Mr. Speaker, on March 29 I did raise a question of privilege and today I would draw your attention to information relevant to this matter.
None of the information that follows was available to me on March 29 and I was therefore unable to place it before you at that time. It is my belief that this information demonstrates that the primary responsibility for the fact that the documents in question were retained for over a year, inspected in detail and selectively shown to assembled media lies with staff at the office of the Leader of the Opposition, acting, at least in part, with the knowledge and consent of the Leader of the Opposition himself.
Mr. Speaker, I had mentioned the Leader of the Opposition in the letters in which I notified you on March 29 that I would be rising later in the day on a question of privilege but at that time I was not yet aware of the degree to which the Leader of the Opposition and his staff had taken the lead role in this matter. That degree has now been made clear to me and I will seek to make it clear to you.
First, it is clear that one or more staffers at the office of the Leader of the Opposition retained my personnel file in the full knowledge that its contents were personal information and, moreover, that they looked inside my file, as well as inside the files of each of the 33 other individuals in their possession. The following facts demonstrate this quite clearly.
At a news conference on March 26, the personnel records were spread out in the foyer of the Wellington Building for the media to inspect and for cameras to record. A glance at the resulting video footage, which the Liberal Party posted on its website, shows that while OLO staff made a cursory effort to hide the really personal information and to expose just the top part of individual personal records, such a display could scarcely have been made without the persons who were handling the documents seeing their contents.
I can think of no case in Canadian history where personnel documents have been treated and displayed in such an unseemly manner. Over and over again in the footage, the word “confidential” is clearly stamped at the top of the documents that the Liberals were displaying to the cameras, along with the names of the persons being reviewed and, in some cases, the name of the reviewer and some additional details. I should note that the Leader of the Opposition allowed this footage to remain on his party's website for several weeks and it is still posted there even as we speak.
In fact, this morning the Liberal Party launched its new website to much fanfare and made sure to retain and to continue to display these confidential personnel files on the new website. Included as a new feature of the website is the capacity for website users to zoom in and examine the visible parts of the documents online at higher degrees of resolution.
At the March 26 news conference, the hon. member for Ajax—Pickering, who had been the Liberal lead spokesman on the matter, gave the following detailed description of the contents of the files which he could not possibly have done unless the files themselves had been examined in detail. He said, “What we are returning today consists, among other things, of 174 personnel evaluations over five years of 34 different employees containing deeply personal information. In our opinion, this represents a gross negligence that the government could leave this much, 174 personal evaluations containing very detailed information on employees, comments by their managers, comments by researchers, comments by 10 sitting MPs and by other members of Parliament not currently sitting”.
We should not, however, conclude from his detailed description that the hon. member is the primary culprit here. In an article in the March 26 edition of The Hill Times, the hon. member's executive assistant was paraphrased as saying that a few individual files from the much larger stash of 30 boxes worth of documents were only passed to the member on March 21. Apparently they were given to him on the basis that the hon. member has a reputation among Liberals for being aggressive. That was his executive assistant's choice of words, not mine.
Additionally, in a press release dated April 4 and posted on his website, the hon. member for Ajax—Pickering made the following statement, “At no time did I read the contents of any of the personnel files. In fact, I had no contact whatsoever with these files other than at the news conference. I am told the personnel files were found lying in drawers and that once researchers discovered what they were, they were put aside and not read”.
Of course, the member made a similar indication in the House today.
If the member never had any contact with the contents of the personnel folders and was only involved with any of the recovered Conservative documents during a five day period between March 21 and 26, then the only way he could have had such detailed information about the contents of the personnel folders would have been if the opposition leader's researchers had read through these files and had provided him with the details that he repeated in front of the cameras. This means, of course, that when the same researchers told the hon. member that they had set the personnel files aside unread, they were not telling the truth.
The form in which the files were discovered by the Liberals is of considerable importance. Opening boxes that are addressed to someone else and rifling through the contents is closely akin to intercepting and opening someone else's mail which is, of course, against the law. This is presumably why the Liberal whip told Mike Duffy on March 26:
This wasn't field mail that got misdirected that we opened under the cover of darkness. These were memos that were lying there....
