House of Commons Hansard #122 of the 43rd Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.

Topics

Alleged Non-compliance with an Order of the HousePrivilegeOral Questions

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, last Thursday, you ruled that the House had every right to compel the production of documents. You also ruled that, contrary to a reckless Liberal opposition motion from 2009 and 2010, the House had taken the necessary steps to balance parliamentary responsibility with protecting national security, and to promote dialogue with the government on the issue.

The only way was to put forward a motion to order Mr. Stewart to appear in this House today, at the bar, with those documents.

It is also within the authority of the House, as indicated in House of Commons Procedure and Practice, third edition, 2017, at page 130.

It is incumbent on us to do something. The House must defend itself and assert its rights.

Citation 120 of Beauchesne's Parliamentary Rules and Forms, sixth edition, states that with respect to questions of privilege, at first glance, and I quote: “Should the House wish to proceed without reference to the committee it may do so.”

Maingot adds at page 263, and I quote: “It is nevertheless open in flagrant cases of contemptuous conduct to move that the facts in question constitute a breach of privilege”.

In the First Report from the Select Committee on Procedure, session 1977-78 of the United Kingdom House of Commons, at paragraph 57, appendix C, a former clerk of that House, Sir Richard Barlas, wrote, and I quote: “Failure to comply with a formal order to attend or to produce papers may be dealt with by the House as a contempt; so may the failure to answer questions when giving evidence.” Such a failure should in fact be investigated by the Committee of Privileges. “[T]he House itself could and has dealt with the matter as one of privilege on a report being made by the committee concerned, and exercised its penal jurisdiction accordingly.”

Last week, we proceeded without reference to the committee to call Mr. Stewart to the bar to produce the requested documents. I would remind the House that it was the majority of elected members here in the House who voted for that action. It was not a wish or a request, it was an order. These documents still have not been produced. The urgency of the matter has not changed.

Paragraph 302 of the 1999 report of the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege in the United Kingdom clearly states, and I quote, “If the work of Parliament is to proceed without improper interference, there must ultimately be some sanction available against those who offend: those who interrupt the proceedings or destroy evidence, or seek to intimidate members or witnesses; those who disobey orders of the House or a committee to attend and answer questions or produce documents....But unless a residual power to punish exists, the obligation not to obstruct will be little more than a pious aspiration. The absence of a sanction will be cynically exploited by some persons from time to time.”

That is exactly where we are right now.

That said, what would be more important than imposing a sanction would be for the—

Alleged Non-compliance with an Order of the HousePrivilegeOral Questions

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

I am going to interrupt the hon. member for Louis-Saint-Laurent.

The hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier is rising on a point of order.

Alleged Non-compliance with an Order of the HousePrivilegeOral Questions

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Mona Fortier Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to table, in both official languages, the letter sent by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons on this subject.

Alleged Non-compliance with an Order of the HousePrivilegeOral Questions

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe if you seek it, you will find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That Mr. Iain Stewart be dismissed from the bar of the House.

Alleged Non-compliance with an Order of the HousePrivilegeOral Questions

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

All those opposed to the hon. member moving the motion will please say nay.

The House has heard the terms of the motion. All those opposed to the motion will please say nay.

I declare the motion carried. Mr. Stewart, you may leave.

(Motion agreed to)

The hon. member for Louis-Saint-Laurent.

I see he has a lot to say. I hope he will be as concise as possible.

Alleged Non-compliance with an Order of the HousePrivilegeOral Questions

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, we have seen worse.

That said, what would be more important than imposing a sanction would be for the powers of this House to be vindicated by obtaining the documents. Allowing the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations to do its work would be, in my opinion, more valuable than deliberating on how to scold the Public Health Agency a second time.

If the House were so inclined, it can arrest someone or even commit him or her to jail. For example, had Mr. Stewart not even showed up today, the authorities are clear that we could send Sergeant-at-Arms to bring him here.

