This information is intended for individuals who will be appearing or wish to appear before a parliamentary committee of the House of Commons.
The House of Commons creates committees, which execute a large portion of parliamentary work. A committee is a working group constituted of a limited number of Members of Parliament (MPs) who review in detail and improve bills or study issues related to the committee's mandate.
Committees regularly invite private citizens, experts, representatives of organizations, public servants and Ministers to appear before them in order to elicit information (receive evidence) relevant to the study under consideration. These consultations allow witnesses to set out and clarify their points of view, which are often presented in a written brief, and give MPs the opportunity to ask questions.
Witnesses generally appear during public proceedings; however, committees may decide to hear witnesses in private (in camera) if the situation warrants such action.
2. Appearance before a Committee
a) Invitation to appear
Committee members provide to the clerk of the committee their lists of suggested witnesses. Committees then select witnesses based largely on the type of study and the amount of time available.
The clerk of the committee then contacts the selected witnesses to invite them to appear and establish the date and time of their appearance. Due to current public health guidelines, all witnesses must appear virtually. Once witnesses have accepted the committee’s invitation to appear, a confirmation form is sent to witnesses by e-mail. Witnesses must complete this form and return it to the clerk as quickly as possible.
When an organization is called upon to give evidence, it generally determines a representative to appear before the committee, although a committee may also request that a specific individual or office holder attend. Organizations must ensure that their representative has the knowledge and expertise required to answer MPs' questions.
If a witness declines an invitation to appear, a committee may issue a summons to that witness, should the circumstances so require.
b) Confirmation of Appearance
Witnesses must complete the confirmation form and include: their name and professional title, mailing address (not a P.O. Box, within Canada) and telephone number. This information is required in order to publish the notice of meeting, schedule technical tests and deliver headsets prior to the appearance.
A wired headset with a boom microphone is mandatory for all appearances. Such headset can be provided by the House of Commons and be delivered within 48-72 hours upon receipt of the confirmation form. Should time constraints or location not permit delivery of a wired headset with boom microphone from the House of Commons, witnesses are authorized to purchase a headset and seek reimbursement for a maximum amount of $75 CAD. The headset purchased must be wired with boom microphone. Here is a list of preapproved headsets:
SENNHEISER PC-8 USB
LOGITECH H111 (3.5 mm; not/pas USB)
KOSS CS100 USB
KOSS CS300 USB
LOGITECH H340 USB
LOGITECH USB HEADSET ZONE WIRED
c) Technical tests and requirements
Witnesses will be provided with clear instructions and House of Commons temporary email credentials to access a secure meeting. A technical test will be scheduled prior to the appearance. This test must be conducted on the device and from the location used on the day of the appearance. A wired network connection to a computer is highly recommended. A wired headset with boom microphone is essential for the technical test and appearance.
d) Appearance from a videoconference facility
For various reasons, witnesses may require access to a videoconference facility. In such cases, witnesses will be invited to a site with the necessary equipment to host a videoconference. Witnesses will be given all necessary instructions and information (location, date, time) when the videoconferencing facility’s availability is confirmed.
When witnesses must travel to a videoconference facility to give testimony before a committee, the committee will usually reimburse witnesses’ expenses, upon request. Witnesses who wish to claim travel and other expenses related to the appearance must submit an expense claim form within 60 days of their appearance. The clerk of the committee will provide a link to the expense claim form upon confirmation of appearance. Please contact the clerk of the committee before making any arrangements.
e) Special Needs
Staff will make every effort to accommodate all witnesses with special needs. Please contact the clerk of the committee to make the necessary arrangements.
3. How to Prepare for an Appearance
a) Submission of a written brief
A brief is an opportunity to submit, in writing, opinions, observations and recommendations on a subject being considered by a committee. Any individual or organization can submit a brief to a committee, even if that person or organization has not had the opportunity to appear before the committee. Witnesses that appear before a committee are encouraged to submit a brief to support their presentation, but it is not mandatory for them to do so.
For more information on the requirements for the submission of briefs, consult the Guide for Submitting Briefs to House of Commons Committees on the Committees' website or contact the clerk of the appropriate committee.
b) Documents used by witnesses during the meeting
Witnesses should submit to the clerk of the committee the documents regarding their appearance as soon as possible in advance of the meeting. In addition to the confirmation of appearance form, such documents may include a brief, speaking notes and reference material. The committee reserves the right to decide which documents that it receives will be translated and distributed to its members.
Speaking notes must be submitted to the clerk by email at least 24 hours before the meeting. These will only be provided to the interpreters to assist with the simultaneous interpretation of the witness's testimony.
Please note that all documents distributed to committee members must be in both official languages.The clerk may arrange for translation if a minimum of three working days is provided.
c) Opening statement at the meeting
Each organization or witness appearing as an individual has a limited amount of time (determined by the committee, but usually between 5 and 10 minutes) at the beginning of their testimony to make an opening statement. The clerk of the committee will inform the witness of how much time they have been allotted. This time can be used to express opinions, views or even to elaborate on the statements made in the written brief.
d) Meeting proceedings
It is recommended that witnesses speak at a moderate pace since their testimony is being recorded, interpreted and transcribed. Witnesses can speak or answer questions in the official language of their choice (English or French) and simultaneous interpretation is available.
After the witnesses' opening statements, members of the committee will ask questions. In every case, the Chair directs the meeting by turning the time over to members of the committee and witnesses. Please note that, usually, witnesses address members of the committee through the Chair. For example, "Thank you Mr. Chair. I would say that...".
e) Swearing-in of a witness
While a witness is not usually sworn in, the decision to swear in a witness is entirely at the discretion of the committee. Witnesses appearing before committees may be assisted by counsel, but they must first seek the committee’s permission. When permitted, the role of the legal representative must be strictly advisory, and the representative cannot ask questions or reply on behalf of the witness. When required, the witness may either swear an oath or make a solemn affirmation.
f) Parliamentary privilege
Testimony before a parliamentary committee is protected by parliamentary privilege. This means that witnesses enjoy the same freedom of speech and immunity from prosecution or civil liability as do Members of Parliament. However, this immunity does not apply if the same testimony is repeated publicly outside a parliamentary meeting. In exceptional circumstances, the House could also decide to waive this protection.
g) Recording of the meeting
All public meetings are webcast or televised and the recordings are available on the committee’s website. The minutes of meetings and the transcripts of testimony (called "Evidence") are available on the Committees website, usually within 14 days. An unrevised transcript is usually available within 72 hours following a meeting and can be provided by submitting a request to the clerk of the committee.
4. Resource Persons
The clerk of the committee is the procedural and administrative officer and advises the Chair and members of the committee. The clerk organizes meetings and calls witnesses. The clerk will inform witnesses of the committee's requirements and the procedure for appearing before a committee. The committee analyst is the subject matter expert and can answer questions about the content and direction of the committee's study.
You may find a committee's contact information on the Committees website.