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House of Commons Hansard #114 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was region.

Topics

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

5 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

It was meanspirited, I thought.

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5 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Yes, Mr. Speaker, the member for Winnipeg Centre says it was meanspirited, and I think it was.

Because members of the Conservative government are nervous when we start talking about the real impact of Bill C-7, they jump up to try to shut down any mention of Bill C-7. It is very similar to the libel chill SLAPP suit that we are talking about in the motion itself, which is essentially that libel chill they exhibit here in the House. When we start talking about the impacts, boy, they just jump up and try to shut us down. It is very unfortunate, but we are certainly seeing their reaction in the House. I cannot understand this, but I will come back to it later. Now--

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5 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Selkirk--Interlake is rising on a point of order.

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5 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member is just using bafflegab and filling up his time with words. He is not dealing with the relevance of the motion. He is trying to refer to Bill C-7 and he is jumping all over the place, but he is not tying anything in to the debate about referring the Speaker's ruling to the procedure and House affairs committee and making sure that the privileges of members of the House are protected.

Mr. Speaker, I ask that you rule that he stays focused. That may be very difficult for him, but I would ask that he keep his comments on par with what we are discussing.

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5 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

I thank the hon. member for Selkirk—Interlake and I ask the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster to sit until I sit.

I will seek from the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster the goodwill and good faith for which I know him to focus his remarks on the motion that was presented by the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River, and to wait for the other debates that are being scheduled in order to debate those other issues.

I would ask him to focus on the issue at hand. I trust that he can do that.

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5 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, this is very much related to the matter at hand. It is the whole question of libel chill and SLAPP suits.

I would like to go back to the evolution. Obviously, Conservatives do not like any mention of the words “air safety”, so I will stay away from mentioning SMS, self-serve safety, and the unsafe skies act. I will stay away from all those issues and focus on the motion, but it is important to note that when there are sensitive issues, there is a libel chill that is possible.

The ruling of the Speaker today is very salutary because it essentially says that those libel chills, those SLAPP suits, are inappropriate given the nature of parliamentary privilege. The Speaker said very clearly in his ruling that it is the responsibility of the Speaker to act as the guardian of the rights and privileges of members and of the House as an institution.

He cited Marleau and Montpetit, which of course as you know, Mr. Speaker, is our parliamentary bible. He went on to quote Marleau and Montpetit to say that the duty of the Speaker is to ensure that the right of members to free speech is protected and exercised to the fullest possible extent.

Therefore, when we talk about air safety, we are protecting free speech and the ability to speak on that issue. I am making a link between air safety issues, though certain Conservative members in the House do not like that, and the issue of libel chill and SLAPP suits.

How did these rights develop? We can go back to the Magna Carta, which was the first document that essentially said that there was no longer absolute power, that there were rights to free speech that were enshrined for democratically elected representatives. Of course, in those days, we are talking 900 years ago--

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5 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Again, I must interrupt the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster. The hon. member for Eglinton—Lawrence is rising on a point of order.

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5 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I just want to point out to the member for Burnaby—New Westminster that as long as he is going to make historical references, he should actually go beyond the Magna Carta.

The Magna Carta and all that preceded it was based on the premise of the courts of assize. The courts of assize, as you well know, of course, Mr. Speaker, was an invention some would say by the Normans who preceded all of the anglo developments that followed William of Normandy. Those first courts of assize took place in my home town.

I wonder if the member for Burnaby—New Westminster--

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5:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Order. It is with regret that I interrupt the hon. member for Eglinton—Lawrence. We are all anxious to listen to the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster and I am sure that under questions and comments, the hon. member for Eglinton—Lawrence will bring these points up.

Meanwhile, the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster has the floor for another six and a half minutes.

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5:05 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

I will have to disagree with you on one point, Mr. Speaker. It is quite obvious that Liberals and Conservatives in the House are not interested in hearing at all about parliamentary privilege and how it relates to speaking out against their safety issues. They just pop up the moment the words “air” or “safety” or “protect safe skies” are mentioned.

I will not go back beyond the Magna Carta because I only have a little over six minutes left in my time, although I know my colleagues will be bringing that up and particularly the 11th and 12th century. I am going to have to skip over that evolution.

The important principle that was enshrined in the Magna Carta for the first time was the right to parliamentary free speech and that right was shared by nobility. It was not widespread to everyone. It was the first time that absolute monarchs actually had their ability to shut down democratic debate curtailed. That was a fundamental evolution in the development of our parliamentary system, one that has been copied and used around the world.