Paragraph 121 in Beauchesne, in reference to persons summoned to attend at the bar, indicates that if the person is not present, “the absence is noted and the House orders the Speaker to issue a warrant for him to be taken into custody.”

That did not happen, however. Mr. Stewart did what he had to do, that is present himself to the House, but he did not do what the order asked him to do, and that is submit the documents.

Sir Bourinot's Parliamentary Procedure and Practice in the Dominion of Canada, fourth edition, states on page 62, and I quote, “If, when the order of the day has been read at the appointed time, the sergeant-at-arms informs the house that the person summoned is not in attendance, or cannot be found, the house will instruct the speaker to issue a warrant for his arrest.”

That did not take place, and that is all the better.

I will also quote from Parliamentary Practice in New-Zealand, which states, at page 794, “the House may also use its...powers to enforce and uphold its privileges. It may...coerce someone to do something it wishes to be done, for example committing a person to the custody of the Serjeant-at-Arms so that he or she may be brought to give evidence before a committee. When using its powers in this way, the House is not 'punishing' anyone for past transgressions, but rather ensuring that no transgressions occur.”

It goes on to say, “The House uses its powers to secure compliance with its orders before there has been any disobedience of them. If a person committed into the Serjeant's custody escaped, then a contempt would be committed and the person would be liable to be punished. The distinction between punishing for disobedience and taking action to secure compliance can be a fine one where there is disobedience to the House's order.”

Mr. Speaker, I would like to quote the most recent example, a ruling by your predecessor, the hon. member for Halifax West, on May 18, 2016, which can be found at page 3547 of the Debates of the House of Commons. Members will recall this sad day. The ruling had to do with the incident in which the Prime Minister crossed the floor and forcibly grabbed the official opposition whip by the arm like a common thug and dragged him back to his seat. It was one of the most disgraceful incidents in the history of our Parliament. The supreme political authority of this country behaved with the dignity of a thug. A few hours later, he admitted his mistake and formally apologized in the House of Commons. The member for Papineau did the right thing. Let us remember the parliamentary consequences of that incident.

In this case, after some brief comments, the Speaker simply said:

I appreciate the comments of all the members who have spoken, and I appreciate the Prime Minister's apology.

Having said that, I cannot help but find a prima facie case of question of privilege and I call upon the hon. member for York—Simcoe to move the appropriate motion.

Mr. Speaker, since you do not have any written notice in this case, I would like to read the motion that I intend to move.

The motion states: That the House find that the Public Health Agency of Canada continues to be in contempt for its failure to obey the orders of the House, adopted on June 2 and June 17, 2021, as well as the orders of the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations, adopted on March 21 and May 10, 2021, and, accordingly, directs the Sergeant-at-Arms attending this House to enter into the premises of the Public Health Agency of Canada to search for and seize the documents which were ordered to be produced by the House on June 2 and June 17, 2021, and by the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations on March 21 and May 10, 2021, and to deposit the documents with the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Council under the terms of the order of the House adopted on June 2, 2021 and that the Speaker do issue this warrent accordingly.

We had previously worked on a motion that was reviewed by the Chair and staff, who concluded that the proposal was not acceptable, so we immediately came up with a new one, which was adopted.

That is why we came prepared for every contingency this time around. If, by chance, the Chair decides that this first motion does not meet the requirements of the House, here is a second one that can be used moving forward.

The motion states: That the House find the Public Health Agency of Canada continues to be in contempt for its failure to obey the orders of the House, adopted on June 2 and 17, 2021, as well as the orders of the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations, adopted on March 31 and May 10, 2021, and, accordingly, refers the matter to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for its consideration of an enforcement mechanism available for this House to obtain the documents previously ordered by the House and the special committee to be produced to provide that: (a) the committee to be instructed to report back within four weeks of the adoption of this order to provide that in the event it does not do so, it shall be deemed to have presented a report making the following recommendations: “That the Sergeant attending this House be directed to enter the premises of the Public Health Agency of Canada to search inside for the documents which were ordered to be produced by the House on June 2 and 17, 2021, and by the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations on March 31 and May 10, 2021, and to table these documents with the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel, under the terms of the order of the House adopted on June 2, 2021, and that the Speaker do issue a warrant accordingly; (b) any report which is ready to be presented when the House stands adjourned may be submitted electronically to the Clerk of the House and and shall be deemed to have been duly presented to the House on that date, and (c) the provisions in paragraph (q) of the order adopted on Monday, January 25, 2021, concerning committee proceedings shall apply to maintain the committee held in relation to this order of reference until Sunday, September 19, 2021.