It is by no means certain that the documents were simply lying there.
Here we have to contend with three mutually contradictory versions of how the documents fell into Liberal hands. All three of these versions were provided by the hon. member for Ajax—Pickering. In version one, all the files were found in boxes. In version two, some of the documents were in boxes and some were loose. In version three, none of the documents were found in boxes.
Here is version one as summarized on PoliticsWatch.com on March 26. The report states:
The Liberals discovered the documents in the research bureau that the Tories vacated "three months" after the election, according to [the member for Ajax—Pickering].
[The member for Ajax—Pickering] said the Liberals didn't get around to sifting through the boxes of abandoned documents until recently because it was not a "priority" at the time.
The Liberals incorrectly assumed the boxes contained nothing but garbage.
That directly contradicts what he said today.
Here is version two as reported by Juliette O'Neil of CanWest following the March 26 news conference at which the boxes of documents were shown to the media. She said:
The Liberals said some of the documents were found in drawers of offices abandoned by the Conservatives and others were in boxes.
Here is version three in the form of a direct quote from the hon. member for Ajax—Pickering in the April 2 edition of The Hill Times:
These were files and documents that we found in files and desks. The boxes that they were put in were left behind as empty boxes that may have been used, but most of these were just files that were left in drawers, left on tables, and left in haphazard ways all around the office.
To be precise about things, there is a fourth version.
Back on March 22, when it was still a secret that the Liberals had boxes of Conservative documents in their possession, a press release was issued by the hon. member for Ajax—Pickering, which I believe is still on his website, stating that he was “referring to documents that came anonymously into his possession”.
I think we can just dismiss this fourth version of things as a simple invention since, within days of the claim of anonymous informants, the hon. member's executive assistant was boasting that his boss had been handed these documents by opposition researchers because of his reputation for aggressiveness.
Which of the other three versions is correct remains unclear to me. I do not really trust the responsible parties to tell the truth about whether the law was broken and by which individuals unless they are compelled to do so before a committee of this House.
I must say, however, that the version of this situation which seems most likely to me does involve all or most of the boxes being in files. It seems likely to me that in the course of the exchange of research office space between the incoming and outgoing governments, the movers made a mixup and some of the boxes were rerouted to their point of origin rather than to their intended destination.
I participated in a similar rotation of office space in 1997 when the research staffs of the Reform Party and the Bloc Québécois exchanged offices. I recall that the situation with boxes coming and going was inherently confusing. Because one set of offices had to be emptied before the contents of the other could be brought in, it was necessary to leave pallet loads of boxes at marshalling points in the lobby of the Wellington Building overnight where the only security was that they were shrink wrapped.
As the researcher assigned to the national unity file at the time, I was in possession of documents that I felt were sensitive and in the end, just to be sure I would see them again, I dressed in jeans, found a dolly and moved my own boxes myself.
In February 2006, similar concerns for an efficient move in which no documents would be left behind caused the office manager of the Conservative offices to take certain precautions about leaving documents behind. As the final stage of moving out of their old offices, a small crew of Conservative staffers did a final sweep through the Wellington Street offices that they were leaving. I am informed that they systematically went through filing cabinets and desk drawers, affixing a post-it note to the front of each drawer after it was checked as a visual confirmation that it was empty and calling out to each other as they confirmed that each individual office had been emptied of all documents.
One staffer relates how she even took care to remove errant clothing items that had been left behind and to return them to their rightful owners. This same staffer tells me that she recognizes her own handwriting on the address label affixed to one of the boxes that was returned by the Liberals.
Unless I have been lied to by the people who described this process to me, then the documents recovered by the Liberals really are, to use the words of the Liberal whip, “field mail that got misdirected” and was “opened under the cover of darkness”. That means the law has been broken by the Office of the Leader of the Opposition, which has been in possession of stolen property.
