I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on May 29, 2018 by the hon. member for Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner concerning documents published on the website of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in relation to Bill C-71, an act to amend certain acts and regulations in relation to firearms.
I would like to thank the member for Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner for having raised the matter, as well as the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader for his comments.
In presenting his case, the member for Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner contended that information on the RCMP website led readers to believe that Bill C-71 had already been enacted by acknowledging neither the parliamentary process nor the fact that the bill remains subject to parliamentary approval. He added that the presumptuous language used, including such phrases as “will be impacted”, “will become prohibited”, and “is affected”, is proof of contempt of Parliament.
The member returned to the House the next day to explain that the website in question had been updated that day to include a disclaimer about Bill C-71 in fact being a proposed law. He viewed this as an admission of fault.
For his part, the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader explained that the matter raised was simply one of debate as there was clearly no presumption of anything in the information respecting Bill C-71 on the RCMP website.
As the charge being made by the member for Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner is one of contempt, the Chair must determine if the information provided on the RCMP website does in fact anticipate a decision of Parliament. If it does, this would offend the authority of the House.
Having reviewed in detail the relevant information on the website, before the disclaimer was added, I found instances where some provisions of the bill were in fact framed as legislative proposals, using such phrases as “proposed legislation” and “is expected to be”. Despite these statements, the vast majority of the information was presented as though the provisions will definitively be coming into effect or are already the law of the land. Nowhere did I find any indication the bill was still in committee and was not yet enacted law.
Further to this, I reviewed the material to try to determine if the assertions being made could be related to existing regulations or statutory provisions. I can confirm that, although some elements of the information are rooted in existing statutory or regulatory provisions, many more would be new measures that would come into force only with the enactment of Bill C-71.
The member for Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner did acknowledge that some of the language is conditional but, even then, the Chair shares the member's concern that the website information suggests that the only approval required is that of the government.
Parliament's authority in scrutinizing and adopting legislative proposals remains unquestionable and should not be taken for granted. The Chair is troubled by the careless manner in which the RCMP chose to ignore this vital fact and, for more than three weeks, allowed citizens and retailers to draw improper conclusions as to their obligations under the law. Changing the website after the fact does little to alleviate these concerns. Parliamentarians and citizens should be able to trust that officials responsible for disseminating information related to legislation are paying attention to what is happening in Parliament and are providing a clear and accurate history of the bills in question.
The work of members as legislators is fundamental and any hint or suggestion of this parliamentary role and authority being bypassed or usurped is not acceptable. The government and the public service also have important roles when it comes to legislation, but these are entirely distinct from those of members as legislators. In fact, part of their responsibility is to state loud and clear that legislation comes from Parliament and nowhere else.
As the member for Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner reminded us, some 30 years ago, Speaker Fraser had cause to state on October 10, 1989, at page 4461 of the Debates in ruling on a similar matter:
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.
Again, on November 6, 1997, at page 1618 of the Debates, Speaker Parent was equally clear about the respect owed to the authority of the House, stating:
This dismissive view of the legislative process, repeated often enough, makes a mockery of our parliamentary conventions and practices.
As Speaker, I cannot turn a blind eye to an approach by a government agency that overlooks the role of Parliament. To do otherwise would make us compliant in denigrating the authority and dignity of Parliament.
Accordingly, the Chair finds this to be a prima facie matter of contempt of the House. I invite the member for Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner to move the appropriate motion.
I thank all hon. members for their attention.