Let me be clear: This House has a job to do and this House shall be respected and especially shall be respected by all members, because we are 338 Canadians here in the House of Commons but we are more than citizens.

We are representatives of our constituents. When we do not pay respect to the House, we do not pay respect to the Canadian citizens. This is why, Mr. Speaker, I think that you will realize and recognize that if we let it pass, no one can address anything further.

This is all about respect for the House, which is made up of 338 Canadians who were duly elected by the public. If the House does not respect its orders, who will respect the laws adopted by the House? Who will respect the regulations adopted by the House? Who will respect the political decisions made after debates, albeit spirited ones, but decisions that were voted on by the individuals who were duly elected by the public?

The June 17 order was very clear, and two things were supposed to happen. The president of the Public Health Agency of Canada was to appear here and receive an admonishment. He was also meant to deliver the documents, but he did not.

It is like someone saying that they do not believe in a law, that it does not apply to them and that they do not care about the consequences because they do not believe in it. It is one thing if we are talking about a citizen who believes their rights have been violated. However, that is not how it works, and even less so when that someone is an elected official.

The House must respect the House. That is why I urge the Chair to take my question of privilege into consideration.

Alleged Non-compliance with an Order of the HousePrivilegeOral Questions

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

I have a long list of people who are rising on a point of order. I will get to them in the order in which I have noticed them.

The hon. member for St. John's East.

Alleged Non-compliance with an Order of the HousePrivilegeOral Questions

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I wish to intervene, first, on the point of order raised by the government House leader, but also to speak to the question of privilege raised by the opposition House leader.

The government House leader, allegedly having a point of order, made an argument against the order that was made. He did say in his opening remarks that the president of the Public Health Agency of Canada had to balance his obligations under legislation and the order of the House. That is absolutely wrong and totally contrary to the decision made by you, Mr. Speaker, and by the decision on which is was based, that of Speaker of Milliken in April 2010.

It is not up to Mr. Stewart to decide what the balance is. Nor is it up to the government House leader. In fact, it is up to the House of Commons to achieve the balance and determine how to balance the national interest, whether it be with respect to security, privacy or anything else, with the privileges of members of the House with respect to access to documents.

The House has already determined that matter. The points made by the government House leader seem to be offering some sort of alternative to the method adopted by the House. Clearly, there were plenty of opportunities for him to do that during the debate in the House on the motion that was moved. It could have been done at committee. It could have been done during debate on the opposition motion or on the debate on the matter of privilege. On all those occasions, he could have come forward and offered another method of doing the same thing that would give access to the documents to the committee, which has passed a motion for their acceptance and the House has determined such.

It certainly did not come before the House as a proper point of order. It was really a matter of debate, a debate that should have taken place on one of the other occasions, before the decision was made by the House. That is what I have to say about the point of order. The point of order should be dismissed.

The question of privilege that was raised by the opposition House leader is quite appropriate. We have a situation where the president of the Public Health Agency of Canada has complied with part of the order, but not the full order. Therefore, he is in breach of the order of the House, and a proper remedy has been suggested.

I am assuming there was two suggestions, actually one that the Sergeant-at-Arms be ordered, immediately, to undertake a search of the premises of the Public Health Agency of Canada with appropriate support, which has been done in the past, to obtain the papers that have been ordered by the House, or, alternatively, to present to the committee on procedure and House affairs to follow through. I think this was the committee that was recommended.

