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House of Commons Hansard #105 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was care.

Topics

Foreign AffairsOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Papineau Québec

Liberal

Pierre Pettigrew LiberalMinister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, of course we share the concerns of the hon. member about the serious human rights situation in Colombia. Our embassy staff in Bogota travels to the conflict areas of Colombia to provide strong and visible support to vulnerable groups and individuals and continually urges the Colombian government, directly and through the United Nations and other organizations, to respect its international human rights obligations. Canada currently chairs a group of 24 donor countries that are working with the Colombian government, United Nations agencies and civil society organizations to promote human rights across the country.

Presence in GalleryOral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

I would like to draw to the attention of hon. members the presence in the gallery of His Excellency Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

Presence in GalleryOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

Presence in GalleryOral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

I would also like to draw to the attention of hon. members the presence in the gallery of the Honourable Greg Sorbara, Minister of Finance for the Province of Ontario.

Presence in GalleryOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege. During question period the hon. member for Ottawa Centre made reference to events that took place earlier today in the procedure and House affairs committee meeting that was being held in camera. In fact, I have the notice of today's committee meeting no. 37, which states, “Orders of the day: In camera discussion of electoral reform”.

His presentation of the facts is extremely selective. He knows full well that having raised it publicly, I am in no position to respond to his statements other than to make the point that they vary considerably from an objective review of the facts of what actually happened and certainly in spirit are basically opposite to what actually went on, in my opinion.

He did this in a way that I believe violates the privilege of the entire committee by revealing in camera proceedings and, in particular, those members from the Conservative Party whose actions are being presented in a negative light and in a way that precludes their responding without making a similar offence to the Standing Orders.

I am well aware, as you no doubt are, Mr. Speaker, that Speakers have consistently ruled that except in the most extreme situations they will only hear questions of privilege arising from committee proceedings upon presentation of a report from the committee which directly deals with the matter and not as a question of privilege raised by an individual member.

However I believe this is an extraordinary situation. I draw your attention to pages 128 and 129 of Marleau and Montpetit where it states:

Committees have reported to the House on the refusal of witnesses to appear when summoned; the refusal of witnesses to answer questions; the refusal of witnesses to provide papers or records; the refusal of individuals to obey orders of a committee; and the divulging of events during an in camera meeting.

I would think the divulging of events in a selective manner that is not fully in accord with the actual events of what took place in the committee would seem to me to be a matter that requires the personal attention of the Speaker.

When you are finished with this question of privilege, Mr. Speaker, I wish to ask for unanimous consent for the tabling of the motion that was under discussion in the House so that all members can examine it and see that in fact the hon. member from Ottawa Centre was presenting the facts highly selectively.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Ed Broadbent NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, with respect to the committee meeting that took place today in camera, what I had to say about it was factually accurate and obviously hoped it was totally consistent with the rules of the House. I did not name any particular member, nor did I cite any particular words. I described what went on. If the member wants to challenge that I welcome him to do so.

Hopefully, what will come from this is a committee in which all members will finally do some work.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, clearly what we have here is an admission of guilt. The member for Ottawa Centre has clearly indicated and confirmed the facts as presented by my colleague in the sense that he knowingly and willingly broke the confidence of that committee because that meeting took place in camera. Then he raised it here in question period which is totally inappropriate.

As my colleague says, Mr. Speaker, I hope you will rule in his favour on this question of privilege.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I do not know how the hon. House leader of the official opposition could suggest that the member for Ottawa Centre has made any admission of guilt. I think he was quite clear in pointing out that what he raised in the House today had to do with the procedure and mechanics of the committee working. He did not divulge information in terms of the substance of the motion or naming members or divulging debate.

He basically focused on the process and workings of that committee and the fact that the Conservative Party chose to operate in a way that made the committee completely inoperable and resulted in the action taken by the hon. member. In no way has this violated any ethics or privileges in the House and I hope the Speaker would agree with that.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

The Speaker

Obviously the whole question has caught the Speaker by surprise. I had no idea that the meeting of the committee in question, which was the subject of the question today, was an in camera session.

In any event, the question itself dealt with future meetings of the committee which is what made the question one that was acceptable during question period.

I will look into the matter further and review the remarks made by the hon. member for Ottawa Centre in the preamble to the question which I presume are the items objected to by the hon. member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington and of course supported by the arguments made by the hon. member for Prince George--Peace River.

