Speaker, I rise to respond to the question of privilege that was raised shortly before the recent constituency week. The member referred to allegations made by an official in the Department of Justice, which are currently the subject of litigation before the Federal Court. He has said that if those allegations are true, then the House was misled. I firmly reject that insinuation.
In the government House leader's remarks made in immediate response, he noted three procedural objections from the outset to this question of privilege: first, that it was not brought at the earliest opportunity; second, that it pertained to a question of law; and third, that the sub judice convention ought to be considered.
As noted by my hon. colleague, the plaintiff filed a statement of claim in the Federal Court on December 14, 2012. A motion in relation to this judicial proceeding was heard in Federal Court on January 15, 2013, leading to a series of newspaper articles and other stories about this case in the days following. However, no question of privilege was raised when the House reconvened on January 28, 2013.
When I appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on February 6, in relation to Bill , the hon. member for questioned me about section 4.1. The hon. member for had yet to bring forward his question of privilege, despite his colleague, the NDP's justice critic, being prepared to participate in a thorough discussion on the subject.
Moreover, I understand that the reporting requirement of section 4.1 has come up in no fewer than five different debates on the floor of the House since the start of 2013. Suffice to say, the hon. member could have raised his question much sooner than March 6, 2013.
The second matter raised by the government House leader was that the issue before us is a question of law.
Citation 168(5) of Beauchesne's Parliamentary Rules and Forms, sixth edition, advises that the Speaker “will not give a decision upon a constitutional question nor decide a question of law, though the same may be raised on a point of order or question of privilege". This is a long-settled proposition.
The same statement is declared at page 180 of Sir Jean Bourinot's Parliamentary Procedure and Practice in the Dominion of Canada. That book was published in 1916. The principle recited can be traced through many Speakers' rulings.
Mr. Speaker Milliken ruled on December 12, 2012, at page 2600 of the Debates, on a dispute about whether certain content in the Public Accounts accorded with the requirements of the Financial Administration Act. On this, your predecessor, Mr. Speaker, said:
|| It is not of course for the Speaker to decide if the agency is acting in compliance with the law. As I have had occasion to mention in several recent rulings, it is a long-accepted principle that the Speaker does not pronounce on points of law.
|| There is clearly a difference of opinion...concerning interpretation of the legalities flowing from the facts of this case. That is a matter for debate and a variety of different opportunities are available by which the matter can be raised in this chamber or in committee. There is no procedural issue here and so I need not elaborate on that further.
Mr. Speaker Fraser's ruling on October 9, 1990, page 13620 of the Debates lends itself well to the allegations here. He said:
||—it is not for the Speaker of the House to rule on constitutional matters. It is not for the Speaker of the House to try to interpret at any given time different legal opinions that may be expressed across the country.
Deputy Speaker Lucien Lamoureux, as he then was, declined to answer a question of whether a bill came within the constitutional jurisdiction of the Parliament in a ruling on October 25, 1963, at page 488 of the Journals. The authorities he quoted included even an 1864 decision of Mr. Speaker Wallbridge of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada.
Far more recently, though, is a ruling which you, Mr. Speaker, delivered on October 24, 2011, starting at page 2404 of the Debates, respecting , the Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act. You summarized the position in which you found yourself then and, I would submit, where you are now:
||—it is important to delineate clearly between interpreting legal provisions of statutes—which is not within the purview of the Chair—and ensuring the soundness of the procedures and practices of the House when considering legislation—which, of course, is the role of the Chair.
The final point noted by the government House leader is that the allegations referred to by the member for are before the courts. Until the matter is resolved, this House should exercise its usual restraint and avoid prejudging or prejudicing the outcome of the case in which I, as Attorney General of Canada, am a party. Nonetheless, I am compelled to respond to the case argued.
In the present circumstances, finding a prima facie case of privilege would require that there be some evidence that the House and its members have been impeded in carrying out their parliamentary duties. Despite the hon. member's allegations, he admitted in his submission that he has “no evidence to suggest that the incumbent Minister of Justice nor any of his predecessors have deliberately provided inaccurate information to the House, even implicitly”.
Page 141 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, observes, on questions of privilege:
|| The function of the Speaker is limited to deciding whether the matter is of such a character as to entitle the Member who has raised the question to move a motion which will have priority over Orders of the Day.
To accomplish this, the member for would seek to have the Speaker rely upon the unproven and untested allegations made by a plaintiff in a court proceeding. I would respectfully submit that if this is to become the threshold for setting aside the business of the House sponsored by members, whether they be ministers or private members, we could easily paralyze the business of Parliament by taking up any number of litigants' unproven and untested statements of claim. Therefore, I discourage you, Mr. Speaker, from making a finding of a prima facie case of privilege on that basis.