Either of those alternatives would be a way to proceed. I would leave that to you, Mr. Speaker, to decide what is the appropriate method in keeping with the precedents. I am speaking virtually, and I do not have access many of the authorities to respond specifically to the various sections of our procedures and rules. I would leave that to you and your assistants to determine the exact and appropriate method.

I would reiterate his assertion that the House is the master of the situation, not the government, not the government House leader, and that you as Speaker are entrusted with enforcing the privileges of all members of the House, including the government members and the cabinet ministers who also sit as members of the House. It is their privileges, it is our privileges, it is the people's privileges that we have the obligation to uphold. I commend you, Sir, to your deliberations.

I hope we could resolve this impasse by a proper order from you, Mr. Speaker, to comply with the order of the House.

Alleged Non-compliance with an Order of the HousePrivilegeOral Questions

4 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

We will go to the government House leader.

Alleged Non-compliance with an Order of the HousePrivilegeOral Questions

4 p.m.

Honoré-Mercier Québec

Liberal

Pablo Rodriguez LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, to begin with, I would ask that you take the statements I made during my point of order on the question of privilege and include them all in the debate.

I would add the following comments to the debate on the question of privilege.

The government respects the right of the House of Commons to order documents, but we also believe firmly in what the former House of Commons Speaker, Speaker Milliken, articulated in his ruling on April 27, 2010, where in the context of an order for national security-related documents he stated:

But what of the House’s responsibility regarding the manner in which this right can or ought to be exercised? The authorities cited earlier all make reference to the long-standing practice whereby the House has accepted that not all documents demanded ought to be made available in cases where the Government asserts that this is impossible or inappropriate for reasons of national security, national defence or international relations.

O’Brien and Bosc, at page 979, states: “—it may not be appropriate to insist on the production of papers and records in all cases.”

The basis for this statement is a 1991 report by the Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections, which, as recorded on page 95 of the Journals of May 29, 1991, pointed out:

The House of Commons recognizes that it should not require the production of documents in all cases; considerations of public policy, including national security, foreign relations, and so forth, enter into the decision as to when it is appropriate to order the production of such documents.

He further stated:

Now it seems to me that the issue before us is this: Is it possible to put in place a mechanism by which these documents could be made available to the House without compromising the security and confidentiality of the information they contain? In other words, is it possible for the two sides, working together in the best interests of the Canadians they serve, to devise a means where both their concerns are met? Surely that is not too much to hope for.

Speaker Milliken's ruling is an important precedent to guide how both the government and the House can come to a resolution on this important issue. The government wishes to work constructively with all members of Parliament to find a solution that respects the balance of interest between the rights of parliamentarians to have access to information and the obligations of the government to protect information related to national security and privacy.

As we all know, given the sensitivity of the information in question, the president of the Public Health Agency of Canada gave notice to the Attorney General of Canada pursuant to subsection 38.01(1) of the Canada Evidence Act on June 20, 2021, advising that “sensitive or potentially injurious information” was at risk of being disclosed as a result of the June 17 House of Commons order.

Under section 38.02 of the Canada Evidence Act, “no person shall disclose in connection with a proceeding (a) information about which notice is given...”. This means that information subject to the notice cannot be disclosed until the Attorney General assesses whether its disclosure would be injurious to national security or after the Federal Court has ordered its disclosure.

That being said, the Attorney General can, at any time under the Canada Evidence Act, authorize disclosure of the sensitive information if he is satisfied that measures are put in place to safeguard it. Given this, the government wishes to work constructively with the members of Parliament to find a solution that reflects the balance noted above and is willing to continue to seek a path forward that does not require the court's involvement. This would require the agreement of the Attorney General of Canada.

I have offered concrete solutions. I spoke of two very real options that would allow us to resolve this.

I made reference to the memorandum of understanding. I gave the example of the documents relating to the Afghan detainees. That is one option that can be used by the House.

The second option is related to the law clerk and parliamentary counsel, assisted by national security specialists.

