That the questions of privilege raised on April 30, 2015, by the hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley and on May 8 by the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth regarding the fact that hon. members were delayed when trying to access Parliament Hill be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to share my time with the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley.
I think it is important for me to briefly recap, for those who were not present or listening last week, why I felt that even a momentary delay of what I admit was less than a minute raises major issues that the procedure and House affairs committee really will have to take seriously.
What happened basically involved an indistinguishable stopping of everyone coming up one side of Parliament Hill heading toward the Centre Block within immediate proximity of the doors that MPs always enter. The reason, as was made very clear by the officer, was that she was under orders to stop everyone. I will emphasize again, as I did in my intervention last week, that the officer was firm and polite, and I have no concerns at all with the officer.
I am sorry; I am actually going to split my time with the member for Burnaby—New Westminster.
I have no idea how long the group was there as I was walking up the Hill before I arrived, but the fact of the matter is that when I arrived, I presented myself to the officer as I was trying to pass, and the conversation that ensued is now on the record of Hansard. The officer indicated that she was under orders to make no distinction between any members of the public, anyone else, and MPs. Indeed, structurally, there was nothing about the way the crowd control was working to suggest that any distinction had been made. There was no ability for an officer to stand and wave MPs through or to ask, “Are there any MPs here? Please go through.” There was nothing like that. It was a one-size-fits-all approach.
This was confirmed when she then called through to whatever was command central for this welcoming of the President of the Philippines to the Hill. They did not bother addressing the issue of whether an MP could go through while the others were waiting, because the moment she called, they solved the problem by letting everybody through. I assume that was a coincidence of timing. Nonetheless, it was clear from the overall situation that there were, again, indistinguishable orders.
On that front, I would like to now move to two arguments that I believe the Speaker has put in context in his ruling just now but that have been raised twice now by the government House leader on the question of privilege by the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley and on my question of privilege.
One is, effectively, that he has come before the House and asked the Speaker to take his word for facts that he and the government have investigated in tandem with the RCMP. The first problem is that it is not the role of the government to conduct these kinds of investigations.
Second, I would like to read an excerpt from the House leader's intervention on the question of privilege by the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley. He stated:
...I can tell you that the public safety minister's office has advised that that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police reviewed the surveillance camera footage and determined that the green bus in question was indeed delayed for some 74 seconds....
He went on to say that was a mere momentary delay and that for that reason, the privilege motion should be dismissed.
The fact of the matter is that the procedure and House affairs committee needs to look at what the lines of authority are here. The House leader comes into the House, gets word from another minister of the crown about what that minister of the crown had discussed with the RCMP, and then, in a not-so-subtle fashion, expects the Speaker to say, “Thank you very much for doing my work and thank you very much for reporting to me what the RCMP has said.”
I am very glad that the Speaker has obviously decided that this is not the role of the government and not the role of the House leader.
I would also like to point out that the Speaker went back into precedents and quoted one precedent that said that even a momentary delay can be a breach of privilege. However, the government is now trying to reshape the law of privilege around the idea that just any delay at all, as long as it is short, is not a breach of privilege. It went so far as to argue last week that the recent report on the question of privilege by the member for Acadie—Bathurst actually stated that the PROC report put forward the idea that momentary delays are not a breach of privilege.
No such words at all appear in that report. In fact, it is very clear that the committee was expressing concern by the very sentence that the Speaker just read in the House now on his ruling, when he read, in French, this sentence:
Cases of privilege in which Members have had the right to unimpeded access to the Parliamentary Precinct denied have occurred in the recent past with all too great a frequency.
For that to appear in the PROC report from the most recent case and for the Speaker to now read it again is diametrically opposed to the spin that the House leader is trying to put on the law of privilege in this House when he says that report ruled that a momentary delay meant there was no privilege breached in that case. That is a completely out-of-bounds argument, as far as I am concerned.
I took care, and I took care at the beginning of these remarks as well, to emphasize—and this is actually consistent with the recent report on privilege with respect to the member for Acadie—Bathurst—that there was no fault on behalf of the officers. The officers are working within a system. They are following orders. The question is the system. How are, in these two instances, VIPs handled? What kind of priority are they given over members of Parliament to access? What kinds of easy procedures could be available that the RCMP has so far declined to put into place? An example would be to have, at all access points, a designated RCMP officer to check or let through or look out for members of Parliament while everybody else has to wait. There is nothing like that.
Instead, they put a lone officer out under orders to block everybody, regardless of whether or not they are an MP.
My guess is they are putting out recent recruits to do this, people who have not even been properly versed on what parliamentary privilege is or why it is important for members to get to the House on time.
At one level, it is of absolute importance. If I wanted to be in the House because I had limited time to hear a debate or to possibly ask a question, et cetera, that, in and of itself, is enough reason for me to be in any hurry I want.
However, beyond that, votes are crucial in this place, and they can come up at unexpected times that overlap with times when VIPs are visiting.
The idea that 30 seconds or a minute or whatever is always de minimis is already in trouble with respect to the logic of the timeframes within which we operate in this place. The idea that the House leader has raised on occasion is almost a suggestion that MPs are sitting on their posteriors, waiting to the very last minute before they rush to the House, and, therefore, if they are delayed a bit at that point, they are to blame. In actual fact, votes disrupt everything else MPs are doing, and they often try to finish what they are doing in the knowledge that they will have enough time to get there in the ordinary course of events.
This just-in-time arrival of a good number of the people who are voting on any given motion is also a part of our life on the Hill, and the moment that gets interfered with, we are going to potentially have problems with multiple people not making votes. At the moment, we have been lucky with respect to those who have been delayed but who have managed to arrive just in time.
With respect to the whole question of VIPs, the mere fact that the RCMP officer said it was a VIP, as broad a category as that is, versus a visiting head of state, just to give it some context, suggests that a broad-brush approach is being taking by whoever is in charge of federal policing on the Hill. Ultimately, it is the Deputy Commissioner. I am now no longer personally convinced that the Deputy Commissioner is listening to any of these debates on what privilege amounts to. It would have been so easy to set up procedures to ensure MPs can get through. That has not been done.
I think we need to have the procedure and House affairs committee hear this matter—not in any extended way, but in a way that would focus upon systems so that we get precise information from the RCMP about what the orders are and what training procedures are in place. How do we know that the RCMP is even listening to these reports and to the Speaker's rulings?