Mr. Speaker, I apologize to my colleague for interrupting his questions. I hope it gives members of the government and the opposition an opportunity to come up with better questions to ask him when I am done.
However, I rise on a question of privilege related to written Question Nos. 2068, 2069 and 2070, which I submitted on December 7, 2023.
I ask that you look at the following three pieces of evidence when you review my request. First, I ask that you look at the questions I submitted to the government. Second, I ask that you look at the answers the government provided to my questions. Third, I ask that you also look at the procedural aspects of this question, what procedural experts have said about the matter and the troubling precedent being set with regard to written questions. I hope you will find that the government's treatment of written questions calls into question its respect for the rights of parliamentarians to seek information on behalf of their constituents and on behalf of all Canadians.
You will note that my three questions deal with Canadian foreign policy, specifically with regard to the long-standing conflict in Israel and Palestine. While this is, of course, an issue of serious debate in Canada, my question of privilege is not meant to debate the crisis and the potential genocide in Gaza but to raise serious concerns about the government's refusal to provide answers to clear questions raised by my constituents and Canadians across the country. I believe that the government is not meeting its responsibilities towards parliamentarians in its handling of written questions.
I first turn to the response I received to written Question No. 2068. I asked a question on the export of military goods and technology to Israel. My question included 22 very specific sub-questions, as is the norm for written questions. I will not read the entire question to the House since you can find it in previous Order Papers; however, I will give some examples of the level of specificity of the sub-questions.
For example, I asked:
“has [Global Affairs Canada] reviewed its assessment on export permits to Israel in light of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the situation in the West Bank; has [Global Affairs Canada] identified any serious violations of international humanitarian law or international human rights law since October 7, 2023; in [Global Affairs Canada]'s analysis, do the deaths of [at the time] over 6,500 children and 4,000 women amount to serious violence against women and children”?
Of course the number has now doubled to over 12,000 children.
Instead of a response to my specific question, I received a boilerplate, cut-and-paste response. Furthermore, and I raise this with great concern, the answer contradicts information in the 2022 report on the export of military goods, tabled in the House, which clearly states that there were 199 export permits for military goods and technology to Israel that year and 315 export permits used that year. More than $21 million in military goods and technology were exported to Israel from Canada in the year preceding the 2022 report, yet the response to my Question No. 2068 did not mention any of these.
The answer, further, contradicts information Global Affairs Canada has provided to The Globe and Mail, in which it admitted that Canada has sent non-lethal military goods, which appears to be a euphemism for military-grade parts and components that comprised very lethal systems and that may require export permits.
I wonder why the information provided by the government to my written question contradicted information it has provided in a report to the House and to the media. The government has the responsibility to provide the House with accurate information. What explains these discrepancies in the response to my question?
As you will see, I asked specific questions to which there are specific answers. These questions are of the highest importance to Canadians at a time when tens of thousands of people are calling for an arms export ban against Israel. I remind you and the House that, for years, New Democrats have sought details on Canadian arms exports, whether it be to Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia or, recently, to Kyrgyzstan and onwards to Russia. We have very little information available to us as parliamentarians to investigate the many loopholes in the arms export system.
In its response to my Question No. 2068, the government states that Canada has one of the most rigorous export control systems in the world, which is a talking point we have heard for many years but which does not match the reality. This is why I asked these specific questions.
The government has claimed for years that it has a rigorous export control system, but we see at every occasion that it does not. There are loopholes everywhere. There are political choices being made, such as what we saw with the recent Turkey decision last week, and what we are now seeing with Israel, where the Arms Trade Treaty and the substantial risk of human rights violations is only applied in some cases and not in all cases. We have no way to evaluate this without a fulsome response to our written questions.
Unlike what happens in the United States, Canadian parliamentarians do not have oversight of export goods and technology. Despite our election to the House, we do not have more information than the average person on the street. The government clearly does not want us to know what is being exported, to whom and for what purpose, and that is evident in the response provided to me for Question No. 2068.
If we are to fix this broken system, then we need the proper information to do so, which is why my question is so important to have been answered and why the government's response is clearly a breach of my privilege as a parliamentarian. These are the most crucial conversations that we need to have as a country, and the government is deliberately avoiding those hard conversations by refusing to answer my question.
I will turn to Question No. 2069, which asked a series of specific questions about the government's policy toward the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice, and I will remind members that my question was submitted to the government prior to South Africa's submission to the ICJ alleging possible genocide in Gaza by the Government of Israel and prior to the ICJ finding a genocide case against Israel as “plausible” and ordering six provisional measures, including for Israel to refrain from acts under the genocide convention, prevent and punish the direct and public incitement to genocide and take immediate and effective measures to ensure the provision of humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza.