However, it is incumbent upon me to explain why the member for has not made such a case. While I exercise my statutory responsibilities with the assistance of officials, the duty to examine government legislation under the Department of Justice Act and the Canadian Bill of Rights is mine, as Minister of Justice. It is a duty that I, of course, take very seriously. As I will explain, this government has never introduced any legislation that I believe was inconsistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the Canadian Bill of Rights.
As to the manner in which I exercise that responsibility, my statutory duty is owed to the House of Commons. Our proceedings make this clear on a daily basis. As Minister of Justice, I regularly answer questions in the House and appear before parliamentary committees studying government legislation. Members can and do ask me questions about the constitutionality of government bills. For example, the hon. member for , a former Attorney General, has, on at least three separate occasions, asked a series of detailed written questions. However, my officials and I are legal advisers to the Crown and not to the House of Commons. As a minister of the Crown, I appear in this House and in committees to explain the government's legal position on the legislation it has introduced, but I am not the House's exclusive source of legal information. Members can and often do receive legal opinions from the law clerk and parliamentary counsel as well as the views or submissions of law professors and other members of the bar who appear before committees to assist them in evaluating the legislation being considered. A similar process unfolds in the other place.
My approach to the constitutionality of government legislation is consistent with that of my predecessors and is a matter of public record. Under the Department of Justice Act, as the Minister of Justice, I am the official legal adviser to the Governor General and the legal member of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada. One of my responsibilities is to examine government bills presented to the House of Commons and to ascertain whether they are inconsistent with the purposes of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and to report any such inconsistency to the House of Commons. The Canadian Bill of Rights requires me to conduct a similar review for inconsistency.
The notion that Parliament has somehow been misled reflects a misunderstanding of how the system actually works. Proposed government legislation is reviewed for charter and other legal risks throughout the policy and legislative development processes. The process of examining government legislation for compliance is dynamic and ongoing. Section 4.1 is only one part of a broader process that involves three distinct components: advisory, certification and reporting.
The advisory component takes places throughout the policy development process, up to and including the introduction of legislation. This typically begins with the development of the policy proposal by government departments. It continues as the proposal is refined, as options are developed and put before ministers and throughout the legislative drafting process.
Senior officials, up to and including the deputy minister of justice, other deputy ministers and where necessary, other ministers and I are briefed about policy proposals where legal risks have been identified. The risks that are highlighted are not limited to situations where the proposed legislation is inconsistent with the charter. It is a broader analysis of risks along a spectrum, from low to high risk for charter inconsistency.
Certification of legislation is a separate process that takes place after government bills have been introduced in the House of Commons. It is a formal step whereby the department's chief legislative counsel confirms, that is certifies, that the requisite review of legislation for inconsistency has taken place. Certification takes place for all government bills.
Certification should not be confused with the reporting obligation in section 4.1 of the Department of Justice Act and section 3 of the Canadian Bill of Rights. Certification is a task for government officials and takes place for all government bills. By contrast, the reporting obligation belongs to the Minister of Justice alone and would be triggered only if I, as the minister, formed the opinion that the government bill in question was, at the time of its introduction, inconsistent with the charter or the Canadian Bill of Rights. Section 4.1 and section 3 are quite clear in that regard. They require the minister to ascertain whether there is an inconsistency. This accords with the long-standing approach I and my predecessors have taken in that the minister makes such an ascertainment only when there is no credible argument to support the proposed measure.
A credible argument is one that is reasonable, bona fide and capable of being raised before, and accepted by, the court. This credible argument threshold is qualitative in nature, despite the allegations quoted by the member for . It is not based on a predetermined numerical threshold. Section 4.1 uses very precise language. It does not require that there be disclosure any time there is a risk, only that I ascertain that there is inconsistency.
I must stress that the approach I have described is not new. It originates from the earliest days following the enactment of section 4.1.
Several of my predecessors have answered questions on this duty in the House or before our committees or those of the other place. For example, that could be found when the hon. Pierre Blais, currently Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Appeal, was questioned about his responsibilities at the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs in June 1993. Similarly, the hon. member for answered questions on the topic before the same Senate committee in November 2005. My immediate predecessor, now the , fielded related questions from the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs during its study of Bill C-2, the Federal Accountability Act, on June 29, 2006. I too have had the pleasure of explaining the government's legal position with respect to government bills such as a question in the House on November 23, 2007 about Bill C-2, the tackling violent crime act, or during my recent committee appearance on Bill , which I described earlier.
I could go on and quote from those exchanges, but I think the point is clear that this is nothing new and that Parliament possesses, and has long exercised, its ability to query and probe the constitutionality of bills.