I will then have regard to the arguments put forward by the hon. member for Vancouver East and the hon. member for Ottawa Centre in respect of this and get back to the House in due course.

Is the hon. member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington rising on another question of privilege out of the same question?

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

No, Mr. Speaker, I am rising on a matter that is related.

I am not revealing anything that was done in camera when I say this, but the committee was reviewing its 40th report to the House of Commons which contained a series of motions put forward by the leader of the New Democratic Party. One specific item with regard to scheduling, which I regarded as impractical, was the subject of discussion.

I will be seeking the unanimous consent of the House to present this draft report and table it here. It then will become evident that what is going on here is in fact very different from the presentation of the facts given by the member for Ottawa Centre.

For this reason, I am asking for unanimous consent to table this draft report in the House.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

The Speaker

Is there unanimous consent for the tabling of the report?

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

The Speaker

The Chair has notice of a question of privilege from the hon. member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege involving a matter where individuals or groups have been blocking telephone lines of hon. members of this House in a way that I believe prevents them from doing their work.

Erskine May defines parliamentary privilege as:

--the sum of the peculiar rights enjoyed by each House collectively [as a constituent part of the High Court of Parliament] and by members of each House individually without which they could not discharge their functions; and which exceed those possessed by other bodies or individuals.

It is about this reference in Erskine May's 20th edition that I wish to address the House.

Second, Mr. Speaker, one of your predecessors, the late Speaker Madam Jeanne Sauvé, on October 29, 1980, ruled that “...while our privileges are defined, contempt of the House has no limits”. She said, “When new ways are found to interfere with our proceedings, so too will the House, in appropriate cases, be able to find that a contempt of the House has occurred”.

Mr. Speaker, I also want to remind the House that the matter of blocking telephone lines has been ruled on by yourself, in the previous Parliament, albeit for a different reason, in the case of the then member of Parliament, Mr. Jim Pankiw, who, through actions of his own, was blocking telephone or electronic communications of other offices. The Speaker ruled at that time that was inappropriate behaviour and I do believe that rather drastic actions were taken, such as either the removal of the computer or the lines accessing it to the system.

Over the last 29 hours, my office has received no fewer than 828 faxes here on Parliament Hill. I have them here. I am willing to table them for the consideration of the Speaker if Mr. Speaker feels that this will help guide him in determining whether or not this is an abuse of what should legitimately be going on.

I want to inform the Speaker as well that we had to unplug our equipment for a number of hours because it was working all the time.

I want to inform the House as well that members of Parliament in doing their work have access to, and it is normal and it is in the public domain, telephone services. The fax machine is plugged into one of these telephone lines and is therefore an accessory to a telephone. The telephone numbers are communicated to our constituents who are able to reach us either by telephoning or sending us an electronic message by way of a fax. This equipment is no longer available and has not been for a number of members of this House for the last day and a half. I understand that other members will ask to intervene with your honour later.

In the case of my office, whereby we normally receive 40 to 50 faxes from constituents in a day, we have been able to receive a grand total of five over the last two days. The rest of the time the equipment is completely blocked. A group calling itself Focus on the Family, which has the website www.marriagematters.ca, is making it such that our telephone systems have been rendered inoperative this way.

I also want to bring to the attention of the House of Commons that a similar case in the province of Ontario was brought to the attention of the courts. An individual by the name of William Murdoch had plugged up the fax machine of a provincial member of the Ontario legislature. He was convicted in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice under article 430(1)(c) of the Criminal Code which makes it an offence to utilize a telephone line to harass anyone.

Mr. Speaker will be familiar with the fact that there was a criminal conviction for doing precisely the same thing in another place to another member of Parliament, albeit in that a case a provincial member of Parliament.

I notice that some members over there feel that my constituents' not being able to reach me is not in their view an issue of privilege and it is one which they choose to heckle as opposed to treating it seriously.

Marleau and Montpetit says on page 84:

Speakers have consistently upheld the right of the House to the services of its Members free from intimidation, obstruction and interference.

That obstruction, intimidation and interference manifests itself when 1,000 pieces of electronic data are sent to my office in a way that prevents every constituent of Glengarry—Prescott—Russell from reaching me. Furthermore, the notices sent by officers of the House to members to appear in committee and otherwise are often sent by fax as well. That is not accessible either.

I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that this is a bona fide case for privilege, that the organization in question, in my view, is guilty of contempt of Parliament. If the Speaker so rules, I would be prepared to move the appropriate motion to refer this to the parliamentary committee, which I have the honour and privilege to chair.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg, QC

Mr. Speaker, the problem pointed out by the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell is a concern to me at the present time.

