Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my friend and colleague, the hon. member for Scarborough-Rouge River and I am pleased to speak to his Motion M-142. And in doing so, I am in good company, since I have the hon. member for Gaspé at my side to support me, should I become weak.
Motion M-142 reads as follows:
That this House unequivocally reconfirms the undoubted rights and privileges of the House of Commons, won from the Crown and which became part of the law many centuries ago, and in particular the unfettered right of the House and its committees to at all times compel the attendance of persons and require them to answer questions and to compel the production of such papers and documents as the House or committee considers necessary for the due carrying out of its mandate.
The English version of the motion translates the French word "indubitables", in reference to privileges, as "undoubted rights and privileges". If rights are undoubted, unchallenged, there is no need really to reaffirm or reconfirm them.
In fact, the hon. member for Scarborough-Rouge River provided a brilliant historical demonstration, and knowing his attachment to the parliamentary system, I am sure he feels this demonstration even in his frustrations as a parliamentarian. I will share some of my own with you in a moment.
I do not think that it is necessary to pass the motion again. That said, should the question be put again, I will gladly vote in favour. But it is worth reaffirming from time to time rights so longstanding in the British parliamentary system, probably dating back to the Magna Carta of 1215, the Oxford provisions of 1258, the Bill of rights of 1689 and all the legislation that, little by little, over the course of centuries, have affirmed the rights and privileges of the House of Commons and Parliament.
I assume that the hon. member for Scarborough-Rouge River has put this motion before us today not to have a purely academic debate, but in response to actual situations. I will not speak for the hon. member for Scarborough-Rouge River, but for myself. Since the very beginning of this Parliament or almost, I have been sitting on the sub-committee on national security, which was set up by the Standing Committee for Justice and Legal Affairs.
One of the matters we have worked on was the Heritage Front affair. On many occasions, at in camera sessions, with members of Parliament in attendance, we have had members of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, better known as SIRC, appear before our committee as witnesses.
These people systematically refused to answer questions, to table uncensored versions of documents they had sent to the Solicitor General and to co-operate in any way with the committee.
At the time I moved a motion before the committee to have the Chairman of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, Mr. Jacques Courtois, cited for contempt of Parliament. It was divine providence that prevented the motion from being debated because, meanwhile, Mr. Courtois had died.
The other members of the Security Intelligence Review Committee had never volunteered their co-operation either. Neither the chairman pro tempore nor the other members of the Security Intelligence Review Committee. We had to sit for months and months to try and get clear answers to clear questions. All the members did was look at the clock to check when the committee's time was up, and they then rose without having answered the question.
These same members of SIRC, although they had been informed of their obligations by the general legal counsel of the House, Ms. Diane Davidson, refused to answer our questions. They refused to answer, even when the hon. member for Scarborough-Rouge River, chairman of the sub-committee, ordered them to answer.
In spite of all that, they left us in great good humour, but we never got an answer to matters of substance. Our report to the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs was, to all intents and purposes bereft of substance. We could not include any pertinent elements because we had no evidence, which was the fault of those who were supposed to serve the Canadian people by providing accurate replies to the elected representatives of the people.
By hiding behind the oath of office they had taken to keep their information secret, members of the Security Intelligence Review Committee refused to answer the questions asked by the elected representatives of the people. In a parliamentary democracy, this is a moral sin.
Unfortunately, the text of the motion of the hon. member for Scarborough-Rouge River does not solve the problem. These rights are not discussed but are perhaps open to discussion in connection with the contemporary element which might be added. These rights are not really being questioned, it is the exercise of those rights which is being questioned. That is where politics enters into it.
There was nothing to prevent the subcommittee on national security from promptly making a report to the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs, which would in turn have reported to this House so that the Security Intelligence Review Committee could have been brought before this House for contempt of Parliament and subjected to sanctions commensurate with the offence committed. But no political majority ever came together to have these people charged with contempt of Parliament.
For months and months the question hung fire, and I understand the political constraints under which the chairman and member for Scarborough-Rouge River found himself. Despite all of his attempts at negotiation, he could not compel the members of SIRC to provide answers.
When a parliamentary committee is totally paralyzed, rendered incapable of action by people who refuse to bow to the laws of the country, we are-you will pardon the expression, which may seem to be going almost too far-almost in a state of insurrection. People mandated to do something, who are categorically refusing to do it.
If the question were to be raised again, as it will be-we have already had to adjourn a meeting of the subcommittee on national security-the next time the people of the Security Intelligence Review Committee come before the subcommittee on national security and again refuse to respond, as they have for months, for years now, to the legitimate questions asked of them, I shall be the first in line to table a motion that they be accused of contempt of Parliament.