Under such circumstances, it is not just the personnel files that must be answered for. I had the chance last week to go through some of the boxes of material that have been returned, not the personnel files, but other boxes. In one box, I found a number of confidential documents that I had written after I became a member of Parliament.
These were not documents intended for Liberal eyes. It was not their right to see these documents even if the documents had been left behind as the result of the kind of “gross negligence” that the hon. members for Ajax—Pickering and Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine spoke of at their press conference when they were returning the boxes.
To be clear, this was private correspondence and private memoranda. Therefore, it is astonishing that nobody on the Liberal side is denying that the Liberals read through it. Indeed, a March 26 news story states that a “researcher, whose name the Office of the Leader of the Opposition would not release, had been slowly working on the thousands of pages of documents left behind by the Conservatives”.
The reading of this mail represents a further unlawful violation of my privacy. It also fills me with concern on a further point. One of the media reports of the March 26 news conference states the following:
[The hon. member for Ajax—Pickering] said the Liberals are keeping approximately 10 other boxes of documents the Tories left behind... As for the remaining 10 boxes, [the hon. member] said the Liberals would continue to examine the contents to ascertain whether or not there's anything in them in the “public interest”.
Unless I am mistaken about how these boxes fell into Liberal hands, this too is possession of stolen property. As well, these documents are likely to be materials that cannot be examined without violating privacy rights, just as my memos could not be examined without violating my privacy. Also, all of this is being done with the full knowledge of the Leader of the Opposition. It is being done by people on his payroll and it is being done on premises under his control.
This means that the Leader of the Opposition is guilty at this moment of facilitating actions that are an ongoing contempt of Parliament, unless, of course, as the hon. member for Ajax—Pickering says in contradiction to his earlier statement in the House today, there are no additional boxes of materials and those 10 boxes were yet another fabrication that he himself made up on March 26, and which, I might add, the Leader of the Opposition took no effort to refute at any time or, as far as I can tell, check into, although of course I am not privy to everything that went on over there.
Mr. Speaker, there is a final reason why I believe you should refer this as a matter of privilege and of contempt of Parliament to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The very people who have retained these documents for over a year, who have characterized them as deeply personal and who have characterized the unintentional misplacing of these documents as gross negligence and a matter of deep concern, felt free to keep them and free to abuse them in this manner.
The hon. member for Ajax—Pickering went so far as to say at his March 26 news conference, “If I'm one of the 34 people who had my personnel files left behind I'd be having a lot of questions and I'd be very upset”.
I am one of the 34 people whose personnel files were left behind, I am very upset, and I actually do have a lot of questions.
Specifically, I have the following seven questions that can be answered only if the responsible parties are compelled to appear before a committee of Parliament to provide answers that make sense, rather than the mutually contradictory accounts we have been given up to this point by the hon. member for Ajax—Pickering.
Number one: were the personnel files found in drawers, as he now claims, in which case their sensitive nature would have been obvious at once? If so, why were these personnel files kept knowingly for a full year?
Number two: were any of the documents, including correspondence from me to other MPs, found in boxes, in which case, effectively, the researchers were intercepting and reading misdirected mail?
Number three: which researchers participated in these acts and which members of the opposition leader's staff knew about the fact that this was ongoing and failed to act to stop it?
Number four: were any of the documents photocopied, scanned or otherwise reproduced?
Number five: when did the Leader of the Opposition become aware of the fact that his staff had possession of these sensitive documents, and why, upon achieving this knowledge, did he fail to act?
Number six: why is the Leader of the Opposition continuing to allow private correspondence to be read by his staff right now, unless it turns out that the latest version of the facts by the hon. member for Ajax—Pickering is the real one? In that case, he would have to explain why he allowed the implication to exist that they had compromising documents they were going through in the “public interest”.
Number seven: why is the Leader of the Opposition allowing images of confidential documents to be displayed on his website and will he remove them at once?
Mr. Speaker, if you find there is a prima facie case that the Leader of the Opposition or members of his staff have breached my privileges, or that their actions may put them in contempt of Parliament, I will be prepared to move the appropriate motion.