Of course, we must remember that constitutional law constantly evolves. The only certainty is that someone will inevitably litigate constitutional questions against the government.
This explanation should put to rest the concerns of the member for , and indeed, all hon. members.
Furthermore, under our constitutional system, all branches of government, Parliament, the executive and the courts have a responsibility to ensure that charter rights are respected. The system of charter review put in place under section 4.1 ensures that each branch performs its appropriate role. Within the executive branch, proposed legislative initiatives are reviewed, taking into consideration any charter risks that have been identified through the advisory process and recertification that the necessary review for inconsistency has taken place upon introduction of a government bill in the House of Commons. It is then for the houses of Parliament to debate the proposed law, including its constitutional implications, and to determine whether or not it will pass and become law.
The approach to reporting requirements in section 4.1 or section 3, as the case may be, and the underlying review process must reflect the role of all institutional actors, including Parliament, to consider, debate, weigh and balance charter interests in light of public policy objectives. Parliamentarians have their own responsibilities in relation to the charter.
In summary, I have great respect for the work of parliamentarians and for the role of this House in debating government legislation. I have explained how I approach my responsibilities under the Department of Justice Act. I take into account a variety of legal opinions and perspectives, which can differ, and then I make the decision.
There is no mystery here. Like all of my predecessors, the approach I apply under section 4.1 is robust and meaningful. Even after I make the decision that there is no inconsistency between the proposed legislation and the charter, it remains open for parliamentarians to debate the proposed legislation, including any charter aspects. If the legislation is passed, it can be challenged before the courts. This process has served governments and parliaments well.
In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, you have several procedural grounds on which you could reject this question of privilege, or you can accept the evidence from me, as a member of the House of Commons. The hon. member's claims, in my opinion, can be dismissed outright.
Finally, I understand that the hon. member for may be making an intervention again on this question of privilege. I would like to reserve the right for myself or a colleague to respond in due course should any new issues not previously canvassed arise.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to discuss the questions addressed by the minister and the question of privilege raised by the member for on Wednesday, March 6, in a broader context.
I have had the benefit of reading his intervention and the government's response thus far, as well as the comments of the leader of the Green Party in preparing my submission. I thank the Speaker for awaiting my submission on this matter.
The issue before us is the way in which the vets bills for their compliance and consistency with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Bill of Rights. In this regard, the member for read into the record section 3 of the Canadian Bill of Rights and the requirement for examination of legislation for consistency with the provisions of the Bill of Rights.
To complete the record, I will read the relevant section of the Department of Justice Act, section 4.1(1), which therein states that the minister shall:
||...examine...every Bill introduced in or presented to the House of Commons by a minister of the Crown, in order to ascertain whether any of the provisions thereof are inconsistent with the purposes and provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Minister shall report any such inconsistency to the House of Commons at the first convenient opportunity.
There is a related provision in the Statutory Instruments Act, section 3 (c), which requires an examination of a proposed regulation to ensure that:
||...it does not trespass unduly on existing rights and freedoms and is not, in any case, inconsistent with the purposes and provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Bill of Rights;...
As the members for and both indicated, there is concern as to whether the minister has fulfilled the purpose and spirit of these provisions as evidenced by courts finding certain legislative dispositions from the government to be unconstitutional.
These cases have run a spectrum. For example, R. v. Sheck and R. v. Smickle, cases from B.C. and Ontario respectively, struck down mandatory minimum penalties. R. v. Appulonappa, a British Columbia case regarding human smuggling, found that the impugned section of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act violated Charter protections.
Recently, as well, R. v. St-Onge Lamoureux, a Supreme Court case, found that certain provisions of the Criminal Code with respect to drunk driving infringe the Charter's guarantee of the presumption of innocence, a foundational criminal justice precept.
There are other cases and, indeed, a series of cases in which the constitutionality of government legislation has been challenged, though courts have not yet ruled on these matters, and the legality of these government acts may not be known for some time after their enactment and enforcement.
The argument advanced by my colleague in raising this question is that if all these provisions are constitutionally inconsistent, there must be a deficiency in the review process, and the has sought to address that point.
Indeed, the aforementioned provisions of section 4.1 of the Department of Justice Act require not only a review of proposed government legislation but the tabling of a report in the House in the event of inconsistency. Not only has unconstitutional legislation come before us, but it has been done without such a report.
I share in my colleague's concern that this has raised a serious issue for all parliamentarians.
As members know, and the references, I had the privilege myself of serving as minister of justice and Attorney General of Canada. As such, I am well aware of the duties of the minister and of the obligations required by statute of that office.
