For committee purposes, a brief is any document presenting the position of an individual, group, organization or government department with respect to a particular issue. Witnesses who appear before committees may provide a written copy of their presentation to the committee. They may also present a written document that elaborates on their presentation or provides additional background material.
Interested individuals who do not wish to appear or whom the committee’s timetable cannot accommodate may also submit written briefs to the committee setting out their views on an issue the committee is studying.
Committees require a variety of documents in order to carry out their work. They include government reports, statistics, correspondence, memoranda and agreements of various sorts, as well as briefs. Ordinarily, committees are able to obtain the documents they require for their work simply by requesting them.
When a committee meets with a refusal to provide a document it deems essential to its work, the committee may adopt a motion ordering its production. If such an order is ignored, the committee has no power to compel its production, but may report the matter to the House and request that appropriate action be taken.
Where concerns about confidentiality exist, a committee may agree to have documents tabled at an in camera meeting. Transcripts of in camera meetings and other confidential documents of committees are classified as “secret records” by Library and Archives Canada for a period of 30 years from the end of the session in which they were created. Normally, these documents remain available to a committee’s members and the committee staff for the duration of a session.
A document submitted to a committee becomes the property of the committee and forms part of the committee’s records. At the end of each session, each committee’s records are assembled and sent to Library and Archives Canada where they are available for public consultation, unless the committee has otherwise ordered.
Government departments are required to submit documents in both official languages when presenting them to committees. Everyone else, including Members of the House of Commons, may submit written material in either or both official languages. Each committee decides, by way of a routine motion, whether documents submitted to it in only one official language will be distributed to members immediately or only once a translation is available.
On occasion, a committee will consider a document to be of sufficient importance that it will agree to treat it either as an “Appendix” or as an “Exhibit”. An Appendix is a document the committee has ordered to be appended to the evidence taken at a particular meeting and published on the parliamentary internet site.
An Exhibit is any document or item classified as such by the committee and is therefore part of the committee’s permanent records. Exhibits are not published or distributed to members but are retained by the clerk and are available for consultation.
When a decision is made to designate a document as an Appendix or an Exhibit, the appropriate entry is made in the committee’s Minutes of Proceedings. Appendices and Exhibits are used for, among other purposes, preserving parts of a presentation to a committee that would otherwise not be included in the Evidence.