These two options are concrete and real, and they respect both the will of the House and all of the government's obligations with regard to privacy and the protection of potentially sensitive information, the disclosure of which could be injurious to the country, individuals and institutions.

Mr. Speaker, I ask you to take the time to analyze these two very concrete options and solutions so that we can work together with the opposition parties for the benefit of all parliamentarians, but also for the benefit of all Canadians, which is much more important.

Alleged Non-compliance with an Order of the HousePrivilegeOral Questions

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, we once lived in a country where the Governor in Council ignored the will of the elected legislature. We once lived in a country where the executive council ignored the will of the legislative assembly. We once lived in a country where the chief minister and the cabinet ignored Parliament. That was a country long ago. That was a country some 18 decades ago and it was that ignorance of the elected legislature that led to the people rising up. It led to insurrection, it led to the rebellions of 1837 and it led ultimately to reforms. It led to the introduction of responsible government, first in the legislature in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which was established in 1758, and subsequently, several years later, in the predecessor Parliament to this one: the Parliament of the United Province of Canada in the 1840s.

It led to Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin establishing the first responsible government, the first great ministry of Canada, on February 25, 1848. It was an important milestone that established the fundamental concept that the executive branch of government is accountable to the elected legislature, that the executive branch of government cannot ignore the orders of this place, cannot ignore the bills that are passed and adopted in this place and the other place, and cannot ignore the will of the elected House of Commons. Until that point, the Governor in Council regularly ignored Parliament and the elected legislature. Bills were often vetoed by the governor. Orders of the House were ignored. The Governor in Council hired and fired advisers at will and made his own decisions, the legislature be damned.

The introduction of responsible government was an event so important that on Parliament Hill we have a statue to Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin that overlooks the Ottawa River and is labelled at the bottom, chiselled in stone, “Responsible government”. Since the introduction of that responsible government, Canada's democracy has evolved to the point that we now accept that the government is accountable to the House, but the Liberal government is rolling back 18 decades of parliamentary evolution with its defiance now of four orders of the House and its committee.

The situation in front of us is rapidly evolving from a situation in which the government is simply refusing to provide documents related to the termination of Dr. Qiu and Dr. Cheng, and the transfer of materials from the Winnipeg National Microbiology Laboratory to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, to a situation that is much more serious and that involves the rule of law. The rule of law is such a sacrosanct part of the trinity of our principles of a belief in democratic institutions, human rights and liberty and the rule of law, that the 1982 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms put in its preamble that this country recognizes the supremacy of the rule of law, and the Liberal government is seriously undermining that rule of law with its flagrant disobedience of the four orders of this elected chamber.

There have been two strong precedents in recent years to support the orders of the House and its call for documents. One is the case that has been referred to many times, in which Speaker Milliken's ruling of 2010 made clear that it is the grand inquest of the nation that this chamber has an unfettered, absolute right to call for the production of papers, full stop. There was a more recent example two and a half years ago in the mother Parliament of the United Kingdom, when the Conservative British Prime Minister of the day defied Parliament and said she would not release the Attorney General's solicitor client-protected opinion on the Irish backstop in relation to the Brexit deal.

She refused to hand over those documents, and the House found her in contempt and ordered that her Attorney General come to the House with the documents, which Attorney General Geoffrey Cox did because the British government understood the importance of the rule of law, the importance of Parliament and the importance of democracy. That is why the current Canadian government cannot be allowed to get away with this flagrant defiance of four orders of the House.

I will finish by saying this. Why do Canadians send 338 of their fellow citizens to this chamber if their decisions are going to be ignored? Why do we spend $400 million a year on this chamber and the other one if our votes do not mean anything? Why do we vote to adopt orders if they do not have effect? Why are we spending billions of dollars on these buildings, some $5 billion on Centre Block alone at last count, if the processes and procedures in this place do not mean anything?

We cannot allow this open defiance of the House to go unchallenged. We must uphold parliamentary democracy, and we must ensure the government fulfills the order of the House.

