Mr. Speaker, turning back to today's question of privilege, I am rising because these online government publications presume the adoption of Bill C-71 by Parliament. There is no caveat given by the RCMP that the legislation is subject to parliamentary approval, and there is no acknowledgement of the parliamentary process at all, in fact. This, in my view, is nothing but a contempt of Parliament.
Page 14 of Joseph Maingot's Parliamentary Privilege in Canada, second edition, explains contempt as follows:
As in the case of a Superior Court, when by some act or word a person disobeys or is openly disrespectful of the authority of the House of Commons or Senate or of their lawful commands, that person is subject to being held in contempt of the House of Commons or Senate as the case may be; therefore it will be seen that the Senate and House of Commons have the power or right to punish actions that, while not appearing to be breaches of any specific privilege, are offences against their authority or dignity.
Page 81 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, third edition, adds:
The House of Commons enjoys very wide latitude in maintaining its dignity and authority through the exercise of its contempt power. In other words, the House may consider any misconduct to be contempt and may deal with it accordingly.
Let me read a sampling of the content found in “Special Business Bulletin No. 93”.
To begin with, we see:
Because not all CZ firearms will be impacted by changes in their classification, business will need to determine if their firearm( s) will be affected by these changes.
Bill C-71 also lists a number of specific Swiss Arms (SA) firearm that will also become prohibited.
If you own CZ/SA firearms, the steps below can help you identify whether your inventory of firearms is affected by Bill C-71. They explain the grandfathering requirements and how to avoid being in illegal possession of a firearm.
That language is quite clear. It is “will be impacted”, “will...become prohibited”, and “is affected”, not “could be”, “may become”, or “might be affected”.
Later in the bulletin, we read:
Business owners will continue to be authorized to transfer any and all impacted CZ or SA firearms in their inventory to properly licenced individuals, until the relevant provisions of Bill C-71 come into force. For an individual owner to be eligible for grandfathering certain requirements must be met by June 30, 2018.
Now, before one might think that the language about the bill's coming into force possibly concedes the need for parliamentary approval, let me continue reading:
The proposed changes to classification status for CZ/SA firearms listed in Bill C-71 will come into force on a date to be determined by the Governor in Council. This date is yet to be determined.
It is my respectful submission that any conditional language one might read or infer in that document is left, in the mind of the reader, to be, therefore, a matter of cabinet discretion, not Parliament's.
Turning to a second document, entitled “How does Bill C- 71 affect individuals?”, we see additional presumptuous language. A lot of it mirrors what I quoted from “Special Business Bulletin No. 93”.
Other passages, however, include:
If your SA firearm was listed in Bill C-71, it will be classified as a prohibited firearm.
It says, “was listed”, as if Bill C-71 was a document from the past, not a bill currently before a parliamentary committee.
Later we read:
To qualify for grandfathering of your currently non-restricted or restricted CZ/SA firearm, the following criteria must be met....
There follows a list of details for firearms owners to meet, which, just coincidentally, happens to be laid out in clause 3 of Bill C-71, yet there is no indication that these are proposals before Parliament, let alone in need of parliamentary sanction to be enforced.
A leading ruling on the presumption of parliamentary decision-making concerning legislation is the ruling of Mr. Speaker Fraser, on October 10, 1989, at page 4457 of the Debates, in respect of the implementation of the goods and services tax.
The impugned advertisements in that case contained similarly unequivocal language, such as “Canada's Federal Sales Tax System will change. Please save this notice”, and, the GST “will replace the existing federal sales tax”.
In this instance, Mr. Speaker Fraser did not find the prima facie case of contempt. However, he could not have been more clear when he stated, and I quote:
I want the House to understand very clearly that if your Speaker ever has to consider a situation like this again, the Chair will not be as generous. This is a case which, in my opinion, should never recur. I expect the Department of Finance and other departments to study this ruling carefully and remind everyone within the Public Service that we are a parliamentary democracy, not a so-called executive democracy, nor a so-called administrative democracy....
A vote on this issue might not support the very important message which your Speaker wishes to convey and which I hope will be well considered in the future by governments, departmental officials and advertisement agencies retained by them. This advertisement may not be a contempt of the House in the narrow confines of a procedural definition, but it is, in my opinion, ill-conceived and it does a great disservice to the great traditions of this place. If we do not preserve these great traditions, our freedoms are at peril and our conventions become a mockery. I insist, and I believe I am supported by the majority of moderate and responsible members on both sides of this House, that this ad is objectionable and should never be repeated.
Subsequent rulings have distinguished other factual scenarios from the 1989 ruling, and, I submit, are distinguishable from the circumstances I am rising on today.
On March 13, 1997, at page 8988 of the Debates, Speaker Parent held that a policy-promotion campaign concerning anti-tobacco legislation did not give rise to a prima facie contempt, but the Chair added the following advice, and I quote:
...where the government issues communications to the public containing allusions to measures before the House, it would be advisable to choose words and terms that leave no doubt as to the disposition of these measures.
That advice was put into practice by the Department of Citizenship and Immigration in its promotional materials respecting Bill C-50, leading to the 2008 ruling by Mr. Speaker Milliken, which I cited in my opening comments, that there was no prima facie contempt.
