Mr. Speaker, I rise today on a question of privilege to raise a matter that represents a serious offence against the dignity and authority of Parliament and, as such, constitutes a clear contempt of Parliament.
On February 24, a package addressed to me was received by the House of Commons delivery service. However, although the package was clearly addressed to me, the shipper used the address of my former officer, which is now occupied by the hon. member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord.
The messenger went to the office of the hon. member in question, which signed for the package even though it had my name on it. As we had not received the package, we looked into the matter with the House of Commons delivery service and we contacted the office of the hon. member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, which sent a very clear and short email in response: “Yes, we received the package that was addressed to the hon. member. The thing is that the hon. member regularly receives these sorts of promotional items so we handed them out. Sorry.”
This is a serious offence. What is more, that package contained items that were meant for a charity.
While a contemptible offence has taken place, regardless of what was contained in the package, it is worth noting that the package contained toys intended as fundraising prizes to raise money for sick children from the north who need to come south for medical treatment. Although an offence against the dignity of the House regardless of the contents, the theft of these contents, in my view, is also an offence against common decency.
I wish to quote from section 356 of the Criminal Code under the heading Theft of Mail, which states:
Everyone commits an offence who
(i) anything sent by post, after it is deposited at a post office and before it is delivered, or after it is delivered but before it is in the possession of the addressee or of a person who may reasonably be considered to be authorized by the addressee to receive mail.
While the member's office has admitted to receiving the package addressed to me, opening this package, removing the contents and giving them away, it remains unclear who specifically took part in the offence. In other words, was it the member himself, members of his staff or both? On this point I will simply note that I have notified the sergeant-at-arms of this situation and, pending his investigation, a further complaint to police may be made. Regardless of who committed the offence, this took place within the parliamentary precinct and as such would constitute a contempt of Parliament.
Maingot's Parliamentary Privilege in Canada, Second Edition, states on page 163:
Each House of Parliament has jurisdiction over its precincts. While outside of “proceedings in Parliament” and parliamentary debate the criminal law applies to Members of the House of Commons, the act of doing something within the “precincts” could constitute a contempt of Parliament....
Furthermore, the opening and/or theft of the member's private correspondence or mail are tantamount to past findings of contempt where an invasion of privacy of members has occurred.
Maingot states on page 256:
The invasion of the privacy of a Member of the Senate or of the House of Commons within the precincts of Parliament by any person also constitutes a prima facie question of privilege. This includes the interception of a private communication on the precincts.
On October 17, 1973, a meeting of the NDP caucus on the precincts was the subject of electronic eavesdropping by a journalist. A question of privilege was raised by the leader of the NDP at the time, David Lewis, who stated on page 6942 of Debates:
Whether or not it is illegal under the present Criminal Code, or any other statute of which I may not know, is irrelevant. Certainly it is totally illegal as far as the rules of parliament are concerned. I hope that those responsible will not find it more offensive that I intend it to be when I say that it is morally and socially wrong in every respect for them to have done this.
Those words are as accurate in describing the present event as they were in dealing with that prima facie breach of privilege in 1973.
House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, in defining contempt of Parliament, states on page 82:
[...] the House also claims the right to punish, as a contempt, any action which, though not a breach of a specific privilege, tends to obstruct or impede the House in the performance of its functions; obstructs or impedes any member or officer of the House in the discharge of their duties; or is an offence against the authority or dignity of the House, such as disobedience of its legitimate commands or libels upon itself, its members, or its officers.
It is, I believe, self-evident that the theft of a member's mail within the precincts of Parliament undoubtedly represents an offence against the authority and the dignity of the House, as does the cavalier response of the member's office once confronted and admitting the offence.
I would understand if, in error, the hon. member or his office staff had opened the package. However, what occurred was not simply an error. They received the package, opened it and, once viewing the contents, toys intended for a fundraiser in regard to a cause supporting children, miniature shuttles in this particular case, they did not call and return the contents with an apology for opening the package clearly addressed to me. Instead, they removed the contents and gave them away. That was not only an invasion of my privacy but it was theft. When contacted by my office, they showed no remorse whatsoever for the offence.
I understand that the member is new, having only been elected a year ago, and that his staff may also lack the experience to understand the more complicated nature of privilege, but this is not a complicated matter. Surely the office of the NDP leader has someone responsible for organization who can inform that member and his staff that they do not open packages that are not addressed to them.
While the member and his office are new, there is no excuse for this.
Sadder still is the fact that the beneficiaries of the charity will suffer as a result of this deplorable and unimaginable situation. Sick children, who are supposed to benefit from this care, saw these items that were meant to help them handed out to the hon. member's friends. It was a very offensive act and I cannot accept it.
Should you rule in my favour, Mr. Speaker, I am prepared to move the appropriate motion.