I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on May 27, 2003 by the hon. member for Calgary—Nose Hill concerning statements made by the hon. Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.
The hon. member charged that the minister had deliberately misled the House and the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. I would like to thank the hon. member for Calgary--Nose Hill for having raised the matter, as well as the hon. Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, the hon. members for St. John's West, Laval Centre and West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, as well as the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader, for their remarks on this point.
The hon. member for Calgary--Nose Hill in bringing this issue to the attention of the House, alleged that the hon. Minister of Citizenship and Immigration had deliberately misled the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration in testimony that he gave before the committee. In support of her allegation, the hon. member cited findings included in a court ruling which was later upheld by the Federal Court of Appeal.
In addition, the hon. member for Calgary--Nose Hill maintained that on three occasions the hon. minister had an opportunity in the House to correct the erroneous statements he had made before the committee and each time failed to do so. I refer hon. members to Debates , February 24, 2003, page 3909; February 25, 2003, pages 3984-85; and February 26, 2003, pages 4040-41.
The government House leader has indicated that he regarded this as no more than a difference of opinion. He indicated that if the hon. member for Calgary—Nose Hill was unsatisfied with the answers that the minister had provided, she had the opportunity to seek clarification by raising the issue during the debate on the adjournment proceedings, our late show.
The hon. members for St. John's West, Laval Centre and West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast in their interventions were all in agreement that the proper course of action when a misleading statement has been made is for the member responsible to acknowledge the error and retract the statement.
Finally, the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader asserted that neither the hon. minister nor departmental officials had ever misled the committee. He claimed that the information provided by them had been the most reliable that was available at the time.
A charge of deliberately misleading the House or one of its committees is a very serious matter and as Speaker, I always regard questions of this type as having great importance. They reflect not only on the members concerned but on the House itself. I know that members on both sides of the House appreciate the gravity of such a charge. House of Commons Procedure and Practice , p. 87, points out that deliberately misleading members impedes them in the performance of their parliamentary duties and consequently obstructs the House itself.
In raising her question of privilege, the hon. member for Calgary--Nose Hill did not identify any particular statements of the hon. Minister of Citizenship and Immigration as deliberately misleading. Instead, she made reference to a decision of Mr. Justice Kelen rendered on February 21, 2003, in which the finding is made that information given to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration was misleading. I should point out that the court did not conclude that the statement was made deliberately to mislead or that there was any conscious attempt to obstruct either the committee or the House.
As I noted, the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader, in his remarks, indicated that the minister and his officials provided the committee with the best information available to them at the time. To date, no report concerning the testimony of the minister or his officials has been presented by the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. It would be inappropriate for me to comment on the committee's proceedings in the absence of such a report.
With respect to the minister’s statements in the House, the emphasis seems to be more on what was not said than on the contents of the remarks themselves.
Our practice requires that, when charges are made against members, the evidence on which those charges are made must be presented in the House. It is the House itself, and not the courts or other outside bodies, which is ultimately responsible for upholding its privileges and judging charges of contempt against its members. In the case before us, the hon. member for Calgary—Nose Hill has not laid out explicitly the basis for her charge. Even the court decisions to which she has referred, while they speak of misleading remarks, do not contend that there was an intent to mislead.
No information has been provided to the Chair concerning whether or not new or more accurate information became available to the minister at a later date. In any event, while such information might have a bearing on the accuracy of earlier statements, I believe it would not, by itself, be conclusive regarding an intent to mislead the standing committee. Similarly, statements made, or not made, by the minister during question period are open to various interpretations different than the interpretation given by the hon. member for Calgary--Nose Hill.
Given the differing views of the nature of the remarks made by the minister and his officials, it is difficult for the Chair to regard the matter as anything other than debate.
I am unable to find a basis on which the charge of a prima facie breach of privilege could be regarded as having been established in this case.