Mr. Speaker, today I am rising under the provisions of Standing Order 48 on a question of privilege alleging contempt of the House by the Minister of International Cooperation and her parliamentary secretary further to a written notice that I gave to the Clerk on Friday.
The core reason for parliamentary privilege is to enable a member of Parliament to discharge his or her function of representing constituents. Within that core is the essential function of an opposition MP to hold a government to account. I will submit that my ability to hold the government to account has been impaired by the Minister of International Cooperation and her parliamentary secretary, who advertently misled Parliament by telling Parliament something that was not true. I will be asking you, Mr. Speaker, to make a prima facie finding that a breach of privilege has occurred.
Specifically, the minister and her parliamentary secretary “deliberately attempted to mislead the House by way of a statement”, and that is taken from O'Brien and Bosc, or in this case a series of statements, and that she and he knew or ought to have known that their statements to the House were either false or an attempt to mislead.
For some time now, I and others have been asking questions about KAIROS' defunding. KAIROS is a church-based non-governmental organization that represents seven of Canada's largest religious denominations working on a range of social justice issues. Its funding was up for review and it had submitted the appropriate application. It was told that it was being reviewed favourably.
Then the rumours to the contrary started to be heard. KAIROS was unfairly slandered as being anti-Semitic by the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. The minister has since withdrawn his remarks. It was then slandered as being anti-mining when all it was trying to do was improve the lives of indigenous people living in poverty.
After due diligence, it was determined that KAIROS' proposal did not meet government standards.
On April 23 the parliamentary secretary said:
The criteria for the funding for KAIROS is the same as the criteria for funding for anyone else applying for such funding. KAIROS did not meet the criteria. It did not get the funding. There is no surprise there.
On March 15 the parliamentary secretary said:
CIDA thoroughly analyzed KAIROS' program proposal and determined, with regret, that it did not meet the agency's current priorities. This is important.
However, despite these statements which indicate that KAIROS was defunded because it did not fit within the priorities of the government, there are two pieces of evidence to show that this is false. The first is the access to information request, the response for which I would like to table with you today for your consideration, Mr. Speaker. The second is a transcript from the foreign affairs and international development committee from December 9, 2010, which I will also submit.
When looking through the recommendation produced by CIDA for the minister, obtained through the access to information request, contrary to the parliamentary secretary's and the minister's statements in the House, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that CIDA makes an unequivocal recommendation in support of $7.1 million funding for KAIROS, on the signature approval page of this document, which reads as follows:
Recommendation: that you sign below to indicate your approval of a contribution of $7,098,758 over four years for the above program.
However, someone has inserted the word “not”. This one handwritten change completely inverts the recommendation. Let me read it again so that the new meaning is clear, “Recommendation: that you sign below to indicate you not approve a contribution of $7,098,758 over four years for the above program”.
There is no name or initials next to the handwritten “not”. After this line are three signatures: that of Margaret Biggs, the president of CIDA; Naresh Singh, vice-president of CIDA; and the Minister of International Cooperation. A reasonable person looking at the end page would reasonably conclude that all three did not approve of the grant. I submit that this is precisely what the government, the minister and the parliamentary secretary want the reader to believe. They want to develop a narrative that KAIROS did not meet the standards and priorities of the agency, when in fact it did, and that the agency had killed the proposal. Their responses are tailored to establishing that narrative, and that narrative, I submit, is misleading.
In testimony before the foreign affairs and international development committee, Ms. Biggs testified that when both she and Mr. Singh signed the document, the “not” was not there. She further confirmed to the committee that the department had recommended KAIROS for funding, contrary to what the minister and her parliamentary secretary stated to the House. Had the access to information request not been submitted, that misleading narrative would have been sustained.
I practised law for 22 years, and I can assure the House that any lawyer would not allow such a significant change, let alone a fundamental change to be made to a $7 million document without all three signatories initialling the change. But it gets worse. I will read from the transcript of Thursday, December 9, at the meeting of the foreign affairs committee:
Member: “Madam Minister, you just said that you signed off. You were the one”
Minister: “I sign off on all of the documents”.
Member: “You were the one who wrote the 'not'”.
Minister: “I did not say I was the one who wrote the 'not'”.
Member: “Who did, then?”
Minister: “I do not know.”
Member: “You don't know?”
Minister: “I do not know.”
Member: “That's a remarkable statement.”
At this point my jaw was hitting the floor:
Minister: “I know that the decision ultimately reflects the decision that I would support.”
It goes on again.
Minister: “I cannot say who wrote the 'not'.”
Member: “Was this 'not' put in by some interloper? Is there some override to the minister's decision?”
It goes on:
Member: “So there's a reasonable possibility that you signed off on this, and that someone put a 'not' in later.”
