Thank you, Mr. Chair and colleagues.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you today about the conduct of the Liberal government and the RCMP, and their activities around the implementation of Bill .
While I will attempt to present my remarks in a dispassionate way, it is challenging not to be angered at the arrogance shown by the Liberals in their presentation of this bill, and the systematic way the government ministers and MPs have tried to mislead Canadians. This is a contributing factor to the question of privilege I raised earlier this spring.
Here's the central issue: The RCMP began implementing a proposed law, Bill , before Parliament had deliberated, debated and voted on the bill. The RCMP had posted on their website special bulletin number 93, a notice implementing portions of Bill . At the time, the bill was before committee and under intense scrutiny. The bulletin made use of definitive language, giving Canadians the distinct impression that this bill was current law in Canada.
On May 29, I raised the issue that the RCMP was assuming Parliament would approve the bill, despite the significant reservations of millions of Canadians and many in Parliament. Within 24 hours of that question of privilege being raised, the RCMP modified their special bulletin number 93 to remove a presumption of Parliament's final decision. On that same day, May 30, I rose again to let the know of the recent change.
On June 19, the Speaker noted he was troubled by the careless manner in which the RCMP chose to ignore the fact that the bill was still before Parliament and not a law. This may seem like a technical issue, but this technical issue supports our very system of a parliamentary democracy. Prime ministers, ministers, departments and agencies are all subject to Parliament. Of all departments and agencies, a federal law enforcement one should not be so careless with Parliament and implementing laws.
Parliament is the voice for all Canadians, and it is beholden on us to scrutinize those laws, rules and regulations for Canadians. The message being sent to Parliament by the minister and by the RCMP is that they can act without Parliament. That contravenes the purpose of this House and those of you sitting around these tables today. It suggests that ministers and senior government officials are ultimately in full control, rather than the elected officials. As Speaker said, “The work of members as legislators is fundamental and any hint or suggestion of this parliamentary role and authority being bypassed or usurped is not acceptable.”
Today, the members of this committee will have the first opportunity in Canada to set the standard for departments and agencies that assume the will of Parliament. We cannot allow the precedent to be and have a muted response.
A decision was made to implement legislation, despite the highly contentious nature of the bill and the serious and valid reservations from thousands of Canadians and parliamentarians. It falls on you, as this committee, to determine who made the decisions, who is responsible, and how we deter this from occurring again. The questions before you, as I see them, are many, but they could include this one: Did the RCMP set rules ahead of parliamentary decision independently, as opposed to being instructed to do so? There are only two potential answers: yes or no. If the answer is yes, then the RCMP made a decision to prioritize their objectives ahead of the voice of our elected representatives. The police in this country do not create the rules and the law; they enforce them. This is a fundamental function of the separation of powers in a democracy.
If the answer is no, then who directed the RCMP to proceed, and, conspicuous by his absence, where has the been on this issue? The RCMP reports to Parliament through the minister, and the minister is responsible for its actions. I contend that if the minister did not actively instruct the RCMP, then he is guilty of failing to do his job of overseeing the RCMP. He has made no comments or statements to address the issue, other than through his parliamentary secretary, the member from Ajax, now the Liberal whip, and that member sought to have the issue dismissed.
I know the investigation the committee is now charged to undertake is not about this one instance. It is about the broader principle of ensuring that the House can hold prime ministers, ministers, departments, crown corporations and agencies to account for taking action that conflicts with, undermines or otherwise ignores directions and deliberations of Parliament.
Public servants should always be mindful of the House and our democracy. As parliamentarians, we can disagree, but the function of this House is dependent on the House reviewing and approving the actions of government. Members of Parliament are not here to serve the will of the prime minister and cabinet. We are here to serve our constituents. Ministers and prime ministers are subject to the direction and will of Parliament, not the other way around.
I urge all to look at the facts of the case and see the overall picture. It's hard to argue that the has approached this particular legislation with full integrity and transparency. When there is a systematic and consistent attempt to deceive, it becomes harder and harder to believe the individual in question.
So far, the government leadership has made factually inaccurate statements. It could be suggested that they were made to mislead the public on the true nature of this legislation. For example, the suggested that currently no one needs to prove that they have a firearms licence to purchase a firearm. The truth is that selling or buying a firearm in this country without a proper licence is a criminal offence and carries a maximum penalty of five years in jail.