In discussing this issue in the past, one might well question whether a different policy existed when I was minister and why no such reports were tabled when I was minister. My answer to these very valid questions is simple, and I believe it may shed some light on the process and whether or not a privilege violation exists or some other breach exists in this case.
As such, it may help you, Mr. Speaker, in adjudicating the question before you. First, if the review process works as envisaged, constitutional deficiencies are signalled or addressed in the policy development stage. At that point, they can be redressed and can be corrected immediately. Indeed if the inconsistency is corrected prior to legislation coming to the House, no report will be tabled. Indeed, no report is otherwise required.
As well, and this is the point that bears particular mention, the review of the Department of Justice, at whatever standard it has set, does not preclude the minister from seeking to satisfy himself or herself with respect to these issues that the legislation is constitutionally compliant at a much higher threshold—that is to say, the department's standard, which has been set for some time, even while maybe varying over time, may not be the same standard that the minister seeks, and seeking out more scrupulous review is something the minister can and ought to do in certain circumstances.
What is rightly before this House, raised as a question of privilege, is whether the minister has satisfied himself of the constitutional compliance of legislation; an obligation that the minister has, pursuant to statute. The government's contention has been that, because no reports have been tabled, the process is working. By contrast, I am of the view that because there has been a spate of legislation that is constitutionally suspect that has been tabled before this House and also because some of that legislation has been overturned, the process, by these very points, is failing.
In particular, in adopting the relevant sections of the Department of Justice Act, the Canadian Bill of Rights and the Statutory Instruments Act, parliamentarians have declared—and parliamentarians and Parliament have institutionalized this as acts of Parliament—that they seek to be informed of the constitutionality of bills and regulations. This is not something that the minister owes only to the Crown. This is something, a duty, that the minister owes to Parliament. The absence of section 4.1 reports, despite the introduction of unconstitutional legislation or legislation presently under constitutional challenge, has, in my colleague's submission, raised a question of privilege.
The government's response, and we heard it again today, is that the matter is not a question of privilege, in part, because the member did not raise it at the first available opportunity, and in part, because there is an ongoing court case in this regard and, in part, because the minister's constitutional rulings cannot be questioned.
Mr. Speaker, the underlying thesis of my submission to you today, and it is a distinguishable one, is that the conduct in question ought to be considered as contempt of the House of Parliament, clearly, distinguishable from that which the has been addressing today and within the framework provided by O'Brien and Bosc in this matter.
As members will recall, privileges are specifically defined, whereas contempt may be, and here I am citing from O'Brien and Bosc, at page 82, “...other affronts against the dignity and authority of Parliament”, which come also within the purview of the Speaker's rulings and responsibilities.
I realize even using the word “contempt” brings with it very grave and serious connotations.
Let me be clear at the outset. I do not wish to cast aspersions, as has been suggested by others, on the minister's personal competence or the competence of Department of Justice officials, many of whom I have had the privilege to work with while being minister. Indeed, I speak not to the intent of the minister. He said he does not believe he ever tabled any unconstitutional legislation. I am prepared to accept that at face value, that the minister believes he never tabled, knowingly, any unconstitutional legislation.
However, I am referring not to the minister's intent with respect to charter review but, rather, to the effect of such review, to the consequences of such review, and it is the effect of that review that engages the constitutional responsibilities of us as parliamentarians, let alone our responsibilities with respect to the related issues of oversight and the like.
As O'Brien and Bosc specifically note regarding contempt:
||...the House also claims the right to punish, as a contempt, any action which, though not a breach of a specific privilege, tends to obstruct or impede the House in the performance of its functions; obstructs or impedes any Member or officer of the House in the discharge of their duties; or is an offence against the authority or dignity of the House, such as disobedience of its legitimate commands....
I would submit that members are impeded in the performance of their function. Indeed I would say they are impeded in their constitutional responsibility of ensuring constitutional oversight when they are not provided complete constitutional information with respect to proposed legislation.
Members are impeded in the performance of their constitutional functions and responsibilities as holders of the public purse when they pass bills that invite costly and lengthy constitutional challenges against which the government must then defend at taxpayers' expense.
Members are impeded and the dignity of the House is undermined when reports for such information are routinely denied. Moreover, these three statutes to which I referred constitute commands of the House that the minister ensure that government legislation and regulations comply with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Bill of Rights.
Indeed, as Speaker Fraser ruled on April 19, 1993, which is found at page 18105 of the Debates:
|| It is difficult to conceive of any command of this House that could have more legitimacy than one contained in a law passed by this House.
Statutes are the highest form of command that can be given by this House. In my view, the disregard of that legislative command, even if unintentional, is an affront to the authority and dignity of Parliament as a whole and of this House in particular.