Alleged Non-compliance with an Order of the HousePrivilegeOral Questions

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

That is a very tough act to follow. Very powerful and passionate arguments were just made by the member for Wellington—Halton Hills defending the importance of the decisions made in this place and the democracy that we have. I probably will be far less interesting, powerful and passionate, but I have a couple of citations to make that I think the Speaker will find helpful in making his decision, and I would like to share those with him.

Central to the very key elements of the intervention from our opposition house leader, who made a very compelling case for the path that he has put forward, was the idea that, if the House is able to do incredible things to order persons to attend, we should be able to do the same with respect to documents. That is central to the arguments he made, and I just wanted to share with members a couple of citations I believe the Speaker will find helpful in making his ruling.

First of all, in their 1972 paper, entitled “Parliamentary Committees: Powers over and protection afforded to witnesses”, then Attorney General of Australia, Ivor Greenwood, and then Solicitor General of Australia, Robert Ellicott, wrote at paragraph 117:

Although seldom if ever used, it would no doubt be within the competence of the House of Commons and therefore our own Houses to authorise an officer to search for specified documents or classes of documents in a particular place and order that they be inspected or copied or brought before the House. If a committee had power conferred on it to do this there seems to be no reason why it, too, could not give such an order. Any person who obstructed an officer in the course of carrying out the order would, of course, be guilty of contempt.... We are inclined to the view that the power to give such an order is conferred on a committee by reason of a power to send for documents.

The principle of the House being empowered to search for and seize documents is also endorsed at page 688 of Australia's House of Representatives Practice, sixth edition, and it is also cited favourably by Derek Lee, a former Liberal member of Parliament in this House, in his 1999 book, The Power of Parliamentary Houses to Send for Persons, Papers and Records at page 47, where he adds, “Alternatively, where a person is in the sergeant's custody, the House may send the sergeant to accompany the prisoner while the prisoner goes to obtain the document required by the House, as the U.K. House of Commons did in 1809.”.

I just wanted to make sure I added those important citations to the record. I think they will be helpful to the Speaker in making his decision, and I believe it is very clear that the House does and should have the power to order the documents to be produced, just as it can order someone to attend to the bar.

Alleged Non-compliance with an Order of the HousePrivilegeOral Questions

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Alain Therrien Bloc La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Bloc Québécois, I would like to reserve the right of our party to respond to the question of privilege raised by my hon. colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent at a later date.

Alleged Non-compliance with an Order of the HousePrivilegeOral Questions

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, on this matter, I would also like to add to the body of evidence you are considering in this matter as we had Mr. Stewart in front of our Standing Committee on Health on Friday, where he was questioned on this issue. It was very apparent in his testimony he understood the terms of the order and had decided not to abide by the second component of the order, which was the production of documents.

It is important for the Speaker, in considering his ruling in terms of a prima facie case of breach of privilege, to understand that Mr. Stewart did have the opportunity to comply with the motion, that he understood the terms of the motion and yet failed to comply today. This has made my job as a parliamentarian and the vice-chair of the Standing Committee on Health exceptionally difficult. It is our job to scrutinize these matters. I certainly feel that having the head of the Public Health Agency of Canada before the committee outlining the fact that he understood the terms of the motion yet indicating he may not comply with it to be highly problematic. Parliament is supreme. We have, as parliamentarians, the right to compel documents and to have them so we can suggest better public policy outcomes.

I would add one further point in this regard. This is now becoming a pattern. There was a motion put before the House in October for the production of other documents. That has not been complied with fully, with the health committee we are seized with. In testimony in front of the health committee, the deputy minister for Public Works also said that the government had wilfully not complied with the terms of the motion and that it had not produced unredacted documents to the law clerk. Therefore, parliamentarians have not had the ability to scrutinize these documents.

The documents I am raising right now as extra evidence are in fact contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions of dollars. It is difficult to ascertain because we do not have copies of them. Given that Canadians pay taxes to fund these contracts, and there have been a lot of delays in the delivery of these contracts, it is incumbent upon the committee to be able to look at these things.