The appeared before committee and used several misleading statements as well. He indicated that, based on Toronto Police Service stats, half of crime guns were from domestic sources. Even after those numbers were proven to be completely false, the minister continued to use them. He indicated that there was a sudden spike in violent gun crime, when in fact violent gun crime and homicide by firearm are not at record levels. He used selective dates and stats to create the appearance of a crisis where none existed. Finally, he reported a massive increase in break and enter to steal a firearm, when in fact this charge was first introduced in 2008 and the sudden increase was primarily the result of the application of a new Criminal Code charge where none existed previously.
I could go on with many more examples, but I believe the point has been made. The testimony of the and of this government to date has been flawed and misleading. The added fact that the RCMP, upon the issue being raised in the House, immediately revised their bulletin is nothing short of an admission of guilt.
The replied to a letter from me and my colleague from on an issue within the bill. In his reply, dated October 15 of this year, he acknowledged that there was a flaw in the legislation and he would grant the three-year amnesty, no doubt in part because of the overreach of the RCMP. However, there was no indication or responsibility of whether the bulletin from the RCMP was posted through ignorance or intent.
This falls to the investigation and the determination of this committee. It is therefore critical that a decisive and clear report show the prejudgment of Parliament to be a serious issue. This committee is responsible for upholding a key part of our Parliament and democracy, where ministers and agencies of the government must respect and abide by the House.
In closing, I would ask each of you to review the ruling of the Speaker. Putting aside political allegiances and party standing, Speaker put the will of Canadians and their elected representatives ahead of the defence of party brands. He spoke truth to power and called on you to ensure that this Parliament and each one after it are empowered by the Canadians who voted for them, rather than obligated to follow a party hierarchy.
When ministers and parties use misinformation and positions of authority to obstruct the House in its duties, we put our democracy in jeopardy. Look beyond our disagreements and towards the values that bring Canadians together. These values must be reflected and upheld in our Parliament and in the ability of members of Parliament to hold each other and the government to the will of the people.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the opportunity to speak today.
Thank you, Mr. Motz. I think you might be on the right path here. Misleading members of the House is contemptuous indeed. I don't disagree with that. I looked at the website. It certainly did use language that gave the sense that this was either happening or going to happen and people should be prepared.
The only place where we diverge, I think, is on intent. I won't write this off as an innocent mistake, but I don't want to describe or characterize it as being particularly malicious, either. I've seen this before. I can give you a couple of examples where this has happened. For example, you can say that there are many bureaucrats, many people in agencies, people who work for the government—in essence, they work for the people of this country—who prepare themselves for what is around the corner. To me, there's a lot of due diligence there. For example, we just went through a lot of work on the Canada Elections Act. If the people of Elections Canada had not prepared themselves for what might be coming, then the situation would be exacerbated even further—more difficulties way down the line. For them, I think it's an issue of due diligence.
Now, did the police, in this case, do due diligence? To a certain degree I think they did. They wanted to let the public know what is changing and whatnot. Do you think they should have said—using that language—“This is what's going to happen. This is the new rule. This is how you have to register yourself if you have a firearm”, and then at the end added, “pending parliamentary approval”? Would that have sufficed?
I don't mean to cut you off. I totally agree with you, because I was particularly appalled a few years ago, in 2014, when the headline was “Harper gov't spending funds on ads for measures still 'subject to parliamentary approval'”. Their ads were basically saying that these tax breaks were coming, but right at the bottom they said, “subject to parliamentary approval”. I didn't like that, and I'm sure you didn't either, when it was happening.
In this particular case, when the police made the correction, I guess you'd call it an admission of guilt, that they did something wrong. We're going to have the minister here to get his explanation behind it, but to a great extent, yes, I do agree with you. Not to get into the weeds about the issue, but I think in this particular case.... I don't want to discourage people who work in the public service from practising due diligence and being prepared. As I was angry with Stephen Harper for the ads that he did, because they were misleading, in this case it is misleading too.
