Mr. Speaker, I rise today in response to the question of privilege raised on Monday, February 27, by the Minister of Public Safety and also to the consequent intervention by the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader.
In reviewing their remarks, I have concluded that their argument is really composed of three distinct complaints and my remarks will deal with them as such.
I would like to say at the outset that I understand the minister's embarrassment at having the details of his personal life brought into the realm of public discussion.
The introduction of Bill C-30 caused quite a ripple across the country. Millions of Canadians voiced their discontent and expressed their opposition to this legislation. The fact we are here today debating this issue is a testament to that.
The first part of the minister's complaint deals with the issue of the Twitter account Vikileaks. Mr. Speaker, as you will no doubt recall, my leader addressed the involvement of a Liberal staff member earlier this week and offered an unreserved apology on this point. That being said, we would have hoped that the minister would accept this apology regarding Vikileaks and consider the matter closed. However, if he insists on dragging out the matter, I would like to mention a few things.
First, he purports that House of Commons resources were used to create the account. I should remind the minister that this is not a matter of privilege, but a matter reserved for the Board of Internal Economy. An excerpt from the Parliament of Canada Act dealing with exclusive authority, in subsection 52.6(1), explains the following:
The Board has the exclusive authority to determine whether any previous, current or proposed use by a member of the House of Commons of any funds, goods, services or premises made available to that member for the carrying out of parliamentary functions is or was proper, given the discharge of the parliamentary functions of members of the House of Commons, including whether any such use is or was proper having regard to the intent and purpose of the by-laws made under subsection 52.5(1).
The effect of this section in the act is clear. The matter of the use of House resources is the sole and exclusive domain of the Board of Internal Economy. If the minister still thinks there was a cost incurred by the creation of the Twitter site, I recommend that he take it up with the board. I have no doubt, Mr. Speaker, that you and the entire board will deal with this issue in the appropriate manner.
If the minister still thinks his reputation was affected as a result of the release of this publicly available document and that this in itself represents a breach of privilege, I would refer him, and indeed all members, to page 111 of O'Brien and Bosc where Speaker Fraser's 1987 ruling states:
The privileges of a Member are violated by any action which might impede him or her in the fulfilment of his or her duties and functions. It is obvious that the unjust damaging of a reputation could constitute such an impediment. The normal course of a Member who felt himself or herself to be defamed would be the same as that available to any other citizen, recourse to the courts under the laws of defamation with the possibility of damages to substitute for the harm that might be done. However, should the alleged defamation take place on the floor of the House, this recourse in not available.
In this ruling, Speaker Fraser wisely reminds members that where there is a normal avenue of recourse, the courts in the case of defamation, this normal avenue should be pursued. Given the resignation of the person involved and the clear apology by the member for Toronto Centre, we consider this matter closed.
The second complaint dealt with the threats from the international group that calls itself “Anonymous”. This was the main argument put forth by the minister and expanded on at length in the parliamentary secretary's speech. I think it is appropriate to note right off the start that, yes, indeed, there clearly are threats being made. However, before your finding a prima facie breach of privilege I think it bears careful consideration here that we fully understand what we are dealing with.
First, who is this group called Anonymous? Put simply, it is an international cabal of criminal hackers dating back to 2003, who have shut down the websites of the U.S. Department of Justice and the F.B.I. They have hacked into the phone lines of Scotland Yard. They are responsible for attacks against MasterCard, Visa, Sony and the Governments of the U.S., U.K., Turkey, Australia, Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Iran, Chile, Colombia and New Zealand.
This is not at all in the same league as Vikileaks. We are not dealing with the actions of a sole staff member from another party. This is an international criminal organization.
I am forced to ask what would be accomplished by sending this matter to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. Beauchesne's fifth edition notes the problem of dealing with these matters on page 23, where it states:
Direct threats which attempt to influence Members' actions in the House are undoubtedly breaches of privilege. They do, however, provide serious problems for the House. They are often made anonymously and it is rarely possible for the House to examine them satisfactorily. The common practice today is to turn the responsibility for investigating them over to the ordinary forces of the law.
By that Beauchesne's clearly means that these threats would be dealt with by the police and the courts.
This brings us to another point. Sadly, in this day and age, threats against ministers and indeed the Prime Minister occur all too often. One only has to step outside and see the Prime Minister's security motorcade to understand that the RCMP believes there are credible threats made regularly against the Prime Minister. I do not believe that the Prime Minister simply enjoys being escorted by multiple vehicles while sitting behind four inches of bullet-proof glass.
