Madam Speaker, I recognize that Canadians are being challenged right now. There are many issues and problems that we must face, but it is my regretful duty to rise today on a question of privilege concerning the admissions published late last night by my colleague, the member for Pontiac, concerning his conduct while attending the House on Wednesday.
In a statement released on Twitter at 10:34 p.m. last night, the member admitted, “Last night while attending the House of Commons proceedings virtually, in a non-public setting, I urinated without realizing I was on camera”.
This shocking event is, in my respectful view, a contempt of the House. On page 81 of the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, third edition, it explains that :
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.... ....or is an offence against the authority or dignity of the House
To do what he did within the House is quite frankly an offence to the dignity of Parliament. Though a very quick scan of our precedents does not reveal any past cases of contempt of this specific nature, I would suggest two things: First, such shocking and reckless conduct is likely unprecedented, and second, no specific precedent is required for the House to act.
On page 81 of Bosc and Gagnon, it explains:
The House of Commons enjoys very wide latitude in maintaining its dignity and authority through the exercise of its contempt power. In other words, the House may consider any misconduct to be contempt and may deal with it accordingly. This area of parliamentary law is therefore extremely fluid and most valuable for the Commons to be able to meet novel situations. Throughout the Commonwealth most procedural authorities hold that contempts, as opposed to privileges, cannot be enumerated or categorized.
On page 83, it continues:
Just as it is not possible to categorize or to delineate every incident which may fall under the definition of contempt, it is also difficult to categorize the severity of contempt. Contempts may vary greatly in their gravity; matters ranging from minor breaches of decorum to grave attacks against the authority of Parliament may be considered as contempts.
Even though it is impossible to complete an exhaustive list of what might constitute a contempt of Parliament, the United Kingdom's Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege included in a 1999 report a collection of various categories of contempt. At the top of the list was: “interrupting or disturbing the proceedings of, or engaging in other misconduct in the presence of, the House or a committee”
That list, including the item I quote, is favourably cited by Bosc and Gagnon at pages 82 and 83. The actions of the member for Pontiac without a doubt represent the engagement in misconduct in the presence of the House.
I know that some could be quick to stress the part of the member's statement that he was “in a non-public setting”, but frankly, there is no part of the House of Commons that is non-public. While I am speaking right now, the cameras are on me and more than 95% of the rest of the chamber is not in the camera shot. That does not mean that what is happening outside of the camera shot is non-public or what not happening inside the chamber. It certainly does not stop us from properly calling to order those who are disorderly, wherever they may be.
I would also refer the Chair to paragraph (c) of the special order adopted on January 25, 2021, which authorizes our current hybrid proceedings, as follows:
any reference in the Standing Orders to the need for members to rise or to be in their place, as well as any reference to the chair, the table or the chamber shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the virtual nature of the proceedings
Consistent with the decision of the House and by all logic, to turn on our camera and to log onto the House Zoom feed is the same as opening one of those doors behind me and walking down to any of the 338 seats in this majestic room. The use of our webcams in our proceedings is less than an year old and, if I have anything to say about it, only temporary.
The television cameras filming us have been here since 1977. The House of Commons is, on the other hand, an ancient institution and its rules and its rights long predate cameras and broadcasting equipment. To claim that what happens in the House is only what is broadcast on the outgoing television feed is nonsense and it cheapens what is the institution and what it represents.
Whether something happens right here on the floor of this chamber, either in or out of the camera shot, or in the extension of the chamber through the video conferencing, we must apply equal treatment to members' conduct. It falls to us to respond to offensive behaviour in the same manner too.
The member's behaviour, whether committed right here or via Zoom, cannot be condoned.
Finally, let me address one further technical matter. On Wednesday evening, the House was sitting in committee of the whole, though it is not clear whether the misconduct of the member for Pontiac occurred before or after the House resolved itself into the committee of the whole. In normal practice, questions of privilege arising in committee shall first be reported to the House from the committee itself. However, given the practical realities surrounding how committees of the whole conduct their business, you ruled on July 22, 2020, at page 2,701 of the Debates:
I accept that the particular circumstances of this situation, notably the challenge surrounding the committee of the whole format, do make it appropriate to bring the matter to the Speaker.
In closing, this is not the first time the member for Pontiac has exposed himself while virtually attending a sitting in the House. It is not even the first time this spring. I recognize that he has apologized, and acknowledged that he requires some form of assistance or intervention, but it does not absolve him of the responsibility for his conduct and his choices while attending a sitting in the House.
Even if the member's conduct was unintentional or lacking in malice, we must also recognize that it still puts his colleagues, plus all of the hardworking staff of the House of Commons administration, in a very uncomfortable position. It is incumbent upon us to ensure that the House of Commons is, and remains, a safe and respectful workplace.
Canadians send us to Parliament to represent them because they believe we possess the good judgment necessary to make these important decisions on their behalf. The reckless conduct the member for Pontiac admitted completely undermines that for himself, for each of us and for the institution of Parliament as a whole.
What is more, it is becoming clearer by the day that we must draw a bold, bright line that confirms that logging into the virtual House is the same as entering into this room, and that standards of behaviour in both places must be the same. Perhaps the procedure and House affairs committee would be able to make this point should the matter eventually be referred to it.
Madam Speaker, should you agree with me that there is prima facie contempt, I will be prepared to move an appropriate motion, even if I wish these circumstances had never happened.