This is a pattern. I would direct the Speaker and the Clerk to the testimony of Mr. Stewart in front of the health committee on Friday, and present that as evidence that this was wilfully ignoring the will of the House. I find this deeply unacceptable and I certainly support some of the arguments that have been made by my colleagues this afternoon.

Alleged Non-compliance with an Order of the HousePrivilegeOral Questions

June 21st, 2021 / 4:20 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I want to address two relatively important but quick points.

My understanding is that the Public Health Agency of Canada has been invoking a mandatory requirement under section s.38 of the Evidence Act. This is a part of the legislation the Speaker really needs to look at as Mr. Stewart is, from what I understand, following the law. He has turned those documents over to the office of the AG from what I understand, and notice has been filed in the federal court. This is my understanding. The rule of law limits Parliament. Its powers are not completely unfettered. They are fettered by its own laws. The law is, and I really want to emphasize this, clear in section s.38 of the Evidence Act. That is the first point.

The second point, and I think I can speak on behalf of a number of my colleagues, is that having Mr. Stewart at the bar was very difficult for many of us to witness. The amount of time he stayed at the bar was deeply offensive to many members.

Can the Speaker provide, in his ruling, why it was necessary to keep this outstanding civil servant, who has done such a wonderful job during this pandemic, at the bar in such a fashion? It seemed to be somewhat, in my opinion, shameful, so I ask the Speaker to also take that into consideration when he provides the ruling.

Alleged Non-compliance with an Order of the HousePrivilegeOral Questions

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Ron McKinnon Liberal Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I wish to respond to the comments from the member for Calgary Nose Hill regarding Mr. Stewart's appearance at the health committee on Friday.

From my recollection, Mr. Stewart did not, in fact, indicate that he would not bring forward the documents, although he did decline to say one way or the other. However, he did, most emphatically, express serious concerns that, as a public servant, he is bound to obey the laws passed by this Parliament.

The fact that Mr. Stewart did not produce these documents at this time, I would say, does not indicate any willful disregard of this House, but rather a much higher regard for the will of Parliament as a whole, which has passed the laws that he is bound to obey.

Alleged Non-compliance with an Order of the HousePrivilegeOral Questions

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

I want to point out that we have heard a lot, and we still have three more people getting up on this point of privilege. I want to make sure that anything that is being brought is new and concise rather than repeating what has already been said.

The next person getting up is the member for Vancouver Kingsway.

Alleged Non-compliance with an Order of the HousePrivilegeOral Questions

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have heard a number of members speak to an issue that I think is very important for you in assessing this ruling, and that is what kind of fetters may or may not exist to the House's power to order documents. There was a suggestion made that government officials may validly refuse an order of production from the House if they believe that another law prevents them from doing that.

I just want to bring to your attention, Mr. Speaker, a letter that was sent to the Standing Committee on Health, dated March 20, 2020, signed by Philippe Dufresne, the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel. In this letter, he said:

...we reminded the government officials that the House's and its committees' powers to order the production of records is absolute and unfettered as it constitutes a constitutional parliamentary privilege that supersedes statutory obligations.

When some of my hon. colleagues say things like that the Evidence Act, which is another statute of this House, prevents Mr. Stewart or someone else from disclosing documents, or maybe it is the National Security Act or other considerations, those are all other statutes of the House that very clearly are superseded by Parliament's constitutional authority to order the production of documents.

My final brief point is this. There seems to be a suggestion that national security would be compromised were the government to comply with your ruling, Mr. Speaker. If I am not mistaken, your ruling and the subject matter of the order do require the documents to be reviewed by the law clerk for national security reasons. The real issue here is who does that. It is the will of the House that it is the law clerk of the House of Commons who will be doing the redacting, whereas the government seems to be suggesting that it has the right to pre-redact. I think that is leading to confusion and misunderstanding among Canadians that these documents might somehow compromise national security were your ruling to be complied with, but that is not the case at all.

