I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised by the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Social Development concerning comments made by the hon. members for Calgary—Nose Hill, Simcoe—Grey, and Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam during the question periods of Monday, May 9 and Tuesday, May 10, critical of individuals who are not members of the House.
I would like to thank the hon. member for raising this matter, as well as the hon. President of the Treasury Board, the deputy House leader of the official opposition and the hon. member for Calgary—Nose Hill for their interventions.
On both occasions when the matter was raised, I indicated that I would take it under advisement, check the transcripts, and get back to the House. I have done so and am now prepared to rule.
In her initial submission on May 9, the hon. parliamentary secretary stated that during question period that day, the hon. member for Calgary—Nose Hill had made accusations about an individual who does not sit in the House and who cannot respond to the allegations. Yesterday following question period she rose again to complain of unfair criticism of the same individual by the hon. members for Simcoe—Grey and Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam.
In her initial comments the hon. parliamentary secretary drew the attention of the Chair to pages 76 to 78 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice concerning the misuse of freedom of speech. She cited a ruling by Mr. Speaker Fraser quoted in Marleau and Montpetit where he urged members to exercise extreme caution when referring to individuals who are not members of the House. The same text was also quoted by the hon. President of the Treasury Board on Tuesday.
The hon. parliamentary secretary called upon the official opposition, and in particular the hon. member for Calgary—Nose Hill, to refrain from impugning motives and making accusations and allegations about people who could not defend themselves in the chamber.
Yesterday, the hon. parliamentary secretary again urged the Speaker to ask members to refrain from mentioning those who do not have the protection of the House.
In his intervention on Monday, the hon. deputy House leader of the official opposition stated that in his opinion the questions were in order and that it was legitimate to comment on testimony before a quasi-judicial inquiry. He repeated this again yesterday, noting that the opposition had no compunction about repeating here in the House of Commons, where free speech prevails, comments in the public domain based on sworn testimony.
The sage advice of Mr. Speaker Fraser quoted on Monday and yesterday by the hon. parliamentary secretary and the hon. President of the Treasury Board addressed what he calls the grave responsibilities on those who are protected by the absolute privilege of freedom of speech.
I have reviewed the full context of that quotation and wish to draw to the attention of the House the fact that these remarks of Mr. Speaker Fraser refer to statements or allegations initiated by members in the House itself. However, the remarks that offend the hon. parliamentary secretary make reference to testimony given in a public forum, before an inquiry, and widely reported in various media.
I have carefully reviewed the situation to ensure that the references made here in the House are already in the public domain and I am satisfied that this is indeed the case. If the disputed statements were thus not linked to reports in the public domain, I might be inclined to view the matter quite differently. However, under these circumstances I fail to see how I, as your Speaker, can enjoin members from referring at all to this testimony or to these media reports, all of it already public. To do so would be to impose upon the members of this House restrictions that go well beyond the normal restrictions that apply outside this House.
That said, I will continue to urge hon. members to be more judicious in their language and more temperate in their arguments, as I always do. However, I can find no prima facie case of privilege in the matter raised by the hon. parliamentary secretary at this time, although of course we will continue to monitor the questions to ensure that the material mentioned in them is already in the public domain.
I thank all hon. members for allowing me to clarify this matter.