But again, it's the intent that bothers me. If the intention, as it was in 2014, was to say, “This is going to happen. We have the majority, so what are you worried about?”, then that's not right. But if this is due diligence that the public service is doing, then good on them. Just don't pretend, as in this case, that it's going to happen.
We'll ask the minister when he gets here.
Thanks very much, Glen. I appreciate your coming in.
I have to say that, like a few people here, I've been around the bush on this one, both here and also in a previous life at Queen's Park. We had a very similar thing. Scotty, you and I have been down the road on this a few times. I very much liken this kind of issue to the MPs' access to the House. The principle is a really big deal.
That's why whenever there is a prima facie case that members may have been held up in accessing the House, usually with the buses—that's the usual place where we have a problem—then we get into the details of it and find out just how much skulduggery is behind the incident that happened. I see this very similarly. The principle is a really big deal.
No government or entity or agency of government has the right to purport to the Canadian people that something is the law if Parliament hasn't passed it. I don't care how big your majority is; only Parliament can pass laws. Since it's not automatic—not everybody is a robot, and people can vote the way they want in the moment—it's not the law until it's the law.
I see this the same way. I have a real concern. With my background as a former Ontario solicitor general, the involvement of the police and their role in society and government, that interface, is an area that I have some interest and experience in, so I understand the severity of why you brought this forward.
I'm very much with Mr. Simms, Chair, in that a lot of this is going to turn on intent. It did happen, so the government has to take the hit for the fact that it happened. We want to hear some appropriate bowing and scraping about how it's not going to happen again.
But whether the government conspired with the RCMP to deliberately mislead the Canadian public or whether it was a comedy of errors remains to be seen. I think we're in the right place. I think that it was appropriate that this matter be sent here. It is a big deal. We need to treat it as a big deal.
I'm very much looking forward to our second meeting, where we will have the other side, if you will—there are always two sides—to get a sense of how close we are to conspiratorial action versus a bunch of clowns. To me, that will be the determination of how much time and how much effort we should spend going forward.
I don't really have any questions for you, Glen. I thought you made your case very clearly, very articulately. You backed it up. I have no questions for you, but I would afford you, if you wish, an opportunity to take the floor and clarify any other points you wish.
Thank you, Mr. Christopherson. I appreciate your comments, and I would agree with them. I think it's fair to suggest that this committee, as has been suggested, needs to look at this in totality. It is similar to other cases in which contempt of Parliament has been upheld. I think this doesn't impact just me as an MP. This impacts the Canadian public in a way that's a little different, in that there were actions that could have been taken.
Regarding the intent behind this, whether it is, as you put it, a comedy of errors or some willful suggestion, I must make it very clear. I have many current and former members of the RCMP who are great friends and great police officers. I don't believe for a moment that behind all of this.... This is not in any way designed to malign the RCMP. There's nothing that could be further from the truth; that is not my intent.
But I think it's important to recognize that Bill gives the RCMP some reclassification authorities that they never had previous to Bill C-71. The Canadian public is suspect of that. When they see that an institution of the Canadian government—which is law enforcement, the RCMP—is even presumptuous in its language or believing that this is going to happen, it brings that organization into disrepute even more and discredits it. That's unfortunate.
We're here to ensure that the public institutions we hold true in this land have the confidence of our constituents. However this happened, which I'm confident this committee will certainly find out, it's important that there be mechanisms, checks and balances, that are placed there to ensure that those confidences can be maintained, that there are boundaries that bureaucrats and the agencies they answer to can follow, and that they clearly understand what those might be.
Okay, but that wasn't on day-to-day issues, and they didn't tell you what to report.... They told you what they wanted to see in terms of reporting back, but not in terms of day-to-day issues.
I guess what I'm getting at.... There's a valid question here to be discussed, but I'm concerned that this is an opportunity to take a swing at the minister and to question his integrity without evidence—ironically enough, using parliamentary privilege, because you're saying it in the committee and not out in the hallways.
It would seem to me that this alternative.... On the one hand, you said that it seems like a technical issue, and maybe it is a technical issue, but on the other hand, potentially there is a broad conspiracy where the presumably notified the acting commissioner of the RCMP, who notified someone else, who notified someone else, who notified someone else, who notified someone else, who notified the person in charge of the website. I'm guessing that person is pretty low in the hierarchy of the RCMP. I doubt the commissioner of the RCMP changes the website.