In subsequent centuries, the ability for free speech was gradually widened. Through the civil wars in the 16th century a battle took place around the right to free parliamentary speech and absolute despotism was in constant conflict. It was not as if there was a linear development of parliamentary free speech or parliamentary privilege throughout this period. There were times when we went backward. There were times when despotism imposed itself, even in the British parliamentary system that we use today.

We come to the 18th century and the foundation of the first parliament in Nova Scotia in what is now known as Canada, the country that we are all proud to represent.

From that point on in 1758 legislatures developed throughout Canada the gradual enshrining of democratic free speech and parliamentary privilege. That continued on up until this Parliament.

What happened in this Parliament? That is really the question. Why are we debating this motion today rather than talking about air safety or unsafe skies? We are talking about this parliamentary motion because something happened over the last few months. What happened was the provision for libel chill.

Through a number of circumstances detailed by the member for Winnipeg Centre the definition of parliamentary privilege was essentially reduced. If a lawsuit was brought in, whether legitimate or not, whether spurious or not, a member, according to the definition, was circumscribed from speaking out on that issue. That is the problem. That is what we are looking at here. Essentially, that libel chill was brought in as a result of government direction and as a result of that interpretation.

That is why the member for Scarborough—Rouge River raised this important point of privilege. That is why today, fortunately, we have the Speaker's ruling on this issue of parliamentary privilege.

Mr. Speaker, I will ask you at this time just to indicate to me visually how many minutes remain in my time because, as I mentioned, I will be providing an amendment at the end of my speech. If you could advise me when there is a minute left I will be more than pleased to offer my amendment, which I am sure will trigger more discussion in the House on this important issue, and I am sure will trigger more points of order from the Conservatives who object to any mention or discussion around air safety.

We have the Speaker's ruling, your ruling, Mr. Speaker, and I am speaking of you as part of a collective body of Speakers.

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5:05 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

The royal you.

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5:05 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

The royal you, as the member for Hamilton Centre says.

This interpretation is an extremely important one. It says that it appears reasonable to conclude that the privileges of all members are immediately placed in jeopardy by this so-called provision of a libel suit that places restrictions on the ability of a member to speak and to vote in the House and committee.

That is really the importance of the motion today. But we believe in this corner of the House, always working to improve things, that this motion could be improved and as a result, after free speech, I will propose the following amendment.

I move to add, after the words “free speech”:

and ensuring nothing in the Conflict of Interest Code of the Standing Orders inadvertently interferes with or diminishes any privileges of the members of the House of Commons.

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5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

I will take the amendment under advisement for the moment.

Questions and comments. The hon. member for Winnipeg Centre.

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5:10 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I found it useful that the member for Burnaby—New Westminster guided us through some of the parliamentary history that got us to the set of privileges that we enjoy and value in the House of Commons today.

I remind members that the motion put forward by my colleague from Scarborough—Rouge River uses language that I think captures both the tone as well as the content of what we are trying to achieve today, when he makes reference to the ancient and undoubted privilege of free speech. I find that almost romantic. It is really quite beautiful the way that he has phrased that.

I want to thank my colleague for guiding us through the stepping stones of development that got us to the situation we enjoy today.

I think it would be helpful for the people back home who may be watching this today if there were other examples that we could cite that may possibly come up where members of Parliament would be barred, prohibited or blocked from commenting on in the business or the corporate or the commercial world.

In the transportation industry, for instance, would there be examples in the state of affairs that is developing in that commercial sector where it would want MPs to stop talking about it? It would be instructive, I think, if we had an example at hand that he could share with us today.

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5:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Winnipeg Centre because the example that I can give, given that he has asked me this question, is the issue of transportation safety and bills before this House, such as Bill C-7.

The bill is a very clear example of where libel chill or a SLAPP suit could essentially impinge on members of Parliament. There are, for example, the NDP members in this House, who have been fighting Bill C-7. This is a bill that essentially provides for self-serve safety, delegation of safety to the companies themselves. There are company CEOs, some of which will do a good job and some of whom will not do a good job.

We have been comparing what has actually happened in SMS, first with rail safety and, subsequently, the imposition of SMS in business aircraft. In both cases, we saw an increase in the number of fatalities and an increase in the number of derailments.