More recently, your immediate predecessor ruled, on September 28, 2011, at page 1576 of the Debates, that a procurement solicitation for advisory services for the implications of certain scenarios for the dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly was “part of a planning process that might be expected in contemplating the possibility of the repeal of the Canadian Wheat Board Act.”
Last year, Mr. Speaker, you ruled on May 29, 2017, at page 11560 of the Debates, that advertisements to hire the leadership of the Canada Infrastructure Bank, then a matter before the House as part of a budget implementation bill, was not a contempt, because some, but not all, of the government's job postings conceded that parliamentary approval was required. In the ruling, the Chair said:
I was looking for any suggestion that parliamentary approval was being publicized as either unnecessary or irrelevant, or in fact already obtained. Otherwise put, I was looking for any indication of an offence against or disrespect of the authority or dignity of the House and its members.
As it turns out, I think the most relevant ruling in respect of the facts before us today is that of Mr. Speaker Stockwell, in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, given on January 22, 1997, in respect of a government pamphlet explaining municipal reform legislation, not unlike the purpose of the RCMP' s internet guidance. In finding a prima facie contempt, Mr. Speaker Stockwell held:
...I am very concerned by the Ministry pamphlet, which is worded more definitively than the commercial and the press release. To name but a few examples, the brochure claims that “new city wards will be created”, that “work on building the new city will start in 1997”, and that “[t]he new City of Toronto will reduce the number of municipal politicians.
How is one to interpret such unqualified claims? In my opinion, they convey the impression that the passage of the requisite legislation was not necessary or was a foregone conclusion, or that the assembly and the Legislature had no pro forma tangential, even inferior role in the legislative and lawmaking process, and in doing so, they appear to diminish the respect that is due to this House. I would not have come to this view had these claims or proposals—and that is all they are—been qualified by a statement that they would only become law if and when the Legislature gave its stamp of approval to them.
In the RCMP documents, we are not talking about standing up a crown corporation, or hiring a government consultant, or even promoting an anti-smoking campaign, nor are we talking about new tax rules or changes to local government. We are talking about a publication that gives advice on how to avoid becoming a criminal. How much more serious can one get than that? This is not hyperbole.
One of the passages I referred to earlier said, “They explain the grandfathering requirements and how to avoid being in illegal possession of a firearm.” Another was, “lf your SA firearm was listed in Bill C-71, it will be classified as a prohibited firearm.”
The unlawful possession of a firearm can lead to a jail sentence of up to five years. That is pretty serious stuff.
Conservatives have been clear and on the record about their concerns about the RCMP arbitrarily reclassifying firearms. That is why the previous government gave the Governor in Council an oversight role. Basically, what happens is that law-abiding owners who follow all the rules and regulations with respect to their firearms are suddenly, because of one meeting of some bureaucrats, declared criminals for possession of an illegal weapon, when they have owned and used that weapon for sport shooting or hunting for many years. Suddenly, with one blanket move, what dozens or hundreds of thousands of people already possess is somehow deemed illegal.
We have seen this disrespect for law-abiding Canadians from the RCMP before. The RCMP has acted in contempt of Parliament several times before. There is an institutional history of it, as a matter of fact.
On February 16, 1965, Mr. Speaker Macnaughton found a prima facie case of privilege concerning the RCMP's arrest of an opposition member of Parliament. On September 4, 1973, Mr. Speaker Lamoureux found a prima facie case of privilege concerning the RCMP interrogation of an opposition member. On March 21, 1978, Mr. Speaker Jerome found a prima facie case of privilege concerning the RCMP's electronic surveillance—spying, in other words—of an opposition MP. On December 6, 1978, Mr. Speaker Jerome found a prima facie case of privilege concerning the RCMP misleading a former minister concerning the information he provided to opposition parliamentarians.
On December 1, 2004, Mr. Speaker Milliken found a prima facie case of privilege concerning the RCMP blocking MPs' access to Parliament Hill. On April 10, 2008, Mr. Speaker Milliken found a prima facie case of privilege following the false and misleading evidence given to the public accounts committee by the RCMP's then deputy commissioner.
On March 15, 2012, your immediate predecessor, Mr. Speaker, found a prima facie case of privilege when the RCMP denied MPs access to Centre Block. On September 25, 2014, another prima facie case of privilege was established related to the RCMP's denial of access to Parliament Hill. On May 12, 2015, two incidents of MPs being denied access to Centre Block by the RCMP led to yet another prima facie case of privilege.
Mr. Speaker, you have also needed to deal with these issues. On April 6 and 11, 2017, you found prima facie cases of privilege flowing out of MPs' access being denied by the Parliamentary Protective Service, an organization that, of course, has a clear legal relationship with the RCMP.
Even on the Senate side, the RCMP was found to have committed a prima facie case of contempt by Mr. Speaker Kinsella, on May 8, 2013, following its efforts to thwart parliamentary task force members from appearing as witnesses before a committee.
It goes without saying that it comes as absolutely no surprise that our national police force would snub its nose at Parliament yet again. Even more distressing is that the minister responsible for the RCMP, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, is one of the most experienced members of the House and a former House leader. The minister should be urging respect for Parliament by his officials. The RCMP is not above the law and not above the House of Commons.
Mr. Speaker, if you agree there is a prima facie case of contempt here, I am prepared to move an appropriate motion.