I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Ancaster--Dundas--Flamborough--Aldershot on September 15, 2003, concerning remarks by a judge which have since been quoted by other judges and which he regards as contemptuous of this House.
Let me start by thanking the hon. member for Ancaster--Dundas--Flamborough--Aldershot for raising this important issue, as well as the hon. member for West Vancouver--Sunshine Coast and the hon. member for Mississauga South for their interventions.
The hon. member for Ancaster--Dundas--Flamborough--Aldershot stated that a remark made by Mr. Justice Iacobucci in his 1998 ruling on the case of Vriend v. Alberta, which has since been cited by two other judges, infringes on the supremacy of Parliament and is contemptuous.
Mr. Justice Iacobucci was quoted on page 7342 of Debates of the House of Commons of September 15, 2003 as follows:
In my opinion, groups that have historically been the target of discrimination cannot be expected to wait patiently for the protection of their human dignity and equal rights while governments move toward reform one step at a time. If the infringement of the rights and freedoms of these groups is permitted to persist while governments fail to pursue equality diligently, then the guarantees of the Charter will be reduced to little more than empty words.
The hon. member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot asserted that, by his reference to “governments”, the judge was actually referring to Parliament. However, as I read them, the judicial comments of which the hon. member complains suggest that the courts should not wait for the government or Parliament to introduce legal reforms as this can take too long or be incomplete in the end result.
Seen in this light, in my view, the judge's comments would seem to focus on the parliamentary process rather than on Parliament itself. To be sure, the comments are critical of the process where it may be slow to provide remedies in respect of legal rights, but this is the sort of comment any Canadian might make and one that the judge might have considered appropriate given the facts of the case before him. Cases may occur where comments made by a judge are so egregious as to require your Speaker's comment but it does not appear to me that this is such an instance.
In this case, in the context of the privileges of the House, where the dignity of this parliamentary chamber may be offended in the minds of some hon. members, my task is to weigh the character of the judicial comments against the freedom that must be allowed to a court, and to this chamber, to explain its actions as it sees fit. In my view, there is no animus against the House or its dignity in the remarks of which the hon. member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot complains.
A regime of mutual respect ought to govern the relationship between the courts and the House. Each must be free to discharge its responsibilities without criticism from the other. In this case, the observations complained of by the hon. member do not, in my view, amount to a contempt of the House.
Accordingly, I do not find a prima facie breach of privilege in this case.