Presumably these threats are made by people who feel wronged by the government in some way. These are not threats by neighbours or angry people who were cut off in traffic by the Prime Minister. In other words, this is not some personal grudge but one related to his role as the Prime Minister of Canada.
Yet these threats have not been brought to this House to be handled as breaches of privilege. These threats are dealt with, as they should be, by the police, the RCMP and presumably by CSIS where needed.
As pointed out earlier in Beauchesne's, it would not be appropriate to bring these issues here to the House since little could be accomplished by studying these threats in committee. In fact the mere suggestion sounds rather silly. These are threats made by criminals and should be handled by the police, plain and simple.
The second reason these are not dealt with in the House is that they are, in essence, threats made against the Government of Canada, not the member for Calgary Southwest. His role as the local MP is of little relevance to those who make those threats. It is his role as Prime Minister that sadly makes him a target.
Similarly in the case of the threats by Anonymous to the Minister of Public Safety, these threats are directed at the minister in his role as Minister of Public Safety, not as the member for Parliament for Provencher.
In essence, these are threats against the Government of Canada made by criminals. Joseph P. Maingot's Parliamentary Privilege in Canada, is instructive on this point. On page 191 he states:
—parliamentary privilege is concerned with the special rights of members, not in their capacity as ministers or as party leaders, whips, or parliamentary secretaries, but strictly in their capacity as Members in their parliamentary work.
Anonymous has threatened to release information about the minister if he does not withdraw Bill C-30 and step down as minister. This is clearly a threat, but they are not asking the member for Provencher to vote against a bill, speak against it or take some other action as a member of the House, or even for the member for Provencher to step down as an MP. They are asking the minister to withdraw a bill from Parliament, the House and the Senate, and to step down as a minister of the crown.
Again, these are clearly threats made by criminals, yet they are threats against the Government of Canada, and as such should not be dealt with as matters of privilege but instead be investigated by the RCMP to ensure that these criminals are brought to justice. It is not an appropriate role for the House to supplant the normal criminal justice system, and I would caution that a finding of prima facie breach of privilege may do just that.
Finally, to the third and final complaint, which dealt with the issue of being inundated by phone calls and such, thus preventing him from performing his duties, I would like to quote from Speaker Sauvé's ruling given on July 15, 1980, cited on page 117 of O'Brien and Bosc. It states:
While I am only too aware of the multiple responsibilities, duties, and also the work the member has to do relating to his constituency, as Speaker I am required to consider only those matters which affect the member's parliamentary work. That is to say, whatever duty a member has to his constituents, before a valid question of privilege arises in respect of any alleged interference, such interference must relate to the member's parliamentary duties. In other words, just as a member is protected from anything he does while taking part in a proceeding in Parliament, so too must interference relate to the member's role in the context of parliamentary work.
Indeed, it was for this very reason that we have not raised a question of privilege regarding the efforts of the New Democratic Party to systematically attempt to clog the phone lines of the member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain. I say “systematically” because they are using a system of robocalls to call constituents in the member's riding and telling them to simply press a number on the phone to be connected immediately to the constituency office, thereby flooding it. These types of underhanded, dirty tricks by the NDP are unfortunate and certainly no way to do politics and are motivated by either a sense of revenge against the member or perhaps a dire warning against their own caucus members. In any event, while they may clog the phone lines of the constituency office for a time, they do not constitute a breach of privilege, which is why we did not raise it.
Mr. Speaker, in your ruling pertaining to the question of privilege raised by the member for Mount Royal on November 16, 2011, you stated:
There is no doubt that he has been bombarded by telephone calls, emails and faxes from concerned and confused constituents. However, the Chair has great difficulty in concluding that the member has been unable to carry out his parliamentary duties as a result of these tactics.
In his May 5, 1987 ruling Speaker Fraser stated:
Given all the circumstances in this case, I am sure that the Minister's capacity to function as a Minister and Member of this House is in no way impaired.
In conclusion, the only one of the three complaints that even approaches a breach of privilege is the matter dealing with the group Anonymous. While that instance clearly does involve threats and intimidation, these are made against the minister in his role as a minister, not as a member. As such, they do not constitute a breach of privilege. While they are a matter of concern for all members of the House, they remain threats made by criminals to a minister of the Crown, and as such are better handled by the RCMP and other appropriate authorities.