I have received more than 1,000 faxes in 36 hours. When this is done, people from the riding of Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, who often communicate with my office in Ottawa by fax, are prevented from doing so by a group that is monopolizing an essential tool for all members of this House. Being able to contact one's member is a basic right in our democratic society.

We have also received more than 2,300 e-mails since Monday morning. This uses the resources of House servers, as you know, and once again impedes the legitimate communications of my office because of the delays caused by heavy e-mail traffic.

In addition, the time needed just to sort through all this monopolizes my employees' time. When this is done, not only are electronic communications blocked, to the detriment of people in Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles who want to contact their member, but my employees have greater difficulty providing the people of Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles with the services to which they are entitled and which they expect from their representative in the federal Parliament.

I will be brief because the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell has already done a good job pointing this out. It is therefore an infringement on the privileges of members of Parliament because they cannot do their work properly or remain in contact with the citizens in their ridings. In addition, thousands of Quebeckers and Canadians could not contact their federal member.

That having been said, something concrete must be done to put a stop to this kind of activity.

I see my friend from Calgary Southwest getting ready to speak. I think that he will probably defend what is being done. It might be of interest to him, though, that it could be his office that is blocked and he could be unable to do his work. That could very easily happen to him next week or maybe even tomorrow.

I ask that action be taken to ensure that these kinds of activities, these attacks on the privileges of members of Parliament, are stopped.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I understand the concern raised by my two hon. friends, but I believe that this is, in the eight years I have been here, one of the more specious efforts to find a prima facie question of privilege.

What the two members have raised is quite simply the fact that several hundred Canadian citizens who pay taxes to support this place have used public telecommunication lines, supported by Parliament, to contact members of Parliament, which is their every right and privilege.

It is our duty, Sir, to receive those communications in the discharge of our public office. We cannot, until we receive a message, discern whether or not that message comes from a constituent. Indeed, I would submit, and I am sure both of my colleagues would agree with me, that the duties of a member of Parliament extend beyond simply communicating with our constituents.

I do not know but perhaps some of the several hundred messages received by the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell came from his constituents. However, I find it difficult to understand when the member says that it is now effectively impossible for constituents to send him faxes because other people are. If he is receiving faxes, it is because it is possible to reach him.

From time to time, we all receive large numbers of communications, whether telephonic, computerized or through telephonic facsimile, and sometimes it is difficult for our staff to process them in a short period of time. However, we are here to listen to Canadians.

For my friend in the Bloc Québécois to suggest that this is an attack, the simple fact of citizens wishing to communicate with members of Parliament on an issue of public moment constitutes an attack on anyone, really is absurd.

It is equally absurd for the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell to characterize conveying public views on an important public matter before Parliament as “harassment”. It is simply free, political speech with elected representatives of the Parliament of Canada.

I think, Sir, for you even to consider receiving this as a question of privilege would be to throw into question that free expression to elected members of Parliament.

If there is a logistical need for additional means to contact us so that lines are not clogged, then perhaps the House administration should explore those logistical issues. However, the solution to receiving too much input from Canadians is not to find that democratic expression of opinion constitutes harassment, or an attack or a violation of the privileges of members of the House. If a logistical solution needs to be made in terms of additional or overflow fax lines or email accounts, I am sure that solution can be found.

However, let us not begin censoring Canadians from contacting their members of Parliament and mischaracterizing free political expression as harassment. That, Sir, is specious.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I understand that another member has an issue related to this, so I will be brief. One of the faxes I have received is from someone impersonating a member of the House. I have received several copies of those as well.

I consider this to be very serious as well. It is all part of these 828 faxes that I have received, some of them from people impersonating members of the House. If members do not think that is serious, I ask them to review it again.

Finally, I remind the House that an almost identical case in the province of Ontario was judged to be a criminal offence. A conviction was rendered. On appeal, the appellant lost and the conviction stood.

In that case, harassing a provincial member of parliament by blocking the member's fax system deliberately to prevent anyone else from communicating with him or her is a criminal offence. If it is a criminal offence to do so, it at least offends my privileges as a member of Parliament because my constituents cannot reach me.

That is clear in my mind. It was clear in the judge's mind. It was clear in the appellate court's mind that this was the case at another level. For members today to pretend that this is not serious, that it is somehow legitimate to plug up the communication system of a member of the House, I say the day will come when someone will interfere with their communications.

