Madam Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege concerning misleading comments made in the House by the Minister for Emergency Preparedness.
In late June, it came to light, in evidence presented at the Mass Casualty Commission, that the Liberal government was heavily involved in the RCMP's communications about the April 2020 Nova Scotia tragedy, which, as things would turn out, was followed, mere days later, by a firearms announcement by the Prime Minister on May 1, 2020.
That involvement came to a head in a hastily arranged teleconference between RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, other top brass at RCMP headquarters and several Nova Scotia RCMP members, where those Nova Scotia officials were called out onto the carpet.
Contemporaneous notes of that teleconference taken by Chief Superintendent Darren Campbell, well-trained in documenting conversations, as any veteran police officer would be, recorded that Commissioner Lucki spoke about a promise she had made to the minister and had linked its importance to that forthcoming order in council announcement. Understandably, the former minister of public safety was vigorously questioned about those events here in the House.
On June 21, he said, on page 7,094 of the Debates, “no direction on an operational matter was given to the commissioner of the RCMP by me or any member of this government.” The following day, the minister said, at page 7,140 of the Debates, “At no point did our government pressure or interfere with the operational decisions of the RCMP, including their communications strategy.”
On the last day of the spring sitting, June 23, he added, at page 7,242 of the Debates, “neither the Prime Minister's Office nor the Minister of Public Safety's office had any role in interfering or pressuring the RCMP to make any operational decisions with respect to the investigation or with respect to RCMP communications around the investigation.”
The Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security and the Mass Casualty Commission itself heard from several witnesses over the summer months about their recollections of that teleconference. For his part, the minister doubled down on his own position, saying, unequivocally, at the committee on July 25, at page 1 of the evidence, “I did not ask them to release any specific information, nor did I receive a promise for them to do so.”
Later, in the meeting, at page 5 of the evidence, the minister reiterated, “I did not ask her to release that information. It wasn't required.”
In other evidence at the committee and commission, we heard Commissioner Lucki's claim that the minister's chief of staff was curious as to whether the types of firearms involved would be named in a press conference and, in turn, the RCMP commissioner dutifully inquired whether that would be the case. She asserts that she was so informed and passed the information back.
When it did not come to pass, we are supposed to believe that she felt embarrassed for having given the minister wrong information and convened the teleconference with senior Nova Scotia RCMP officials to address the miscommunication.
Subsequently, it was revealed that this conference call had been recorded by Dan Brien, an issues management adviser with the RCMP and a former longtime Liberal staffer, including serving as communications director to the previous public safety minister, Ralph Goodale. Lo and behold, those recordings had gone missing. Nonetheless, they were recovered somehow. Just yesterday, the recordings of this conversation and transcripts of them were published by the Mass Casualty Commission. That has shed a much brighter light on the infamous April 28, 2020, teleconference.
In the transcript, titled “Audio file 3 of 3 - Recorded: 2020-04-28 8:48:57 PM”, the commissioner is quoted, at lines 15 to 17 on page 1, as saying, “the little one line that I needed to be put into Darren’s speaking notes; how did it get to me that that one line was going to be in his speaking notes and it wasn’t?”
The keywords there are “one line that I needed to be put in”. It is pertinent because, as we know, the claim had been made that innocent questions had been asked by or on behalf of the minister.
In fact, the commissioner offered this explanation of the minister's interest in this issue in the following exchange with the Liberal member for Fleetwood—Port Kells, at page 24 of the evidence for the public safety committee of July 25 meeting. This is the question: “A critical piece here is, when the question was asked, was the question asked 'if' it would be disclosed, or did they ask 'for' it to be disclosed?”
Commissioner Brenda Lucki responds, “To my recollection, like I said at the very beginning, it's 'if' the weapons information would be included.”
Clearly, it was not mere curiosity whether the guns would be named. It was a line the commissioner “needed to be put in”, to use her own words. Was it at her own behest, or on behalf of someone higher up?
We must recall that the minister told the House on June 23 that the government had not played “any role” with respect to RCMP communications. Turning back to the transcript, I would refer the Chair to lines 19 and 20 on page two: “yet I got hit again, um, not being able to come through for the Minister, um on - on the simplest of requests”.
Lest we might think it is ambiguous from that question whether the commissioner may have been meaning to simply do a big favour for the minister, this next quote should leave the House with no doubt. I will now cite the transcript entitled “Audio file 1 of 3 - Recorded: 2020-04-28 8:34:52 PM”. At lines 11 and 12 on page one, we read the commissioner saying, “Flew it up the flagpole because it was a request that I got...from the Minister’s office.”
There we have it. The request came from the minister's office, but we might ask what that request was, that one line the commissioner needed to have added. It was to pre-position, as communications folks would say, for the May 1, 2020, Liberal firearms announcement.
Referring to the transcript entitled “Audio file 2 of 3 - Recorded: 2020-04-28 8:42:48 PM”, we read at lines 10 to 15 on page two, “Does anybody realize what’s going on in the world of handguns and guns right now? The fact that they’re in the middle of trying to get a legislation going”. That is the key point. That is the quote from that testimony, and I will read it again very quickly: “Does anybody realize what’s going on in the world of handguns and guns right now? The fact that they’re in the middle of trying to get a legislation going”.
There is the direct link between the government's partisan political agenda and the interference in an active investigation into a tragic shooting that left 22 innocent Canadians dead. The RCMP on the ground had reason not to release that information. The government was putting political pressure on those officers to release that information, which could have jeopardized their ongoing efforts to track the events that led to the tragic shooting.
