Mr. Speaker, as I said at the onset, there was an opportunity for the government House leader to respond. He had indicated to Parliament that he would respond within a week of the point of privilege being presented by the member for Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes. The government House leader did not respond, and in the spirit of a ruling that you made last autumn, it was suggested and ruled upon that at the earliest convenience of the House reconvening, a point of privilege could be raised from the previous point of privilege. That is the basis upon which I am presenting this point of privilege, and I believe, in the spirit of what you decided, that I should continue with it.
In advance of the committee's March 29 meeting, the then government House leader sent a letter to the chair of the ethics committee, further to his statement to the House the week before, writing, “Accordingly, Mr Rick Theis, Director of Policy to the Prime Minister, has been instructed to not appear before the committee. In his place, I will attend the meeting on behalf of the government on Monday, March 29th.”
I would add that the ethics committee did not accept the then government House leader as a substitute witness in satisfaction of the order. Indeed, the committee, at its March 29 meeting, adopted a motion that states, “in relation to its study on questions of conflict of interest and lobbying in relation to pandemic spending, the committee invite [the minister] to appear.” He was treated as a separate witness, invited independently of and without any link to the March 25 House order.
When the then government House leader appeared at the committee, he said, at page 13 of the evidence, “Based on the instructions I gave the other day, it was clear to Mr. Theis and other individuals that they wouldn't appear before committees and would be replaced by the appropriate ministers”.
The minister even acknowledged, at page 8 of the evidence, that this was an unsatisfactory arrangement to the majority of the House, when he said, “I am aware that some of the members of this committee would rather be hearing from a staff member from the Prime Minister's Office, Mr. Rick Theis, but as I told the House last week and I want to make clear again, we fundamentally disagree with the decision”.
The then associate minister of finance would go on to write the ethics committee chair similar letters in advance of Mr. Singh's March 31 scheduled appearance and Mr. Chin's April 8 scheduled appearance.
A few moments ago, I referred to Bosc and Gagnon itemizing, at page 82, a list of known contempts of Parliament. I would add the following two, which have particular bearing here: “interfering with or obstructing a person who is carrying out a lawful order of the House or a committee” and “intimidating, preventing or hindering a witness from giving evidence or giving evidence in full to the House or a committee”. Bosc and Gagnon add, at page 1080, “Tampering with a witness or in any way attempting to deter a witness from giving evidence may constitute a breach of parliamentary privilege.”
Quite clearly, Messrs. Theis, Singh and Chin were obstructed, deterred, prevented from and maybe even hindered in their ability of carrying out a lawful order of the House of Commons. Parliament's right to hear from the witnesses it has chosen, without obstruction, has been consistently asserted, dating back to February 21, 1700, when the English House of Commons adopted a resolution that said:
That if it shall appear that any person hath been tampering with any Witness, in respect of his evidence to be given to this House, or any Committee thereof, or directly or indirectly hath endeavoured to deter or hinder any person from appearing or giving evidence, the same is declared to be a high crime and misdemeanour; and this House will proceed with the utmost severity against such offender.
Much more recently, in Mr. Speaker Milliken's highly celebrated ruling on Afghan detainee documents, on April 27, 2010, he made some less well-remembered comments on witness matters, including, at page 2041 of the Debates, “the procedural authorities are clear that interference with witnesses may constitute a contempt.”
Beyond the matter of the government's so-called instructions at page 13 of the ethics committee's March 29 evidence, the then government House—