Again, we are speaking about legislative commands. We are speaking about statutory directives, those which engage the responsibilities of members of this House. It is not a matter simply between the minister and the Crown. It is not simply a matter of what the minister believes; it is the effect that accrues from the constitutional responsibilities with respect to these statutes.
Speaker Fraser's ruling also instructed, and this is of particular relevance here:
||...the tabling of documents constitutes a fundamental procedure of this House. It is a part of our rules and ensures that members have access to the information necessary for them to effectively deal with the issues before Parliament....
|| Members cannot function if they do not have access to the material they need for their work and if our rules are being ignored and even statutory instruments are being disregarded.
I would note as well the list, cited in O'Brien and Bosc, of U.K. precedents regarding contempt wherein such contempt finds expression:
||without reasonable excuse, refusing to answer a question or provide information or produce papers formally required by the House or a committee;
|| without reasonable excuse, disobeying a lawful order of the House or a committee;
|| interfering with or obstructing a person who is caring out a lawful order of the House or committee.
I would submit that the comments of Speaker Fraser regarding “legislative command” also enveloped that which is envisaged by the U.K. phrasing of “lawful order”. The additional grounds here of “refusing to answer a question or provide information” I raise in relation to how speakers have often ruled on thorny questions of privilege, for lack of a better word.
Often speakers lament that items raised as points of order are really points of debate. Similarly, speakers suggested that, while something may be a legitimate grievance, there are other avenues within the parliamentary framework to address the conduct at issue rather than a question of privilege or an allegation of contempt; or speakers may suggest that the matter concerns a constitutional issue that is beyond their authority.
I assert that these other avenues have been fully frustrated in an effort to seek the results of the government's charter review, which engages the constitutional responsibilities of the members of the House. I draw attention, for example, to question 975, answered orally on Friday, November 23, on which the government asserted privilege over the actual reports prepared in section 4.1 of the Department of Justice Act and their preparation.
As my colleague from noted, any solicitor-client privilege here can be waived by the government, and arguably the real privilege here is that which is actually owed to the Parliament, which itself may be validly asserting its parliamentary privileges and authority in seeking such documents. It should be noted here that the minister is not the one seeking the review conducted per se; rather, the statute requires that such a review be undertaken by the Department of Justice. It is Parliament that has asked for this to be done, something we must bear in mind when considering contempt, and it is the issue of contempt that I am putting before you, Mr. Speaker, four-square as it engages all the issues I have been addressing and, in particular, our constitutional responsibilities as parliamentarians, the Speaker engaging with these responsibilities, and the commands set forth in acts of Parliament with respect to which the government must reply, and reply to Parliament, not simply as a private matter between the government and the Crown.
Moreover, with regard to the specific standard of review, I refer you to an exchange I had with the on Tuesday, November 6, 2012, to which the minister referred at the justice committee, in which I asked several times for the specific standard being applied by the department and minister but to which no concrete response was given.
I posed a similar question in the House to the on Tuesday, May 29, 2012, at page 8447 of the Debates, with again no specific standard announced.
I assure you that even a cursory glance at the Debates will yield colleagues' questioning of the government regarding the constitutionality of its legislation. This is not a new or novel issue but one with which the House has had great concern for some time now, as it should, as its authority, its dignity, and the integrity of its legislative commands as set forth in these acts of Parliament and adopted by the House are what are at stake here.
With respect to the specific question of the standard of review to which the minister referred, and how the review is conducted, my colleague, the NDP member for , proposed that the justice committee study this question.
Lest one draw the conclusion that it is only the opposition that is concerned on this point, the Conservative member for went so far as to suggest the member for table the motion, stating, “I am very sympathetic to your motion and to your desire to make sure the legislation is charter-proof”. Indeed, the vote to table the motion succeeded, something only possible with the help of the Conservative Party.
While the member ultimately voted against the motion during subsequent debate, he expressed his view that the committee's study was precluded because of the sub judice convention, as well as some concerns over the justice committee being the proper forum for such a debate.
The point here is that parliamentarians from all parties have raised concerns in this regard, and it is an issue that concerns all parliamentarians from every party.
Regrettably, traditional avenues for debate, both in the House and in committee, have not yielded answers, nor have other requests, including my order paper questions and ATIP requests from journalists. As such, I believe you should find that there is an issue here for the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, an issue that it may most properly address.
With regard to the sub judice convention and the argument that this whole matter was precluded because there was a related court case in this regard, to which we heard reference again today, I will make two brief submissions.
