Mr. Speaker, I am rising on a question of privilege concerning the recent premature disclosure of the contents of Bill C-22, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
Yesterday, the CBC posted online, at 8:47 a.m., an article that outlined details of Bill C-22. Bill C-22 was introduced in the House later that morning. The article outlined several measures contained in the bill, including amendments to the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and the elimination of several mandatory minimum penalties. The article also boasts a reliance on sources, not unlike in the case I raised with you, Mr. Speaker, on another matter of privilege almost one year ago.
On February 25, 2020, I was on my feet in the House defending the privileges of the House on the matter of the premature disclosure of the contents of Bill C-7, an act to amend the Criminal Code (medical assistance in dying). In that case, The Canadian Press posted an article that disclosed the details of the bill before it was introduced in the House and after the bill went on notice.
On March 10, 2020, Mr. Speaker, you came back to the House with your ruling. You said:
First, based on a reading of the Canadian Press article on Bill C-7 on medical assistance in dying, and in the absence of any explanation to the contrary, I must conclude that the anonymous sources mentioned were well aware of our customs and practices and chose to ignore them. It seems clear to me that the content of the bill was disclosed prematurely while it was on notice and before it was introduced in the House.
The rule on the confidentiality of bills on notice exists to ensure that members, in their role as legislators, are the first to know their content when they are introduced. Although it is completely legitimate to carry out consultations when developing a bill or to announce one’s intention to introduce a bill by referring to its public title available on the Notice Paper and Order Paper, it is forbidden to reveal specific measures contained in a bill at the time it is put on notice.
As everyone knows, the Department of Justice, unfortunately, has a history of leaking the contents of government bills. On April 19, 2016, the Speaker found that there was a prima facie case of privilege regarding Bill C-14, an act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other acts (medical assistance in dying). At the time, he said:
As honourable members know, one of my most important responsibilities as Speaker is to safeguard the rights and privileges of members, individually and collectively. Central to the matter before us today is the fact that, due to its pre-eminent role in the legislative process, the House cannot allow precise legislative information to be distributed to others before it has been made accessible to all members. Previous Speakers have regularly upheld not only this fundamental right, but also expectation, of the House.
Another question of privilege was raised on March 19, 2001, regarding, once again, the Department of Justice briefing the media on a bill before members of Parliament. In that ruling, Speaker Milliken said this at page 1840 of the House of Commons Debates:
In preparing legislation, the government may wish to hold extensive consultations and such consultations may be held entirely at the government’s discretion. However, with respect to material to be placed before parliament, the House must take precedence. Once a bill has been placed on notice, whether it has been presented in a different form to a different session of parliament has no bearing and the bill is considered a new matter. The convention of the confidentiality of bills on notice is necessary, not only so that members themselves may be well informed, but also because of the pre-eminent rule which the House plays and must play in the legislative affairs of the nation.
The Speaker found another case of contempt on October 15, 2001, once again involving the Department of Justice, which does not seem to learn, after it briefed the media on the contents of a bill prior to the legislation being introduced in the House.
We are being asked once again to deal with the contemptuous actions of the Minister of Justice and his justice team. We have had countless rulings from the Speaker. The House has expressed itself on numerous occasions. We have had three debates and extensive committee studies.
The message is crystal clear, yet the responsible minister continues to draft bills and then leak those bills to the media, ignoring the will of the House. I ask, Mr. Speaker, that you find a prima facie case of privilege, and I am prepared to move the appropriate motion.