If we were speaking out on those issues, it is quite likely, as the member for Winnipeg Centre references in his question, that we could have a spurious lawsuit because we were using facts and responsibility. That is what we are raising. Essentially, we could have a SLAPP suit brought in if we kept on before today's Speaker's ruling and before this motion was brought before the House. Such a libel chill or SLAPP suit would, essentially, circumscribe us from being able to comment on those issues.

We could not comment on the fact that it did not work for railway safety, that it made things worse. We could not say that SMS did not work for business aircraft safety, that it made things worse. Surely, particularly with the cutbacks that we have seen in flight inspectors, a couple of hundred positions that have basically been gutted and are unfilled through attrition, that essentially this means the same sort of dangers inherent in bringing SMS into commercial aircraft.

If I were to raise that in the House, we could have a libel chill. The member for Winnipeg Centre is doing Canadians a favour by raising this issue. It is something that could happen if we do not adopt this motion and the amendment that I have offered as well, and if we do not move forward to ensure that this decision of the Speaker is enshrined in the House of Commons.

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5:15 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Burnaby—New Westminster for his amendment.

As I have been sitting here listening to this debate, I am reminded of what I used to speak to new Canadians when they come to Canada, and the member for Hamilton Centre will have heard me in Hamilton when I point to the pin that I wear that allows me access to this place and gives recognition of my status, having been elected as a member of Parliament to speak on behalf of my constituents.

It strikes me, the fear that that would transfer from this House to there, if the ruling had not come down in favour of protecting us, particularly because some new Canadians come from countries where they fear their government, they fear their police and they fear their military and we would be adding one more chill to all of this.

Again, I commend the member and would ask him if he feels the same would occur in his community.

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5:15 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek has been doing a stellar job on the subcommittee on human rights, which is part of foreign affairs and international trade. I know he has the congratulations of members from all four corners of the House.

He is raising these issues of human rights internationally, so he knows very well of what he is speaking. He is absolutely right as well. Rights are not something that can simply be diminished. Rights are something that must be maintained and any diminution of the human rights that we have, such as the right to speak, need to closely safeguarded against. We need to ensure that kind of thing does not happen.

That is exactly what happened with the libel chill SLAPP suit provisions that the Conservatives were bringing in. That is exactly the kind of thing that we saw happen and the Speaker's ruling, thankfully, very clearly contradicts that. It clearly says:

For these reasons I believe the matter [raised by the member for Scarborough--Rouge River] has met the necessary conditions to be given priority consideration by the House and accordingly I rule that this is a prima facie matter of privilege and I invite the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River to move his motion.

Therefore, Mr. Speaker, your collective decision has then been essentially incorporated into the motion that would allow this ruling to be brought to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and then reported to the House. The NDP has moved what we believe to be a further improvement to the motion as originally moved by the member for Scarborough—Rouge River.

I thank the member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek for his question. As always, it is relevant, right to the point and effective.

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5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Notwithstanding the pun about the royal you, the royal we find the amendment to be in order, although not in the usual penmanship that we find with our normal clerks.

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5:20 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, we need to underscore the importance of this debate. I know there are probably government members who will at some point, either on the floor or in some fashion, be asking why are we wasting our time on this when we should be dealing with blah, blah, blah.

The reality is that stopping and dealing with these kinds of fundamental issues are crucial when they happen because we soon forget about them and go on about our daily business. This is not a partisan issue and it is not even about us. It is about those people who are elected to sit here. Today it is us but there will be a day when it will be someone else. So this is about the rights of members of Parliament. As time goes on, those issues will pop up and at that moment, as you had to do today, Mr. Speaker, and as the Table had to do, there is a scramble to determine what the ruling should be.

The first thing that is looked at is the precedent for when it came up in the past, what was said, what the circumstances were and whether any of them were similar to the issue at hand. It could be decades before anything remotely similar comes up. However, a parliament in the future expects that those who came before would have done their job, just as we are fortunate enough that parliamentarians who came before us took the time to lay down the foundations that are truly the basis for our democracy in this great country. Therefore, this is important.

It would be fair for someone to ask, because I know it crossed my mind, that we have had the issue come up, we have had the ruling, we had a review and another report as a result of actions taken by the House, what is left to do? That is a fair question. The amendment is particularly important because it talks about ensuring that if there are any unexpected results from this rule change, which, in the world of the CIA is called “blowback”, will it affect other things that we have not thought of. Given the fundamental importance of this issue, it makes every good sense to ensure we do the job thoroughly and properly.

