I am now ready to rule on the question of privilege raised on March 19, 2019, by the hon. member for Milton, concerning an alleged leak of proceedings at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
I want to thank the hon. member as well as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, and the members for Essex, St. Albert—Edmonton and Cariboo—Prince George for their comments.
In her intervention, the member for Milton alleged that earlier that day the text of a motion that was to be debated in camera by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights was leaked to members of the media by Liberal staff. While the member acknowledged that it is normally committees themselves that must regulate such issues, in her opinion this disclosure of the work of the committee was egregious enough to constitute a breach of privilege that requires the Chair's intervention.
In response, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons insisted that no rules were breached in making public a motion not yet moved in committee since this act is not part of a committee’s proceedings.
To begin, the Chair would like to confirm that, despite what has been reported in the media, it has not been clearly established when exactly this motion was shared with the media. To that end, it is my understanding that the chair of the committee has committed to investigating this issue.
Nonetheless, both the member for Milton and the parliamentary secretary were right to cite House of Commons Procedure and Practice, third edition, at pages 1089 and 1090, which states:
Divulging any part of the proceedings of an in camera committee meeting has been ruled by the Speaker to constitute a prima facie matter of privilege.
Of note, though, is that the sentence that follows, on page 1090, is equally instructive. It reads:
However, if a committee does not report a divulgation of in camera proceedings, a Speaker has ruled that there are no procedural grounds on which to intervene.
It seems to the Chair then that these two principles must be considered together, rather than separately. For to consider only one could very well lead to a misinterpretation of what the House has accepted as its principles and practices. In ruling on a question of privilege concerning an alleged breach of confidentiality of in camera committee proceedings, Speaker Milliken stated on February 25, 2003, at page 3986 of the Debates:
In the absence of a report from the committee on such an issue, it is virtually impossible for the Chair to make any judgment as to the prima facie occurrence of a breach of privilege with regard to such charges.
The message is simple and steadfast: Committees are the masters of their proceedings. The Speaker must not supersede their judgment unless and until the circumstances are serious or extreme enough to warrant an intervention by the Chair in the absence of a report from a committee.
This in no way diminishes the importance of confidentiality of in camera committee proceedings. In fact, it is this insistence on confidentiality that breathes life into and sustains the very nature and value of such proceedings. Members and staff alike who are privy to these confidential discussions must assuredly continue do their utmost to respect and protect this important obligation.
From the evidence presented and studied thoroughly, the Chair could not find any indication, nor reasonably conclude, that this was an exceptional situation requiring an intervention in the absence of a committee report. Accordingly, in my view as Speaker, there is no question of privilege.
I thank all hon. members for their attention.