The first is that we are dealing with the desire of parliamentarians to have legislation reviewed for charter compliance. Ultimately the question before the court in the Schmidt case is whether the interpretation being applied by the department or minister is lawful. Parliament need not concern itself with this inquiry, as it is a separate and distinguishable matter. To be clear, parliamentarians may desire that the threshold be higher than the bare minimum required by law. As such, a review by a committee would allow parliamentarians to amend or modify the statute and pursuant regulations if they see fit upon the conclusion of such a study.
The second element has to do with the privilege attached to the report and the process by which such reports are generated. If legislation is being examined, as envisioned by the statute at issue, an assessment of the constitutionality of the provision therein undoubtedly occurs. Whether this ultimately results in a report to Parliament depends on the threshold standard being applied. Even if such a report is prepared but not tabled, parliamentarians may want access to it. In that regard, it may be appropriate for the committee to consider whether the statute should be modified to allow for the public release of such reports rather than through tabling, or even specify the privilege in relation to the document such that a minister before a committee would and could testify as to how a particular bill was reviewed.
The Schmidt statement of claim, as my colleague mentioned, alleges that the current standard is only one of 5% consistency.
The former parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice asserted before the Standing Committee on Justice:
|| When that analysis is done, it is a qualitative analysis; it is not based on any percentages or quotas.
The legality of the approach being applied, whatever that approach is, is something for the court to decide, admittedly, but the sufficiency of whatever approach is being applied is something for parliamentarians to decide. As parliamentarians, we have asked for it in a statute requiring constitutional compliance of any government bill tabled. Yet a repeated pattern has emerged before us, which cannot be ignored, of government legislation being overturned on charter grounds, with no report to Parliament of any inconsistency and a spate of charter challenges now before the courts, again without any reports on inconsistency being tabled.
As Speaker Fraser commented in the aforementioned 1993 ruling, “there are people in departments who know these rules and are supposed to ensure that they are carried out”.
It may be that the rule is faulty; it may be that the minister's interpretation of the rule is incomplete; it may be that there are standards that are not fully appreciated; or it may be that there is some other procedural issue. These are all questions that the procedure and House affairs committee could address in fashioning potential remedies, which may include legislative change if Parliament should so wish. In that regard, I refer you, Mr. Speaker, to the 42nd report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs presented to the House on March 7, wherein the committee affirmed:
|| As part of its privileges, the House has the exclusive right to regulate its own internal affairs, which includes the control over its own proceedings as they relate to the House’s constitutional functions.
The House's constitutional functions include ensuring that our legislation accords with the Constitution. This too is reflected in the oath on which O'Brien and Bosc comment. They state:
|| When members swear or solemnly affirm allegiance to the Queen as Sovereign of Canada, they are also swearing or solemnly affirming allegiance to the institutions the Queen represents, including the cause of democracy.
Yet the Supreme Court of Canada has said “democracy in any real sense of the word cannot exist without the rule of law”. The court has gone on to state in the reference regarding secession of Quebec that the “rule of law principle requires that all government action must comply with the law, including the Constitution”.
There can be no doubt that members in this House and Parliament as an institution have the obligation to respect, promote, preserve, protect and defend our Constitution, of which the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is the centrepiece.
Mr. Speaker, I draw your attention to a ruling made by your predecessor on Wednesday, November 21, 2001, in which he commented upon, “The alacrity with which the minister was able to fulfill her statutory obligations following the raising of this question...”. In that case, questions were raised repeatedly about a minister's failure to table documents before the House. It is worth noting that the Speaker considered the matter, even though a great deal of time had elapsed between the first alleged breach and the raising of the question.
The minister eventually tabled the document and the Speaker commented:
|| Strictly speaking, these defects do not negate the minister's fulfillment of her statutory obligation, but they do point to a carelessness that appears to be characteristic of the way in which these matters are being handled by the officials in her department. Were there to be a deadline for tabling included in the legislation, I would not hesitate to find that a prima facie case of contempt does exist, and I would invite the hon. member to move the usual motion. However, given that no such deadline is specified, I can only find that a legitimate grievance has been identified. I would encourage the hon. Minister of Justice to exhort her officials henceforth to demonstrate due diligence in complying with these and any other statutory requirements adopted by parliament. I look forward in future to the House being provided with documents required by law in a timely manner.
We know that the minister has an obligation to table constitutional reports at the first convenient opportunity, admittedly a somewhat nebulous phrase but one that still implies some sense of urgency. Certainly such reports ought to exist now for legislation that was proposed months ago, such as the myriad citizenship bills that are being challenged presently before the courts.
While it may be for the committee to suggest alternative phrases, it ought to inquire whether such reports have been made but not tabled. As such, it would clearly confirm any prima facie contempt found by the Speaker, one which ought to be found to exist given the various series of rulings determining that government legislation has in fact not accorded with the charter.
