I am now ready to rule on the question of privilege raised on October 21, 2022, by the House leader of the official opposition concerning allegedly misleading statements made by the President of the King's Privy Council for Canada and Minister for Emergency Preparedness.
In his intervention, the member referenced the minister's answers to questions in the House earlier this year in which he stated that the government did not interfere with operational decisions of the RCMP. These remarks were made in parallel to the investigation of the April 2020 Nova Scotia mass shooting. He contended that a recording of a conference call between the commissioner of the RCMP and other high ranking officials, submitted as evidence at the Mass Casualty Commission, demonstrated the minister knowingly misled the House.
The parliamentary secretary to the government House leader countered that it was the tradition of the House to take members at their word and that the minister had consistently stated that there was no interference. He claimed that the allegations against the minister were conjecture and that the recordings did not contradict statements he had made.
In submitting his question of privilege to the House, the House leader of the official opposition correctly referenced the three criteria that need to be met when assessing a case of this nature. First, whether the statement was in fact misleading. Second, whether the minister knew the statements to be incorrect when they were made. Third, whether there was an intent to mislead the House.
At issue is a recorded conference call in which the commissioner of the RCMP appears to reference a promise made to the minister that a line regarding the types of firearms used in the April 2020 Nova Scotia tragedy would be included in prepared remarks to the media. The House leader of the official opposition maintained that the statement made by the minister in response to questions denying any interference in the investigation were, in fact, misleading.
The parliamentary secretary, for his part, argued that the minister confirmed that neither he nor his staff interfered in the investigation and that the commissioner has testified to this.
The House leader of the official opposition points to comments made by the commissioner on the recording in which she mentions the minister wanting to speak with her and that she knew about what. The parliamentary secretary’s assertion was that the topic of discussion was never explicitly stated and is therefore, conjecture. It is his contention that no facts contradict the statements of the minister or the commissioner.
The Chair has carefully reviewed the documents presented and the relevant precedents. The House leader of the official opposition referred to the ruling by Speaker Jerome from December 6, 1978. In that ruling, the Chair found that a prima facie contempt of the House existed because an official explicitly stated that the minister was deliberately misled. In that instance, the admission was unequivocal, leaving no room for doubt. He stated at page 1857 of the Debates:
I can interpret that testimony in no other way than meaning that a deliberate attempt was made to obstruct the member in the performance of his duties and, consequently, to obstruct the House itself.
In the present case, the matter is not as clear. To the House leader of the official opposition, the minister’s statements were knowingly incorrect and made with the intent to mislead the House. The minister, for his part, has repeatedly maintained that there was no interference and that his replies were based on statements made by the commissioner herself.
As members know, it is a tradition of the House that members be taken at their word. It would appear to the Chair that there is a dispute as to the facts. Indeed, as noted by a previous Speaker in a ruling on a similar matter made October 30, 2013, at page 596 of the Debates, “many of my predecessors in the chair have reminded the House that in most instances, claims related to disputed facts are not grounds for prima facie findings of privilege.”
In that same ruling, we can find at page 597 of the Debates:
...that the Chair is bound by very narrow parameters in situations such as this one.
Previous precedents make it clear that the threshold, when considering these situations, is high. In the view of the Chair, this threshold has not been met and, accordingly, I do not find there to be a prima facie question of privilege.
I thank the members for their attention.