Alleged Non-compliance with an Order of the HousePrivilegeOral Questions

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, there is a significant point of rebuttal to the comments that were made by various people with respect to the letter of the law and other laws that are passed by Parliament. My colleague for Vancouver Kingsway has referred to the letter from the law clerk.

However, the complete rebuttal to the comments made with respect to that is actually found in the ruling of Speaker Milliken of April 27, 2010. It completely sets out the whole case, starting with what was suggested by the government House leader and then going on to explain that how it is done and the methods of doing it are to be determined by the House. All of those arguments were made before the Speaker back in 2010 and were rejected by the Speaker in making his ruling. I would suggest that this is the complete rebuttal to the comments that have been made to suggest that the order of the House, which you ruled to be in order, was in fact improper.

Alleged Non-compliance with an Order of the HousePrivilegeOral Questions

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, members of the government have been invoking this argument that the Public Health Agency is limited in the documents it can hand over, by law. We heard this argument the first time the president of the Public Health Agency appeared before a committee on March 22. He invoked the Privacy Act in his consistent refusal to answer questions or hand over information subsequently.

I have a few points on this invocation of the Privacy Act.

Number one, Mr. Speaker, you have already ruled on this question in your ruling on the initial question of privilege, so it seems that by invoking this, members are trying to undo a ruling that you have already made.

Number two, members have rightly invoked the constitutional principle that the rights of this House are part of our constitutional law and they supersede statutes like the Privacy Act. A point that has not been made, however, and that was made by my colleague from Wellington—Halton Hills at the ethics committee on March 31, when the committee first adopted an order to send for these documents, was that the Privacy Act itself contains an exception, which clarifies, in this case, that the document should be handed over. My colleague, at the time, read paragraph 8(2)(c) of the Privacy Act, which says:

(2) Subject to any other Act of Parliament, personal information under the control of a government institution may be disclosed...

(c) for the purpose of complying with a subpoena or warrant issued or order made by a court, person or body with jurisdiction to compel the production of information or for the purpose of complying with rules of court relating to the production of information;

In other words, we do not have a conflict between the constitutional principle of the supremacy of Parliament and the Privacy Act, because the Privacy Act explicitly defers to the authority of courts, of Parliament and of other bodies that have the right to send for these documents.

These arguments were made at the time, and in fact these arguments were persuasive to Liberal members of the committee. At the time, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs said:

I think the section that [the member for Wellington—Halton Hills] cited is actually more appropriate. I hope that legal counsel to the Public Health Agency of Canada will listen to [the member] on that, and investigate further the right and the responsibility of a parliamentary committee, following under the rules of the House and the purpose of the House to oversee government and its agencies. I'm not going to be arguing with [the member] on that point, as well.

Very clearly, members of the government who claim that there is some legal obligation on the part of the Public Health Agency of Canada to not hand over these documents simply are not aware of the relevant law in this case. Mr. Speaker, you have ruled, the Constitution is clear and the Privacy Act is clear that these documents should be handed over. Members of the government have consistently agreed with that view of the law at the Canada–China committee. That is why they have voted in favour of motions to send for these documents.

Alleged Non-compliance with an Order of the HousePrivilegeOral Questions

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

I want to thank the hon. members for their interventions. This is an unprecedented situation and one that concerns the Chair.

I will take the matter under advisement and get back to the House with a ruling.

Message from the SenateOral Questions

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

I have the honour to inform the House that messages have been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed the following bills: Bill C-33, An Act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the federal public administration for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2022; and Bill C-34, An Act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the federal public administration for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2022.

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Regina—Lewvan, Natural Resources; the hon. member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, National Defence; the hon. member for Nanaimo—Ladysmith, Indigenous Affairs.

The House resumed consideration of Bill C-30, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on April 19, 2021 and other measures, as reported (with amendments) from the committee, and of Motion No. 2.

Budget Implementation Act, 2021, No. 1Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

It being 4:35 p.m., pursuant to order made Monday, January 25, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at report stage of Bill C-30.

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Vote #159