To address the concern of the government House leader that this matter has not been raised in a timely fashion, I refer you, Mr. Speaker, to the aforementioned ruling with respect to document tabling whereupon, in first raising the matter in 2001, the then member for Surrey Central spoke of 16 incidents of statutory violations arising between September 16, 1998 and December 13, 2000. I believe this case shows us that there may be a series of incidents and it is only reasonable and appropriate for members to await the establishment of a pattern before bringing a contempt matter to the Chair's attention.
We have awaited and have now discerned and demonstrated a pattern with respect to legislation being tabled in the House that is constitutionally suspect. With respect to that legislation, some of it being held to be unconstitutional, such suspect constitutional legislation is in fact now before the courts. I believe that we are in the same situation now as in the matter in 2001, to which I referred.
Indeed, lest it be thought that all of these cases are in the past, on March 12 of this year, the Court of Appeal for Ontario ruled in a case regarding the 2009 Truth in Sentencing Act. Although it did not overturn the law, these are the important words:
||—the Crown’s urged interpretation of [the law] would result in disparate and unjust treatment of similarly situated offenders and potential violations of an offender’s [section] 7 and [section] 12 Charter rights.
The judge in that case goes on to say:
|| The effect of the Crown’s argument, in my view, is to ask this court to rewrite [the statute].... There is no doubt that Parliament, having enacted the sentencing objectives and principles in the Code, is free to alter them, so long as this occurs without violating the Charter.
The judge then queries:
||—if Parliament intended to depart so profoundly from these bedrock principles of Canadian sentencing law (assuming that such a sea change in the law could survive full constitutional scrutiny)....
An arguably charitable reading of this ruling is that the government's deficient drafting allowed for the legislation not to be overturned because it could be interpreted in a way that did not violate the charter. However, if the government's intentions were what it indicated in submissions, surely it ought to have been aware of the charter implication and by extension ought to have submitted a report to Parliament.
This is the kind of action that serves as the basis for my underlying submission here today of the contempt allegation. Was this bill vetted? Was a report prepared? If so, why was it not tabled? What was the minister's involvement in this vetting? What about Parliament's constitutional obligations in this regard?
As I draw to a close, I truly believe that an inadequately low or arguably non-existent standard is being applied during the constitutional review process. It is one that allows unconstitutional legislation to flow from the department, bearing a certification that such a review has occurred and without a report being tabled.
Certainly parliamentarians did not intend this review process to be a rubber stamp, just as it cannot be said that we have been seeking to adopt unconstitutional legislation. Moreover, it cannot be said that the minister is fulfilling the order that the House, in legislation, has requested of him, if indeed the legislation that bears his approval is in fact unconstitutional and is being submitted to Parliament without the proper vetting, which would have demonstrated that prima facie unconstitutionality to begin with.
I believe this contempt matter is one the committee should investigate and report back upon, as my colleague suggests, regardless of whatever legal proceedings may be otherwise occurring.
I would also like to remind the government of its little-used power to ask for references from the Supreme Court of Canada on matters of which it may have constitutional concern. Indeed, I am proud that the government in which I served asked such a question with respect to the same sex marriage issue. It specifically asked whether the legislative proposal was:
||—consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? If not, in what particular or particulars, and to what extent?
Perhaps the procedure and House affairs committee may suggest that the government seek references more often when it is unsure, as part of its appreciation of the remedies in this regard.
In conclusion, the government ought to adopt a more robust approach to legislative review rather than providing us constitutionally defective legislation, as confirmed by the courts, and in the process engaging us in contempt of the House, something which we ought to remedy with all deliberate speed for the sake of Parliament as an institution and for the sake of all Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the speech by the former minister of justice. I would simply like to raise a few points following the question of privilege raised by my colleague from . This is an extremely important issue, one that may sometimes appear to be of cosmic significance in the various debates that we hear. Some of us might feel like we are back in law school, taking a long course in Procedure 101, or even a course at the Ph. D. level.
In very simple terms, the question of privilege raised by my colleague from concerns the most valuable thing we have here in the House, something that we must all try our best to uphold, that is, respect for the rule of law. When we receive government bills from the government or the Senate, I may not always support the content of them politically, but I do not necessarily wonder about their legitimacy or their compatibility with the charter or the Constitution. To my mind, and to the mind of almost all of my colleagues in this House, this is something that we expect from the government. This is a legal obligation, and the government must ensure that it is met.
Without a certificate from the minister of Justice, about which our colleague from told us at length, stating that the bill is problematic from the point of view of the charter, we must assume that the bill respects the charter and that it complies with the Constitution.
