions. This is because the cable distributor for Riverview has opted to only broadcast the floor sound, instead of broadcasting two channels, one in English and one in French.
Mr. Quigley wrote to the Commissioner of Official Languages in the spring of 2000. In October 2000 the Commissioner of Official Languages tabled the reports of the inquiry that was conducted in this matter. The reports concluded that the Official Languages Act obliges the House of Commons to ensure that all citizens of Canada have an equal access to the debates of the House of Commons in both of Canada's official languages.
In December 2000, after the report of the Commissioner of Official Languages had not been accepted by the Board of Internal Economy of the House of Commons, Mr. Quigley sought redress at the Federal Court Trial Division, as the Official Languages Act entitled him to do.
On December 5, 2001, the case was heard in Halifax. It was a case where the Commissioner of Official Languages was granted intervener status defending the recommendations of her committee.
On June 5, 2002, Judge O'Keefe of the Federal Court Trial Division ruled in the Quigley case and stated that indeed the House of Commons was subject to the Official Languages Act, with special reference to article 25 of that act. Judge O'Keefe ordered the House of Commons to ensure that where its debates were available to Canadians that they be available in both official languages within a year.
One June 21, 2002, the Board of Internal Economy appealed the decision of the Federal Court Trial Division. On July 29, 2002, the Standing Joing Committee on Official Languages issued a press release after it had met stating essentially that: first, it welcomed the decision of Judge O'Keefe of the Federal Court Trial Division; second, it regretted the decision by the Board of Internal Economy to appeal that decision; and third, it would consider seeking for itself intervener status.
On September 16, 2002, Parliament was prorogued and all committees were disbanded.
On September 27, 2002, and it gets a little complicated here and that is why these things have to be put on the record, the Attorney General of Canada advised the Federal Court that it would not seek a leave to appeal this decision. It was satisfied and accepted the decision of the Federal Court Trial Division.
On October 10, 2002, the other place made a decision to create its own official languages committee, thereby causing the House to review its own regulations to have its own standing committee. There was some delay in setting up the committee, which occurred on November 7, 2002.
In that timeframe the decision to seek intervener status had to be made because the ability to do so was closing. Acting on my own, but with the full knowledge of the members of the official languages committee, I sought intervener status. There were no objections from Mr. Quigley and no objections from the Commissioner of Official Languages. The Board of Internal Economy also had no objections as long as I sought it personally, which I did.
On November 22, 2002, I obtained intervener status in this case, which I believe might be heard at the end of September 2003 in Halifax.
The reason why I and the committee felt it was important to seek intervener status was because we felt that the House of Commons was subject to the Official Languages Act and that the invocation of privilege, although we recognized privilege, had its limits.
In this case our view is that it is up to the House to decide whether it wishes its debates to be broadcast, and no one will ever question that privilege, certainly no member of the committee. However once that decision has been made, it is our view, mine in particular, that the House must ensure that these debates are available to all citizens through their cable distributors in both of Canada's official languages.
As the past co-chair of the joint committee and current chair of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, I thought it was my responsibility, as it is that of the committee, to ensure that the Official Languages Act was respected. The act itself gives such a mandate to the Standing Committee on Official Languages. Therefore it has had an interest in this issue since day one.