I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on March 31, 2022, by the member for Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman concerning the events reported in the third report of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.
First off, the Chair wishes to briefly describe the events that led to the member raising the question.
In June 2021, the committee presented its second report to the House. The report described the difficulties encountered during its study of the questions of conflict of interest and lobbying in relation to pandemic spending. Subsequently, the 43rd Parliament was dissolved, which put an end to the business of the House and its committees. No action was taken by the House during the previous Parliament with respect to this report and the allegations found therein, including the question of privilege raised on June 10, 2021. Members may refer to the ruling of December 9, 2021, found at pages 953 and 954 of Debates for further context.
The Committee recently presented its third report, reiterating its support for the conclusions of the report from the previous parliament, which led the member from Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman to raise his question of privilege. He argued that, while dissolution ended the orders for the appearance of witnesses, it did not allow the contempt that was allegedly committed to be purged. The presentation of the report would now allow the House to rule on these questions.
For his part, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons responded that the orders of the previous parliament expired with its dissolution. He argued that, in order to raise a question of privilege, a committee should first order the appearance of witnesses during this Parliament, then those witnesses should refuse to appear and, finally, a report detailing this refusal should be presented. He said that the presentation to the House of a report from a previous parliament is not enough to trigger the process related to a question of privilege.
To deal with this issue, the Chair must determine whether the issues raised in the committee’s report warrant the House to be seized of the matter and give it priority over other business during a new Parliament.
Dissolution put an end to all business of the House and its committees. Consequently, the order adopted by the House on March 25, 2021, expired and the persons summoned to appear were relieved of their obligations. The order to appear from the previous Parliament mentioned in the committee’s report is no longer before the House.
The Chair has no doubt that the House or its committees can order a particular witness to appear. Any such order must be respected as long as it is in effect. However, a new question of privilege may not be raised regarding a failure to testify unless the witnesses fail to comply with a new order to appear adopted by the House or one of its committees during the current session.
The question that now arises is concerning the alleged contempt and dissolution's effect on it. Only the House can determine that contempt has been committed and decide to punish in accordance with its gravity as it sees fit. Until the House has ruled, the facts remain alleged.
As was mentioned previously, and in the ruling of December 9, 2021, House of Commons Procedure and Practice, third edition, states at page 81, “Instances of contempt in one Parliament may even be punished during another Parliament.”
This sentence is taken from an earlier edition of Erskine May, the procedural authority in the United Kingdom. However, the Chair would like to point out once again that the circumstances in which a question of privilege may be raised on an alleged case of contempt that occurred during a previous Parliament are much more limited than this quote suggests.
The rare instances in which this concept was invoked by my predecessors always involved incidents that were brought to the attention of the House for the first time in light of new facts. They were not a continuation of proceedings interrupted by dissolution.
A 1967 report from the Select Committee on Parliamentary Privilege of the U.K. House of Commons clearly illustrates the rare circumstances in which this concept could apply. It states, at page 95 of the report:
However flagrant the contempt, the House can only commit to the close of the existing session. If, however, the House consider that an offender, who has been released on Parliament being prorogued, has not been punished sufficiently, it may commit him again in the following session.
Thus, when an allegation of contempt is brought to the attention of the House, it must be dealt with during the session in which it was raised. Any sanction applied by the House is valid only until the end of the session. However, in the very specific case in which contempt was recognized by the House and punished, but prorogation or dissolution put a premature end to the punishment or sanctions, the House may decide to continue its efforts in the subsequent session to remedy it. The issue would not therefore be to reopen a discussion on the merits of the allegations raised in the previous parliament, but rather to decide to reimpose a sanction that had not been fully applied.
In the case before us, the issues raised in the committee’s third report do not constitute new facts. The report raises the same elements that were presented in June 2021. In fact, this third report, reiterating the committee’s second report from the previous Parliament, deals with the proceedings of the 43rd Parliament, which all ended with dissolution.
Since the House did not have the opportunity to decide on the merits of the alleged instances of contempt nor to reprimand them before dissolution, it now seems to be too late to do so in this new Parliament.
By itself, the presentation of the committee's third report is not sufficient to conclude that this question must have priority over other House business. Consequently, the Chair cannot conclude that there is a prima facie case of privilege and give it priority over other House business.
I thank the members for their attention.