This June, the minister asserted there was no direction, interference or pressure. If the minister were to come down to the House and say that what I just quoted to the House does not add up to that, the next quotations I will offer should remove any ambiguity about the nature or tone of that so-called request from the minister's office.
Members will recall that at the July 25 public safety committee meeting, the commissioner tried to brush off the urgency of these details coming out. Answering the Liberal member for Fleetwood—Port Kells when he asked why it was important this information be released at page 25 of the evidence, she said, “It wasn't important whether or not it was released.” The commissioner may have been on message with the minister's own committee statement, but the teleconference recording would prove them both wrong.
At lines 31 to 33 of page two of the transcript of audio file three, Commissioner Lucki is documented saying, “I already have a request sitting in my phone that the Minister wants to speak with me, and I know exactly what it’s gonna be about. And I can’t even, you know, I can’t uh, I – I – there’s not much I can say except that, once again, I dropped the ball, so that’s gonna be the fourth time I’m gonna say that to him”. She had already made one apology to the minister about her dropping the ball on pre-positioning for the Liberal gun announcement.
At lines 39 to 41 of page one of the transcript of audio file one, the RCMP commissioner says, “it’s pretty difficult when you have to tell, I have apologized to the Minister; I’m waiting for the Prime Minister to call me so I can apologize”. She is apologizing for not including that information the Liberal government decided would help it in a partisan way, despite the impact it may have on an ongoing police investigation.
It turns out that it was very important that the firearms information be released, despite what both the minister and the commissioner told the committee.
Let me put all these pieces together into one succinct summary. The RCMP commissioner is now on tape saying she “needed” a line to be put in. There are press conference remarks about an RCMP investigation in order to be able to “to come through for the Minister...on the simplest of requests” to accommodate information relevant to soon-to-be announced firearms laws.
Not having succeeded and not being satisfied with one apology, the minister was on the line looking for accountability because the commissioner had dropped the ball. The minister's comments to the House in June simply do not hold water. There is no other way to put it. He has misled this House, and he and the commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have both misled the public safety committee.
It is a well-established principle here that to make out a prima facie case of privilege in relation to a claim of misleading the House, three elements must be established.
First, it must be proven that the statement was misleading. The recordings and the transcripts taken in their entirety baldly contradict the minister's own assertions on the floor of the House in June.
Second, it must be established that the member making the statement knew it to be misleading. The RCMP commissioner herself said in these recordings that the minister had asked to speak to her and she said, “I know exactly what it’s gonna be about.” We know exactly what it was about.
Third, the misleading statement must have been offered with the intention to mislead the House. In June, when the revelations about this conference call first broke, the minister was under a political firestorm here in the House. He was in full-on damage control mode. In the circumstances, there is no way to view his comments other than as an attempt to be a wet blanket to smother yet another political scandal of the current Liberal government, interfering in police criminal investigations for political advantage.
It is my respectful submission that the three-part test concerning misleading the House has been satisfied. As Mr. Speaker Milliken ruled on February 1, 2002, at page 8,581 of the Debates:
I believe that both the minister and other hon. members recognize that two versions of events have been presented to the House.
...On the basis of the arguments presented by hon. members and in view of the gravity of the matter, I have concluded that the situation before us where the House is left with two versions of events is one that merits further consideration by an appropriate committee, if only to clear the air.
The air here certainly needs to be cleared. The stench must be purged, even if the minister heeds Conservative calls to resign.
Finally, before concluding, there is one potential hurdle the Liberals might try to identify that I want to address up front. That is that the Mass Casualty Commission's recordings and transcripts have not yet been formally placed before the House. However, I would refer members to the decision of Mr. Speaker Jerome on December 6, 1978, at page 1,856 of the Debates, where a prima facie case of privilege was established in relation to misleading information on the strength of evidence that was given before the Commission of Inquiry Concerning Certain Activities of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, also known as the McDonald commission.
Today's circumstances are, frankly, no different. In both cases, we have evidence from an RCMP commissioner given to a royal commission established under the Inquiries Act that contradicts the information which is before the House. Just as Mr. Speaker Jerome was prepared to find a prima facie case of privilege then, I believe that the Speaker can and must find one in the present circumstances to allow the House to address the misleading claims of the Minister of Emergency Preparedness.
I would just remind the Speaker, and I remind all hon. members, that we are not expecting the Speaker himself to make this determination. We are not expecting the Speaker himself to rule unilaterally that the minister is in contempt of the House or that the minister deliberately misled the House. All we are asking the Speaker to do is to allow the House to come to that decision and to make its own decision on this issue. The role of the Speaker is not to make this determination on his own. The role of the Speaker is to decide whether this rises to the level of allowing the House to study the matter and the House itself to pronounce on whether the minister is in contempt or has deliberately misled the House.
The gravity of this situation should not be forgotten. We are not simply pointing out a time when the minister was caught up with a contradiction about a minor issue or got some details wrong. We are talking about the allegation that in the middle of an ongoing investigation, mere days after a tragic shooting, the government was putting political pressure on the RCMP communications around the issue.
The RCMP officers who were conducting the investigation felt that releasing the specific information around the firearms that were used in the shooting could jeopardize their ability to find out where these firearms came from or other details around the case. It was the officers' discretion and their expertise that led them to the conclusion that they should not divulge that information at that time in the investigation.
For its own partisan political purposes, the government broke all bounds of decency and violated that independence between the executive branch of government and our national police force. It was all for political gain. That is why the situation rises to the level of justifying a finding of, at least at first glance, a breach of privilege.
Should you find that we are correct in this assertion, Mr. Speaker, I would be prepared to move the appropriate motion.