My written question was divided into 10 sub-questions, which is the norm for written questions. Again, I will not read the entire question, but will give some examples. I asked:
how many states does the government accept are parties to the ICC;
...what motivated Canada to submit its views opposing the ICJ’s advisory proceedings on the legal consequences arising from the policies and practices of Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in East Jerusalem; and
...prior to submitting its opposition to the ICJ’s advisory opinion, did government officials hold meetings with other states to coordinate efforts to oppose the case at the ICJ?
Again the government has not answered several of these sub-questions. Instead, it provided the same language it has used in its public statements. I am not looking for the same language as its public statements. I am looking for specific answers to specific questions that many Canadians have.
Turning to my third question, this question dealt with the very complex issue of international law with regard to Israel and Palestine and the government's interpretation of that law in determining its foreign policy toward the region. This question included 18 sub-questions. Again, this is the norm.
Once again, I will not read the question. However, can the Speaker believe that, instead of engaging seriously with these 18 sub-questions, the government instead provided the exact same response to Question No. 2070 as it did to Question No. 2069? There is no difference. The questions are completely different, with completely different sub-questions, and the government chose to copy and paste the same answer to both questions.
Again, my questions were submitted before South Africa's case against Israel at the International Court of Justice. One would think that, since the horrendous attack on October 7, the war on Gaza and the resulting South Africa case against Israel on the question of genocide, Canada would be engaging thoughtfully with questions of international law, yet these answers do not engage with the difficult questions I raised. Rather, it seems the government is trying to avoid engaging its international legal responsibilities entirely and is instead hiding behind vague public statements that have no real substance.
As the Speaker can see, I asked specific questions, and there are specific answers that need to be provided. Someone in Global Affairs Canada knows the answers to these questions. Certainly, the minister and her staff must have the answers to these questions. The government has made absolutely no effort to answer my questions in good faith, but these questions are not just questions on paper. They go to the heart of the government and the responsibility the government holds.
What I mean by this is that the government must recognize its responsibilities under international law, including conventions and treaties it is signed on to. The government has a responsibility to explain how it interprets international law in complex cases, such as Israel and Palestine. It is my responsibility as a parliamentarian to hold the government to account and to ensure that Canadians are getting the information that they are entitled to, using the tools that I have available to me.
Canadians are asking me every day for information on how the government is interpreting international law with regard to the war and the potential genocide in Gaza. I have received more than a quarter of a million emails from Canadians expressing their outrage at the government's position. First, the reluctance to call for a ceasefire; next, its refusal to support South Africa's case; then cuts to life-saving humanitarian assistance through UNRWA; and now its reluctance to call on the United States and Israel to end this war.
In the absence of clear answers from the government, as my letters go unanswered, my questions in the House go unanswered, my calls on social media go unanswered and my questions in committee go unanswered, written questions are one of the few tools I have to understand the government's position and to engage with that position on behalf of Canadians. The government will surely claim that it answered some of my sub-questions and that my dissatisfaction is merely a matter of opinion.
I am not asking you to judge the quality or lack thereof of this. What I am asking you to do today, Mr. Speaker, is rule that the government's refusal to answer most of the sub-questions in my written question constitutes a violation of my rights as a member of Parliament.
According to the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, page 517, the purpose of written questions is, “written questions are placed after notice on the Order Paper with the intent of seeking from the Ministry detailed, lengthy or technical information relating to “public affairs”.
In chapter 7 of the November 2004 report entitled “Process for Responding to Parliamentary Order Paper Questions” the Auditor General wrote, “The right to seek information from the Ministry of the day and the right to hold that Ministry accountable are recognized as two of the fundamental principles of parliamentary” democracy.
Written questions are one of the tools that Canadians, via their elected representatives, can use to force the government to be accountable. Mr. Speaker, I hope you will consider this matter seriously and recognize that it involves a prima facie breach of my privileges as a member of Parliament.
The government has the answers to my questions. It could have responded to my questions as I asked them and with the transparency that Canadians deserve, but it has not. I believe this constitutes a breach. I would like to refer to the Speaker's ruling from December 16, 1980, found on page 5797 of the House of Commons Debates where the Speaker states, “It would be bold to suggest that no circumstances could ever exist for a prima facie question of privilege to be made where there was a deliberate attempt to deny answers to an hon. member.”
I would also refer to the 21st edition of Erskine May, which describes contempt as:
any act or omission which obstructs or impedes either House of Parliament in the performance of its functions, or which obstructs or impedes any Member or officer of such House in the discharge of their duty, or which has a tendency, directly or indirectly, to produce such results, may be treated as a contempt even though there is no precedent of the offence.
I would like to emphasize the word “omission” and I would like to finish. Again, these questions are important to Canadians. In order to do my job as a parliamentarian and to hold the government to account, I need the proper information that I am entitled to.
Mr. Speaker, I am simply asking that you examine my three questions, look at the responses provided by the minister and reach a decision. If you find a prima facie case that my parliamentary privileges have been breached, I will move the appropriate motion in due course.