So you potentially have 10, 20, 100 people involved in this conspiracy, and in Ottawa, as would be the case in Washington or any other capital, those things don't stay secret. Are those the two options, that it was a technical breach or that there is a vast conspiracy between the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the minister's office on this particular issue? I don't see any other option. It's either one or the other. Do you honestly believe that there's a conspiracy?
Absolutely. I applaud them for being proactive in their approach and the language they use.
To use your statement just from a minute ago, Madam, I think it's fair to say that maybe even in departments there is the presumption that it's going to happen anyway, so they can just go ahead and start doing it even before it's passed. The role of this committee is to try to say, “Hold on a second. You can say, 'If this is passed, these are some of the things....'” With some of the laws we're working on, it will take time for people to make adjustments. Being proactive in that.... No one's faulting the RCMP for being proactive.
The issue here is the presumption that it's been passed in Parliament when it has not, and the confusion it caused. Where did that come from? Where does that mentality come from? Does it come from an attitude? Does it come from a systemic issue? I don't know. That's one of the things that we have to try to prevent from happening.
I don't suggest for a moment that there was any malicious intent or a conspiracy, as Mr. Bittle suggested, or that somebody was saying this. I just think there is potentially a systemic challenge that governments, departments and public servants can have that clouds the reality of the role of Parliament. We need to be mindful of that.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, for allowing me to participate in the committee.
I'd like to start by setting some things straight. This is the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. What is happening right now is an inquisition of sorts to determine whether our colleague, a parliamentarian like each of us, raised a point that merits this committee's consideration. My colleague never attacked the minister. We aren't here to attack anyone or play politics. Rather, we are here to determine whether there was an error in procedure and whether this incident led to consequences. This incident could have involved a different issue, but as I understand it, this is the first time that something like this has happened and that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs is looking into it. It is clear to me that impugning Mr. Motz's motives is misguided on your part. If that's not what's happening, here, the fact remains that you've all asked questions to that effect.
As vice-chair of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, I worked on Bill . We proposed 46 amendments to the bill, to address such issues as the June 30 cut-off, which is in question here. In light of the trouble gun owners had in terms of their understanding, we proposed a change.
We aren't talking about lobster traps, here. We are talking about gun owners whose firearms are going to be classified as prohibited. June 30 is an important date. The RCMP posted, on its website, information for the public indicating that June 30, 2018 was the cut-off date. The legislation has not even been approved by Parliament. Privilege is therefore at issue. Privilege affects not just members who belong to the Conservative Party or the NDP. Privilege also affects Liberal members, who are parliamentarians and have a duty to consider the fact that a problem has occurred in this case. In other words, no matter which side of the table members are on, it is incumbent upon them to examine this problem. Right now, you could all care less about what I'm saying as you look down at your iPhones, but the fact remains that this is a problem, one that won't be solved by impugning Mr. Motz's motives.
First, the committee has to figure out where the directive came from, if there was indeed a directive. Did it come from the minister's office, yes or no? It's a simple question.
Next, the committee has to determine whether the RCMP has a practice of posting information before it even becomes law. If the RCMP is following a procedure that isn't appropriate, the force must be asked to change it, simply put. The only goal is to fix a problem that has been identified. The idea isn't to put anyone on trial. If the problem ends up being political, the responsibility will fall on the minister. If not, all the better.
That means the committee has to speak with the RCMP. The RCMP commissioner's mandate letter, which was presented by the minister, is clear. The minister asked the RCMP commissioner to change the force's practices in a number of areas. This may be one of the issues that the commissioner will have to address.
The big problem is that, for the first time, the committee has to deal with a case like this, one involving firearms. As I said, we aren't talking about lobster traps or fishing on the high seas. We are talking about firearms. Canadians could have been impacted. Indeed, some people worry that, because of the information the RCMP posted, they won't be able to retain their firearms under the grandfather clause. This could have caused people problems.
I think my colleague made an important point. This is our privilege as parliamentarians. If we don't think a breach of privilege has occurred, we can call it a day and let the public servants carry on. If we aren't able to get to the bottom of the matter, what purpose do we serve? Absolutely none.
Do I still have time, Mr. Chair?