Over the holidays, a public servant, a lawyer by profession and one of those whose work it is essentially to provide assistance to the minister and carry out in-depth studies of bills, went to court saying he was concerned that he was being asked to do something illegal.
Let us not get into the legal issue. On the other hand, Mr. Speaker, you must consider the importance of the rule of law. It is not a big surprise to see that a lot of questions have been raised following Mr. Schmidt’s filing, since it cast doubt on our faith in the system. On this prima facie basis, it is certainly everyone’s privilege that is being jeopardized.
In my opinion, if there is one thing that we should not do, it is to wait for a response from a court, from the Federal Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. And even though there is only a low 5% risk—based on the percentages that we have heard from the Justice Department—I think it would be worthwhile for us to conduct this investigation from the inside, either by the remedy our colleague suggested in his question of privilege or by following the suggestion made by our colleague from and sending it to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. I think it would be the height of indecency to sweep this problem under the rug while we wait and see what the courts decide.
I listened attentively while the minister discussed deadlines. We must remember that, in law, one very clear principle applies everywhere, and that is that “procedure is a servant of the law, not its master”. That being said, the question of deadline often depends on the one who has to meet it.
On February 6, I presented a notice of motion in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. We debated the motion on February 11, and I then tabled it at the request of my colleague from , who requested an in-depth study. On February 13, we continued to debate in committee the possibility of forming a subcommittee within the justice committee in order to consider this serious issue, which calls into question the trust parliamentarians, and also, by extension, members of the public, should have in the process.
If the minister's answer is that we can ask him questions when he appears before a committee or in the House, that does not mean that the process complies with the obligations that exist under the charter and the legislation drafted and legally passed by the House.
In my opinion, parliamentarians from all parties have a duty to pay close and careful attention to this matter.
Moreover, the question of privilege raised by my colleague from must be examined to determine whether there is a prima facie case of privilege and whether the facts bear it out. There is much reliance, in the question of privilege raised by the member for Winnipeg Centre, on the application by Mr. Schmidt, which is currently before the Federal Court. Apparently, it is certain that the facts are not presumed to be true. That is not what is being said. However, there is one fact that is incontestable: there is a lawsuit.
There is another fact: no later than March 8, if my memory serves me correctly, the Federal Court agreed to an application by Mr. Schmidt. A decision was handed down to the effect that the government should be responsible for the legal costs borne by Mr. Schmidt on the grounds that—and this is important—this action was extremely important and Mr. Schmidt has absolutely nothing to gain from the process. He will not obtain employment. On the contrary, he was suspended because he took this step out of a sense of professional duty. That said, this constitutes fact.
An examination of Hansard shows that when I moved my motion and the member for commented on it, he said at one point that when he became Minister of Justice, he was somewhat worried about the way corners were being cut. While I am using simple terms, his wording was more elegant. Roughly speaking, he said that he already had concerns when he agreed to become Minister of Justice.
That worries me. It is not only the government. I repeatedly said this to the Conservative members who perhaps felt that they had been targeted by Mr. Schmidt’s case. He did not target the Conservatives. What he said was that since the introduction of the Charter in 1985, that was how it had been applied and it had unfortunately caused a problem.
In my view, it is important in the House to make sure that when there are bills, our work does not require meeting in committee and bringing in specialists when the time comes to discuss the content of a bill. This means inviting constitutional law specialists to deal with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to confirm the bill's legality. Only then does one move on to the rest. This is not only for justice bills. It is relevant for all government bills, whether they pertain to fisheries and oceans, foreign affairs, immigration or other issues.
Imagine the burden this places on the shoulders of parliamentarians who have neither the equipment nor government resources available to them. It is up to the Department of Justice to ensure that we have no such concerns.
On February 6, our notice of motion was submitted. On February 11 and 13, it was debated in committee. The Conservatives voted against my motion to establish a committee to examine the process. I trust that a conclusion can be reached before it is imposed by the court. My medicine would have been easier to take than the much stronger medicine we will likely be given in the future.
My colleague from is now raising his question of privilege. I believe that it is a very important question.
The member for also asked me what I was talking about when I moved my motion. And yet, it had been picked up by the media. Apparently not everyone reads about major justice issues.
To each his own. Not everyone is necessarily up to date about everything all the time; there is no rule about it. I believe, however, that our colleague’s motion was made within the prescribed time periods.
Mr. Speaker, I believe that you should look into this matter very seriously, because it calls into question the bond of trust that parliamentarians must have with respect to how bills, whether government or Senate bills, are presented in this House. I trust that you will allow my colleague’s question of privilege.