I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on March 2, 2012, by the member for Winnipeg Centre regarding the difficulties experienced by certain members in gaining access to the parliamentary precinct that day during the visit of the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu.
I would like to thank the member for having raised this matter, as well as the Minister of State for Science and Technology and the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, the Chief Government Whip, and the members for Western Arctic and Winnipeg North for their comments.
In raising his question of privilege, the member for Winnipeg Centre claimed that, due to heightened security during the visit by the Prime Minister of Israel, certain members faced impediments when attempting to gain access to the parliamentary precinct. Some members were even sent back to their offices by RCMP officers to retrieve identification proving they were members of Parliament. While acknowledging the need to keep Parliament secure, he insisted that members' right to access had been interfered with to an extent that was unjustified, thereby impeding them in the performance of their parliamentary duties.
The member for Winnipeg Centre also raised questions regarding the broader issue of jurisdiction and control of the parliamentary buildings and precinct and suggested that these sorts of situations might not occur if the House and its members had greater control over the management of the buildings and the surrounding precinct.
On this point, in a ruling delivered on May 10, 2006, on page 1189 of the Debates, Speaker Milliken stated that it was the role of the Speaker “...to protect the House's control over its premises and to protect the access of members to these premises...”. These premises are defined in page 163 in the second edition of Maingot 's Parliamentary Privilege in Canada as including:
...those premises where each House, through its Speaker, exercises physical control to enable members to perform their parliamentary work without obstruction or interference.
As we all know, the parliamentary precinct and its buildings exist primarily to support the functions of the legislative branch. The Centre Block in particular, housing as it does the House of Commons and Senate chambers, is a working building where parliamentary proceedings are carried out and where members must be free to perform their duties without interference even when other activities are taking place. Needless to say, these heritage buildings, especially Centre Block, are also ideal venues for all sorts of events and we are all proud to showcase them for our distinguished visitors. However, when activities, such as the visit of the Prime Minister of Israel on March 2 take place, extra care is needed to ensure that competing requirements regarding the use of the buildings and precinct are understood, with due accommodations and with the proper balance.
The Chief Government Whip spoke of this need to balance security and access. However, the implementation of security measures cannot override the right of members to unfettered access to the parliamentary precinct, free from obstruction or interference.
The case before us today bears a striking resemblance to the one raised on December 1, 2004, in which, due to increased security surrounding a visit by the then president of the United States, George W. Bush, some members were denied access to the parliamentary precinct by security officers. Stemming from that prima facie question of privilege, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs presented to the House on December 15, 2004, its 21st report, which was eventually concurred in by the House and stated, in part:
The denial of access to Members of the House--even if temporary--is unacceptable, and constitutes a contempt of the House. Members must not be impeded or interfered with while on their way to the Chamber, or when going about their parliamentary business. To permit this would interfere with the operation of the House of Commons, and undermine the pre-eminent right of the House to the service of its Members.
House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, at pages 110 and 111, lists several other relevant precedents and states, at page 110, that:
Incidents involving physical obstruction—such as traffic barriers, security cordons and union picket lines either impeding Members’ access to the Parliamentary Precinct or blocking their free movement within the precinct—...have been found to be prima facie cases of privilege.
In view of the strong body of precedence in cases of this kind and given the information provided to the House by the member for Winnipeg Centre, I find that there are sufficient grounds for finding a prima facie question of privilege in this case. I, therefore, invite the hon. member to move the appropriate motion.