If the committee could spend as little as five minutes taking a look at it and saying that everything is okay, so be it. However, if it is not, we need to grab it now, wrestle with it while the issue is fresh in front of us, while we have actually made changes to our Standing Orders or the code which forms part of our Standing Orders, so that when it comes up again in the future the homework will have been done and we will have done collectively what we believed was the best we could do in the interest of current and future parliamentarians.

If anyone thinks that this is all inside baseball, that nobody really cares about this and that even though we can think it is a big deal, no one else does, I would like to place on the record two editorials from the Globe and Mail. Unless I missed the memo, the Globe and Mail is still considered to be the national paper of record. That is the paper that takes it upon itself to watch the national scene in a very detailed way on a regular basis as opposed to most of the other great newspapers and the not so great newspapers, which will, from time to time comment.

If we were wasting a lot of time on this issue or if it were not important, believe me the Globe and Mail would be the first to say so. On May 12 of this year, the Globe and Mail stated:

In March, at the height of the Chuck Cadman affair, [the Prime Minister] threatened to personally sue [the leader of the official opposition] for libel over allegations of attempted bribery. Few would suggest that, had the Prime Minister followed through, the Liberal Leader would have had to recuse himself from parliamentary debate on the controversy. But based on a ruling last week by the federal Ethics Commissioner, Mary Dawson, [the leader of the official opposition] would have had little choice.

Among all MPs, [the] Liberal [member for West Nova] was most aggressive last fall in asking questions about the relationship between former prime minister Brian Mulroney and businessman Karlheinz Schreiber. It only made sense that he would sit in on the ethics committee's hearings into the affair when they began in November, establishing himself as one of the few MPs with a strong grasp of the relevant issues.

I did not say that they were always correct. I said that they did not always pay attention.

The Globe and Mail goes on to state:

But in response to a query from [the] Conservative MP [from Dufferin—Caledon] Ms. Dawson has ruled that because he was facing a lawsuit from Mr. Mulroney over comments he made during a television interview, [the member for West Nova] had a “private interest” in the matter that left him in violation of the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons.

Ms. Dawson is right that [the member for West Nova] — who had not yet been served with a libel notice in November, but was aware of its likelihood--

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5:25 p.m.

Bloc

Raynald Blais Bloc Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would just like to say that the member is reading very fast, and it must be very hard for the interpreters to keep up. I would ask him to consider the interpreters when reading a text. He is reading far too quickly.

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5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Perhaps the hon. member could have some understanding of the problem with the interpreters keeping pace. If he could continue, he has about 13 minutes left.

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5:25 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will do that. It is here in both languages in the record. I am just watching my time but I will certainly slow it down a pace.

--should have disclosed this potential conflict at the outset of the committee's proceedings. But her assessment that he should have recused himself from the hearings because the lawsuit gave him a financial interest sets a troubling precedent.

The message has now been sent that it is possible to silence our elected representatives by filing lawsuits against them, regardless of their merit. This may not be Ms. Dawson's fault; perhaps the rules should be amended to make clear that lawsuits do not belong alongside business investments and other assets and liabilities as private interests that present conflicts. But the principle must be preserved that, as parliamentary privilege is meant to ensure, MPs are able to openly air their concerns sheltered from the legal concerns they might face in the outside world. The last thing Parliament needs is a wave of libel chill.

The second Globe and Mail editorial was on May 20 and it stated:

It might have been a bit much to expect [the Prime Minister's] Conservatives to rally to the defence of [the] Liberal MP[for West Nova]. But for the Tories to wholeheartedly embrace Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson's recent ruling against him, and the libel chill that it encourages, displays short-sightedness on their part.

Even Ms. Dawson seemed to recognize that her ruling might necessitate a change in the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons. By the code's definition, she found, a lawsuit filed by Brian Mulroney over comments [the member for West Nova] made in a television interview represented a “private interest” that should have led the MP to recuse himself from committee hearings into the Mulroney-Schreiber affair. But given concerns “about the use of lawsuits, more particularly libel suits, to prevent a Member from performing his or her duties in the House of Commons,” she wrote, Parliament might wish to amend the rules--

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5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order, please. The member will have 10 and a half minutes left when we return to this item.

The House resumed from June 16 consideration of the motion that Bill C-29, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (accountability with respect to loans), be read the third time and passed.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at the third reading stage of Bill C-29.

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung