Mr. Speaker, I would like to raise a question of privilege, and I will do it as quickly as possible.
It is about something that happened yesterday in question period. I will come back to that in a moment. This is the first time we have had routine proceedings since yesterday's question period.
I appreciate the opportunity to present this question of privilege today.
As I know members are very well aware, the House has the power to punish contempt, which explicitly includes disobeying an order of the House.
I will cite House of Commons Procedure and Practice, pages 80 and 81, which reads:
Any disregard of or attack on the rights, powers and immunities of the House and its Members, either by an outside person or body, or by a Member of the House, is referred to as a “breach of privilege” and is punishable by the House. There are, however, other affronts against the dignity and authority of Parliament which may not fall within one of the specifically defined privileges. Thus, 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...
As you are well aware, Mr. Speaker, even in other parliaments worldwide, including the United Kingdom, decisions have been made by Speakers in regard to this. The United Kingdom Joint Committee on Joint Parliamentary Privilege also attempted to provide a list of some types of contempt in its 1999 report. One of them that I will cite is “without reasonable excuse, disobeying a lawful order of the House or a committee.”
Wednesday, December 11, the member for Timmins—James Bay rose to present a motion that passed and provided clear direction. The motion reads as follows:
That the House call on the government to comply with the historic ruling of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ordering the end of discrimination against First Nations children, including by:
(a) fully complying with all orders made by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal as well as ensuring that children and their families don't have to testify their trauma in court; and
(b) establishing a legislated funding plan for future years that will end the systemic shortfalls in First Nations child welfare.
It was adopted unanimously by the House.
Quickly referencing the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, “call on” can also be defined as a demand, which constitutes clear direction, and the definition of “comply”, again in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, is to act in accordance with a command, regulation, etc.
Parliament called on the government to comply with the rulings of the tribunal, which wrote:
...that Canada’s systemic racial discrimination...resulted in harming First Nations children living on reserve and in the Yukon Territory who, as a result of poverty, lack of housing or deemed appropriate housing, neglect and substance abuse were unnecessarily apprehended and placed in care outside of their homes, families and communities and especially in regards to substance abuse, did not benefit from prevention services in the form of least disruptive measures or other prevention services permitting them to remain safely in their homes, families and communities. Those children experienced pain and suffering of the worst kind warranting the maximum award of remedy of $20,000...Canada is ordered to pay $20,000 to each First Nation child removed from its home, family and Community between January 1, 2006...
The direction is very clear.
In question period yesterday, the government response showed a willful disregard of the direction that was given by the House, both outside and inside Parliament.
First, CBC News online quoted the Minister of Indigenous Services saying that the government had no plans to drop the court challenge. Then yesterday in question period in the House, the Minister of Indigenous Services said “our commitment to implementing other orders from the CHRT or reforming child and family services has not changed in any way.” Nothing changes. In effect, in reply to a question from the member for Timmins—James Bay, he said the government was simply not changing its fashion of proceeding.
This is unprecedented, I would submit, and is a procedural grey area. There is no jurisprudence or Speaker's ruling that specifically covers such a situation, and we certainly went many decades back late into the evening last night. The closest equivalent was from Speaker Milliken on March 8, 2005, in relation to Bill C-31 and Bill C-32, bills that proposed creating a department of international trade separate from the Department of Foreign Affairs. In that instance, despite seeing legislation enabling departmental reorganizations defeated in the House, the government continued with its plan to split the departments.
In that ruling, Speaker Milliken ruled that no breach of privilege had occurred, in large part because Parliament had, in terms of order in council, provided direction to the government. He also cited the main estimates. In other words, there was ambiguity about the direction that was received from the House. Also, the Speaker mentioned that the comments were outside the House, so he questioned the validity of those comments and the accuracy of the quotation. In this case, we rely on Hansard and the quotes are very direct and present in this House.
However, Speaker Milliken expressed serious concern. He stated, “That is not to say that the comments, if reported accurately, do not concern me. I can fully appreciate the frustration of the House and the confusion of hon. Members, let alone those who follow parliamentary affairs from outside this Chamber.” Speaker Milliken then asked, “How can the decisions of this House...be without practical consequence?” That is from page 53 of Selected Decisions of Speaker Milliken, on a decision rendered on March 23, 2005.
There is ambiguity that needs to be carefully regarded and decided upon by you, Mr. Speaker. Of course, the House of Commons is supreme and has issued direction to the government. The government has stated in the House that nothing has changed, and I submit that this is in breach of the privileges of the House. However, as you know, ultimately it is up to the House to decide if its privileges have been infringed upon and if the government is in contempt.
As you well know, the role of the Speaker is to determine whether this matter warrants further discussion in this chamber. I would ask that you find a prima facie case of privilege, and allow space for members of this House to determine whether this warrants being reviewed by the procedure and House affairs committee. Particularly in a minority Parliament, this is of fundamental importance.
You will be studying my submission and perhaps other members would want to weigh in, but the reality is that the government has the ability over the break to fix what was, to my mind, a clear contradiction between the direction set by the House and the government's response. I certainly hope it does so. If that is the case, I would be more than pleased to withdraw this question of privilege.
The fact remains, and Canadians understand, that in democracy the voters make a decision. They choose who fills the House, and then we make decisions. The government then, when there is a clear direction, should have the understanding that the clear direction should be followed. There is no doubt that on Wednesday the House directed the government and on Thursday, less than 24 hours later, the minister indicated in the House that nothing had changed.
I submit that the House should be charged in this matter and if, after careful study, you agree, I am prepared to move the necessary motion, Mr. Speaker.