Member: “It may well, but you just said that you didn't put the 'not' in. I'm assuming your president of CIDA didn't put the 'not' in. There's only one other signatory who didn't put the 'not' in. So somehow or another, a 'not' got put in after possibly all three of you recommended the KAIROS' funding”.
Member: “Madam Minister, clearly somebody didn't get the memo on priorities because clearly Madam Biggs or the other person to the signatory sent the memo up to you from September through to November. They sent that memo to you, you sat on it for two months, that's fine. That's not an issue. The issue is that they didn't seem to understand what your priorities were, so they didn't get the memo as to what the priorities were. If this reflects government priorities, why is it that the president of CIDA doesn't know what the priorities of the government are?”
I will not carry on with the rest of the interaction between the minister and me, but I just point out that later, and just as concerning, under questioning, the minister could not even say whether or not she had signed this document, if it is an auto-signature or otherwise. In my mind, this should concern us all. If she did approve, why could she not sign the document itself?
We are all aware of the doctrine of ministerial accountability which can be summed up by saying that the buck stops on the minister's desk. Apparently it does not with this minister. Neither she, nor you, Mr. Speaker, nor I, nor this House knows who makes final CIDA decisions.
In order to establish a prima facie finding that a breach of privilege and contempt has occurred, three elements must be present: one, it must be proven that the statements were misleading; two, it must be established that the member at the time knew the statement was incorrect; and three, in the making of the statement, the minister intended to mislead the House.
On page 111 of the 22nd edition of Erskine May it states:
The Commons may treat the making of a deliberately misleading statement as a contempt.
Page 234 of the second edition of Maingot's Parliamentary Privilege in Canada explains that in order for a Speaker to find a prima facie case in a matter involving a deliberate misleading statement, there must be “an admission by someone in authority, such as a minister of the Crown or an officer of a department”.
On Friday, December 9, I gave the minister the opportunity to retract these statements and possibly clear the record. However, she refused to do so, conduct which is inconsistent with the standards of the House and what the public expects from its members.
She further compounded her difficulties by saying, “The minister ultimately decides what course to take”. That statement is patently false. The transcript of the foreign affairs committee says that she not only did not insert the “not”, she does not know who did. Somebody is making decisions over there, but it is not the minister.
Mr. Speaker, at this time I would like to remind you of the three requirements needed to establish contempt.
One, it must be proven that her statements were misleading.
We have three statements which are recorded in Hansard, one on October 28, one on April 23 and one on March 15, which directly contradict both the documents obtained through the access to information request and the testimony of Margaret Biggs before the foreign affairs committee. Both show that the minister was informed by the president of CIDA, that CIDA had recommended KAIROS for funding and that it did meet the standards and priorities of CIDA, the government, and yet the minister and her parliamentary secretary misled the House into believing that her officials had decided that KAIROS did not meet the standards and that the funding had been turned down by CIDA.
Two, it must be established that the member at the time knew the statement was incorrect.
The Minister of International Cooperation was fully briefed on CIDA's position on funding of KAIROS, which has been proven both in the testimony before the foreign affairs committee and in the documentation obtained through the access to information request. Furthermore, in Ms. Biggs' testimony before the foreign affairs committee she stated that she had recommended to the minister that KAIROS receive the funding and that there was “no confusion on that matter”. She even went so far as to say that “My discussions with the minister were quite clear. She did, as she indicated, deliberate on it. She knew what my advice was so she was not misled in any way”.
Third, in making the statement the minister intended to mislead the House.
On three separate occasions over a period of eight months the minister and her parliamentary secretary stood in this place and repeated mistruths about the reason why KAIROS funding was denied. This was an intentional narrative and sustainable if the access to information report had not been made. I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you would agree this represents a prima facie intent to mislead the House.
May I remind the House that this is a $7 million grant, an enormous sum of money for the people and organizations involved, and the good that it could do.
At this point, we have a document that contradicts the minister and the parliamentary secretary and the two senior CIDA officials who contradict the parliamentary secretary and the minister. The minister, even as late as last Friday, asserted the minister ultimately decided what course to take. Apparently that is not true with the minister.
One is left with a clear impression that the decision to not recommend was made after the minister's signature had been appended to the document. The minister does not know who put in the interlineations and therefore cannot tell the House who made the decision, when the decision was made and why the decision, approved by the agency and possibly by the minister herself, was reversed.
It is a prima facie case of contempt to mislead members by blaming others for one's decisions. It is misleading to say that one made a decision when no decision was made. It impairs a member's core function of holding a government to account. It erodes the doctrine of ministerial accountability.
In the event that you do make a finding of prima facie contempt, Mr. Speaker, I am prepared to move the requisite motion.