Mr. Speaker, I rise to support this privilege motion today.
The minority Conservative government has made drastic cuts and has given notice to the Law Commission of Canada which will, for all practical purposes, eliminate the working of this independent federal law reform agency.
The Law Commission of Canada was established on July 1, 1997, under an act of the Parliament of Canada entitled the Law Commission of Canada Act, which was assented to on the May 29, 1996. This act provides that the commission is an independent departmental corporation that is accountable to the Parliament of Canada through the Minister of Justice. This is explicitly set out in sections 2 and 6 of the act.
Under section 7, the act further requires the appointment of a president and four other commissioners. Subsections 11(1) and 11(2) provide that the president and the commissioners shall be remunerated. That requires funds.
Under subsection 15(1) we see that an “executive director of the Commission, and such other officers and employees as are necessary for the proper conduct of the work of the Commission, shall be appointed in accordance with the Public Service Employment Act”.
Subsection 18(1) established a council consisting of not less than 12 and not more than 24 members, called the Law Commission of Canada Advisory Council.
Section 19 went further and stated that the council “shall advise the Commission on the Commission's strategic directions and long-term program of studies”.
The duties are stated in subsection 5(1):
The Commission shall
(a) consult with the Minister of Justice with respect to the annual program of studies that it proposes to undertake; ...and
(c) submit to the Minister any report that it has initiated itself or on the request of the Minister.
Therefore, both options are available to this group.
Section 23 requires that “the President shall submit to the Minister of Justice an annual report of the activities of the Commission in that year”.
Section 24 requires that the “Minister of Justice shall cause a copy of any report of the Commission to be tabled in each House of Parliament”.
Finally, section 25 requires that the “Minister of Justice shall cause a copy of the Minister’s response to any report of the Commission to be tabled in each House of Parliament”.
Mr. Speaker, the words of the statute are mandatory words, as you would know, stating “shall”, not “may”.
When the previous Progressive Conservative government, under Prime Minister Mulroney, ended the work of the predecessor Law Reform Commission, which was also constructed by a similar act of Parliament, the Law Reform Commission Act, it had to repeal the act and did so in 1993. The work of the Law Reform Commission was mandated by Parliament. Thus, we do have the precedent of having to end the work of the current Law Commission in the same manner.
This minority government cannot unilaterally decide that it will ignore statutes put in place by Parliament. These decisions serve parliamentarians. It is particularly appalling that the Minister of Justice is choosing to ignore the instruction of a law of this chamber which addresses the members of Parliament in both Houses.
Under section 3, we see that:
The purpose of the Commission is to study and keep under systematic review, in a manner that reflects the concepts and institutions of the common law and civil law systems, the law of Canada and its effects with a view to providing independent advice on improvements, modernization and reform that will ensure a just legal system that meets the changing needs of Canadian society....
Is this another case where the government, as in the case of the firearms registry, is trying to slash critical funding instead of coming back to this Parliament and these parliamentarians to debate and decide the future of the statutorily instituted Law Commission of Canada?
The Law Commission of Canada Act created Canada's internationally respected Law Commission. What the funding cuts to this commission that were announced last week accomplish is the virtual elimination of the commission. It has been advised that it is to cease operation within the next couple of months. Under what authority can the government do this?
This, I believe, is a contempt of this Parliament, of the members of this Parliament and, through us, of the public of Canada. We have a statute on the books that if Parliament is to be served by this commission, it has to have funds to operate. It cannot be a shell.
We cannot have a Minister of Justice in this country who sits and chooses to watch this happen. He is part of the cabinet that makes these decisions on funding cuts. He knows that this is a statute. Do other Canadians then follow the example and choose what statutes they should look to and which ones to ignore?
Mr. Speaker, I believe and I heartily hope that you will find there is a prima facie case of privilege. I believe this is even a contempt of this Parliament.