Just as was the case many hundreds of years ago, people attempted to interfere with the access and egress of members to the parliament of the United Kingdom from where came the decisions of one of your predecessors, Mr. Speaker: freedom of molestation. Freedom of molestation was the freedom of access to that place. In modern terms it is the access for our constituents to be able to reach us. It is same thing by extension.

I bring it to the attention of the House, hoping for a favourable ruling.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Gouk Conservative Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to be very clear on this. I want to give due consideration to the hon. member if he has a legitimate complaint. In his last presentation he said that the people who were faxing him were doing it deliberately to block his ability to communicate.

I heard my colleague talk about something totally different. He talked about the right of people to communicate with elected representatives across the country. If I were trying to jam the hon. member's fax machine, I would do it with one continuous feed of nonsense stuff anonymously sent so that it would not stop because if it did, then someone else could send something.

Maybe he could clarify this. Is this a single continuous stream of nonsense or are they legitimate letters signed by individuals asking for something that is the appropriate business of the House?

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, the letters are all identical. They are all generated from the same place in a systematic way. Some of them have been produced by way of someone clicking on a machine dozens and dozens of times. In other words in some cases there are dozens of identical letters coming out in sequence on the fax machine. No one legitimately contacts a member of Parliament by transmitting an identical message produced by someone else by way of a computer generated system in Vancouver to someone in Sarsfield, Ontario, which is where I live, or a member of Parliament from the other end of the country or anyone else.

That is not the way in which to communicate with a member of Parliament. We all have a right to communicate with each other. On the other hand, there is a point where the harassment threshold arrives. We all know that. If I phone my neighbour once, that is legitimate. If I were to phone him 35 times in half an hour, the police would be at my door because that would not be legitimate, and we all know that is what it is.

I have the documents, which I am willing to table, examples of dozens and dozens of the same letter being generated within minutes from the same sender, the same donor, if that is what they call themselves, of this information in sequence. None of these letters are signed. They are all computer generated and the computer generated names at the bottom some of them purport to be hon. members of the House.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, not an hour ago we heard the Deputy Prime Minister stand and tell the House that it was the Conservative Party that was not respecting the Charter of Rights. Now we listen to an hon. member talk about not wanting to receive faxes.

From my perspective, I have had emails flood into my office on this similar issue, 1,500 to 2,000 a day, for which I have had to bring in additional staff so the rights of Canadians can be heard. I think the hon. member has failed to prove to the House that any of his constituents' rights were denied.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Fitzpatrick Conservative Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is more a question for clarification. The hon. member referred to a provincial MLA that took the matter up with the police. The person was subsequently charged and the criminal justice system dealt with the matter. If I am understanding the hon. member, he is saying that he has a similar problem as the person in the provincial system. I am curious whether the member taken the matter up with the police.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not think one has to be around this place for as long as I have to know that the privileges of members of Parliament are not protected by way of the provincial courts or even in this case the superior courts.

What I was indicating by way of analogy is that this is an offence to do so in the systematic way that it is done. If it is an offence against the Criminal Code, whether I attempt to lay an information or not--or whether other members do, as I am not the only one; there are probably a dozen of us who have been similarly affected--was raised by way of indicating the seriousness of what is here. What I do as a private citizen otherwise I will deal with myself.

The issue is still that one, our Speaker ruled in the past that tampering with telephone service was deemed to be unacceptable. Two, in a similar way at the provincial level this kind of activity has been judged to be a criminal offence. Three, no one can convince me that the same person sending dozens and dozens of computer generated faxes one after the other is in any way representation before an MP. This is harassment of members of Parliament who sit on a committee of the House to do a job assigned by the House of Commons.

I hope I am not being repetitive, Mr. Speaker. I am responding pursuant to your instructions to something that was raised by a member on the other side of the House.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:35 p.m.

The Speaker

The Chair will take the matter under advisement.

I would like to thank the hon. members for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell and Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, as well as the other members who raised questions about this issue. I would like to thank the hon. member for Calgary Southeast for his comments and contribution.

I will take the matter under advisement and get back to the House in due course and render a ruling on this matter which I hope will satisfy the hon. member for Glengarry--Prescott--Russell and all the other hon. members who made submissions.

Perhaps the hon. member for Glengarry--Prescott--Russell rather than table the documentation could make it available to the Chair so I could have a look at it in the course of deliberations on this matter.