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.