That, in the opinion of this House, the Parliament should adopt specific measures to enable and ensure access by members of Parliament to all judicial, quasi-judicial and administrative hearings held under the provisions of the Immigration Act, the Young Offenders Act and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
Mr. Speaker, the motion exhorts the government to put in place measures that would allow members of Parliament access to what are now closed door procedures under three separate federal statutes. The exhortation is for access, not a procedure for making submissions or representations. It is merely for access, presence or entry into procedures which deal with the rights and liberties of Canadians behind closed doors.
I have three short anecdotes gained from my several years of experience as a member of Parliament where, as have all of us in the House, I confronted barriers to access for members of Parliament when fulfilling our duties.
The first anecdote has to do with an Immigration Act refugee hearing about five years ago. Someone came to me to ask for my assistance in gaining a visitor visa for a brother. I did what I could. In the end after two or three interventions and a lot of work a visa was issued. The brother came and in complete disregard of all that had happened and the good faith of the family, he made an application for refugee status. I knew the man was a liar. I also knew he had put forth false information. I knew that the applicant would be presenting that false information at a refugee hearing.
Therefore I followed it very closely, particularly because what had happened was an abuse of my office and collectively involved the offices of all members of Parliament. I owed a duty to my constituents and to Canadians to make sure that my MPs office was not abused.
I went to the hearing where to my surprise I found that it was a closed door hearing and I could not be admitted. As things turned out, the hearing was adjourned. I made an application for access and it was granted. I was allowed to be present at the hearing but in
the end I did not have to present evidence. The application was denied and the man was deported. Under a federal statute a hearing can take place and under a law enacted by the House MPs do not have access. That case worked out reasonably well but it caused me concern.
There were two subsequent cases, one involving the prosecution of a young offender charged with murder under the Criminal Code. In that case I did not need to have access at the time, but I did take note of the provisions of the Young Offenders Act that can exclude individuals or groups from young offender hearings. A little light went on and I thought it was not healthy to have a statute enacted by the House excluding members of Parliament not specifically but generically. That was another case.
A third case involved parole hearings. Under current legislation there is no provision for access by any of the public to those hearings. In one particular Parole Act statute, and I do not know when it was repealed, MPs and senators were given access to parole hearings. Under the current Corrections and Conditional Release Act there is the absence of any provision to provide access to MPs or to allow the public access to those hearings.
I was at the Warkworth Institution about four years ago and had the benefit of attending a hearing, thanks to the decision of an inmate and his solicitor. It was useful to walk through the process at the time. There is hardly a member of Parliament in this place who will not be called upon at some point in his or her career to address issues involving hearings under the three statutes. My motion raises the issue for consideration by the House.
We are accountable to our constituents for the effectiveness and fairness of every procedure under all federal statutes. We are responsible to ensure the collective rights and liberties of our constituents are protected and are not abused by the procedures. We enact the laws and we are accountable to our constituents for them.
We are legislators but as history has evolved members of Parliament are also ombudsmen. That second role means that we must have as much access and freedom as an ombudsman in any provincial government, in any municipal government or at the federal government level. At the moment in the three federal statutes there are barriers to that access.
To the extent that MPs are unable to access the procedures, we run the risk of impairing our role as ombudsmen. The purpose of the motion is to get us all thinking a bit about our roles in particular under the three statutes. We must consider what we do when we enact statutes in the House and roll back to some degree the present barriers.
For the sake of the record I will cite the sections of the three statutes. In the Young Offenders Act it is subsection 39(1) and subsection 39(3). In the Corrections and Conditional Release Act it is subsection 140(5). In the Immigration Act it is subsection 69(2).
I wish to make a few comments about how the role of members of Parliament has evolved over the years. I have mentioned the legislator role and the ombudsman role. Parliament has evolved over the years, but in terms of the newer role of ombudsman it has not evolved sufficiently. Our ombudsman role is carried out in part based on the privileges of members of Parliament which are fairly well articulated, constrained and referred to directly and indirectly in the Constitution, in the Parliament of Canada Act and in the common law handed down to us when Parliament was created 128 years ago.
I do not have to go over them but I will point out that in every session of Parliament it is important for MPs to resubmit our request to the Sovereign for confirmation of our privileges in the House of Commons. The words read somewhat archaically but in a real way:
We humbly claim all of our undoubted rights and privileges especially that they may have the freedom of speech in their debates, access to Your Excellency's person at all seasonable times, and that their proceedings may receive from Your Excellency the most favourable construction.
As obscure as some of those words are, they are the request for the body of privileges and rights we collectively have in the House of Commons. We need them for the most important modern roles we have as members of Parliament, legislators and ombudsmen.
I was somewhat shocked about two months ago to read a legal opinion submitted to a committee by a body created by the House for the purpose of assuring Parliament and Canadians of the rights and liberties of Canadians in a particular field. The opinion was essentially that the body appointed by a statute enacted in Parliament did not have the obligation to answer questions put to it by members of Parliament at committee. It is a very serious issue for members of Parliament and has been for hundreds of years.
The legal opinion appeared to me to be completely ignorant of parliamentary law, which as I stated earlier is part of the Constitution. It verged on being contemptuous of parliamentary law. I simply put that on the shelf and say that hopefully there will be more on the issues of privilege and disclosure to parliamentarians in the new year.
There are two ways to address our role as ombudsmen. First, we could expand our privileges. Some of us believe that is not a great way to go, that there are more effective ways of addressing the problems. However we need to ensure our rights and privileges are vital, responsive and evergreen in what we need to do in our job as members of Parliament. Second, we can be vigilant when enacting
legislation to ensure that our role as MPs is not impaired in connection with procedures under the statutes. The motion before us today is attempting to roll back barriers that we have placed in the statutes.
Canadians want to know that their MPs are equipped, fully aware and conversant to deal with all of the procedures under federal statutes. We enacted them, so we had better know what is going on under those procedures. In order to know fully what is going on on behalf of our constituents, I say that access is fundamental.
When I say access I am not saying that we have to change the procedures to allow MPs to make representations, submissions, arguments, and get involved in the process; I am simply saying access. We should not close the door to ourselves in fulfilling our work as MPs.
I ask my colleagues, the officials of government, and the ministers to take note of this important issue.
I will not close without putting on the record what should be to all of us in this place self-evident. In our system of government the ministers sit in the House. They have burdensome responsibilities. I am sure they live 26-hour days. However, in doing their work they would be more likely to be ministers of government and less likely to be parliamentarians working for Parliament. Their job as ministers is to work for the government. They sit in Parliament. I suppose that most of them are good parliamentarians, but in terms of addressing the parliamentary agenda, very few of them would take the initiative to address matters directly on behalf of Parliament. That is somebody else's job. Whose job is it? It is not the ministers', it is the parliamentarians' job. It is the job of every member of Parliament and every senator who sits in Parliament.
In dealing with this issue we must not look to government. We must not look to ministers. We must look to ourselves. Hopefully the ministers will acquiesce in the constructive, positive things we do for Parliament.
Everything we do for Parliament will be handed down to our children and their children. We must not let this place atrophy. We must ensure that Parliament and its procedures are responsive to and vital for Canadians. It is our job to do that.
I leave this motion with the exhortation that it is our job to do this. Hopefully there will be support for this type of initiative, not just in this motion but as we pass legislation in the future.