Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege concerning the justice minister's direct contravention of the Firearms Act and contravention of one of your rulings.
On November 21, 2001, at Commons debates pages 7380 and 7381, Mr. Speaker, you ruled on a question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Surrey Central concerning the failure of the minister of justice to table a statement of reasons for making certain regulations as required by subsection 119(4) of the Firearms Act.
I would like to now cite three separate quotes taken directly from the Speaker's ruling. I quote:
I should point out to hon. members the Firearms Act provides that where the minister is of the opinion that the ordinary regulatory process in section 118 should not be followed she may in cases specified by the law proceed directly to the making of new regulations or to the modification of existing regulations. However in such cases the minister is required by subsection 119(4) of the act to table in both houses a statement of her reasons for so doing.
The hon. member for Surrey Central drew to the attention of the House 16 cases between September 16, 1998, and December 13, 2000, where the minister made use of this exceptional power but failed to table the required documents in the House. He argued that although no deadline is specified in the Firearms Act it is surely unreasonable for the House to be kept waiting for up to three years for the tabling of the minister's reasons.
The ruling went on:
In the case before us, the legislation drafted by the justice department contained from the outset the provisions obliging the minister to table in parliament reasons why section 118 should not apply for certain regulations. Furthermore, in the orders in council relating to each case, a standard paragraph is included which reads as follows:
And whereas the Minister of Justice will, in accordance with subsection 119(4) of the Firearms Act, have a statement of the reasons why she formed that opinion laid before each House of Parliament;
Therefore, Her Excellency, the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister of Justice, pursuant to paragraph X of the Firearms Act, hereby makes the annexed regulations--
The Chair must conclude from this evidence that far from being an arcane technicality cloaked in some dusty statute or other, the requirement for tabling of reasons is not only perfectly clear in the legislation but is invoked as an integral part of each such order in council. All the more reason, it seems to me, for the department to comply readily with the requirement given a modicum of efficiency in advising the minister.
The ruling went on:
Strictly speaking, these defects do not negate the minister's fulfillment of her statutory obligation, but they do point to a carelessness that appears to be characteristic of the way in which these matters are being handled by the officials in her department.
Were there to be a deadline for tabling included in the legislation, I would not hesitate to find that a prima facie case of contempt does exist and I would invite the hon. member to move the usual motion. However, given that no such deadline is specified, I can only find that a legitimate grievance has been identified.
I would encourage the hon. Minister of Justice to exhort her officials henceforth to demonstrate due diligence in complying with these and any other statutory requirements adopted by parliament. I look forward in future to the House being provided with documents required by law in a timely manner.
That was your ruling, Mr. Speaker. The parliamentary research branch has informed me that despite your stern warning and contrary to your explicit instructions, the justice minister has on four more occasions failed to table his statement of reasons for avoiding the laying of his regulations before Houses of Parliament, as required by subsection 119(4) of the Firearms Act.
The four orders in council identified by the Library of Parliament are: SOR/2002-440, 5 December 2002, regulations amending the importation and exportation of firearms regulations; SOR/2002-441, 5 December 2002, regulations amending the authority to export or import firearms regulations (businesses); SOR/2002-444, 5 December 2002, regulations amending gun show regulations; and, 5 December 2002, regulations amending the public agents firearms regulations.
While you ruled that the member for Surrey Central did not have a prima facie case of privilege, mainly because there is no deadline in the Firearms Act for the minister to table the statement of reasons, the situation we have today is different.
The minister is now in a clear contempt of Parliament, because not only has he shown complete disregard for the legislative requirements of this House, just as his predecessor did, but he has ignored your very clear instructions in your previous ruling.
I ask the Speaker: At what point does the minister's disregard for the legislative requirement of an act passed by this House become contempt? How many times does the minister have to be caught before it becomes contempt? Sixteen times last time. Four times this time. If not this time, will the minister be in contempt the next time we catch him?
Finally, how can we expect ordinary Canadians to obey the Firearms Act if the justice minister himself does not, cannot, or will not, regardless of what you say or rule?
If the Speaker rules that these four new violations of section 119(4) of the Firearms Act by the Minister of Justice constitute a prima facie case of breach of privileges of this House, I am prepared to move the appropriate motion.