Mr. Speaker, I rise under Standing Order 48(2) on a question of privilege, notice of which was given this morning in accordance with the Standing Orders.
I would ask you, Mr. Speaker, after my brief remarks, to make a prima facie finding of a breach of my parliamentary privilege and refer the matter immediately, because of the time-sensitive nature of the breach, to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
The breach of my parliamentary privilege relates both to my individual rights as a member of Parliament and to my rights as the shadow minister for foreign affairs. As well, I will highlight why I think there is also a collective breach of the rights of all members of the House of Commons. As I am sure you know, Mr. Speaker, there are individual rights that each member of Parliament has, regardless of side of the House, as well as collective rights that all 338 members and yourself have. These are founded within the Constitution Act of 1867, as well as within the rules of this place and several generations of decisions from the Chair.
I will reference the most recent one that is germane to this request. At the heart of the issue of parliamentary privilege of a member of Parliament is for the member of Parliament to be fully able to deliberate, debate, legislate, and most importantly, especially for members of the opposition, hold the government to account. That is at the heart of our parliamentary democracy, and it has been impeded. Anything that impedes my ability to fulfill my functions is a breach of my privilege.
Specifically, that breach was highlighted yesterday by the , who acknowledged that confidential information related to the 's trip to India was shared with members of the press gallery, who do not sit in this place but may be above it or observe it. That same information is not being shared with me, as a member of Parliament.
Furthermore, we do not have the ability to question the national security adviser, Mr. Jean, who shared that information with members of the press gallery. He is not able to appear before a committee of this place or a committee of the upper house, further stymying our ability to fulfill our requirements and obligations as members of Parliament to hold the government to account.
I highlight this specifically. Yesterday, the suggested, to many journalists, including one of the journalists briefed by the national security adviser, that the national security adviser could share information he deemed to be confidential with reporters. However, the Minister of Public Safety was not willing to share that same information with members of the House of Commons. That, in itself, is a prima facie breach of my privilege as a member of Parliament.
As I said, these rights have been adjudicated by various chairs since the founding of our Confederation. This inhibits my ability as an individual to have freedom of speech and information to inform and colour my deliberations and debates in the House.
There is also a critical individual freedom that members of Parliament have, and that is the freedom from obstruction or interference in the fulfillment of their duties. Not only as a member of Parliament who has a background in defence, security, and these affairs, I have additional duties to hold the to account with respect to Canada's role in the world and its diplomatic function.
In the last week, this chamber has been seized with the largest diplomatic incident Canada has witnessed in a generation. Yesterday, the acknowledged information relating to the government, in particular the 's specific claims that a partner, the Indian government, is somehow involved in this crisis. It is now named the “Atwal affair”, the diplomatic crisis of a convicted attempted assassin, who tried to kill an Indian parliamentarian on Canadian soil, being invited to formal prime ministerial events. That is a foreign affairs crisis.
Yesterday, the minister confirmed that information with respect to the 's defence in this House of those claims was shared with members of the press gallery, who the government knew would publish it in their newspapers, online, or on television, thereby waiving any confidentiality claims. That is the same information they are withholding from me as a parliamentarian, who is charged with holding the Liberals to account. It is astounding, and far worse than the judgment from former Speaker Milliken, who I am going to refer to shortly. Not only does it breach my individual privileges as a member of Parliament in several ways, it is a breach of our collective rights.
I am sure even members of the Liberal caucus who were not on this Indian junket trip are offended by what happened. They, as government members, have a right collectively to institute inquiries, call witnesses, and demand information to this chamber. Therefore, not only are my individual privileges as a member of Parliament being stymied by the Liberal government, the admission by the , who yesterday said the government is not prepared to share here the same information it shared with journalists, in itself is a prima facie indication it is violating privilege.
There is also a collective violation inherent in this withholding of information. I suggested today in question period that often the cover-up can be worse than the crime. I do not think there is a crime here. I am using that as an expression. However, there was a diplomatic incident that has caused Canadians great concern, great international embarrassment, and today members of the Conservative caucus raised how it is already impacting our pulse farmers. We as members of Parliament are not able to have the same degree of information that the Prime Minister's Office offered to journalists, in trying to defend or explain away a crisis with respect to the Atwal affair.
I refer you to the seminal case from the Supreme Court of Canada in New Brunswick Broadcasting Co. v. Nova Scotia, where parliamentary privilege must be “absolute” and necessary.
All of our legislatures and our federal Parliament must respect the absolute privilege of its members to be informed, to have debate, deliberations, and to hold the government to account. That is the core of our parliamentary democracy. For the to suggest the national security adviser had the ability to share this information with journalists but not share it with the House, that in itself suggests the information he shared was not confidential.
If the Liberals are going to share information as damage control, clearly it is not information about which CSIS was saying, “Stop. You're jeopardizing our national security.” That is why this side of the House feels that the 's Office engaged the national security adviser in a media smokescreen attempt to deflect attention from the Atwal affair. I am sure that is the case, because I am being stopped from performing my duties as a member of Parliament. The , the , and the Prime Minister's Office, because we all know it is there, are not sharing the same information with me that they have shared with journalists to suggest that they were not to blame for the Atwal affair. However, I have no ability to see that information.
I will quote Speaker Milliken on April 28, 2010, in the Afghan document decision, on a similar type issue, where confidentiality and national security were part of the debate. He states:
It is the view of the Chair that accepting an unconditional authority of the executive to censor the information provided to Parliament would in fact jeopardize the very separation of powers that is purported to lie at the heart of our parliamentary system and the independence of its constituent parts.
This chamber, the men and women who stand in this chamber, sit in this chamber, and participate in the debates of our nation are the most important constituent part of our parliamentary system. Speaker Milliken, probably one of the most profound writing Speakers, said that specifically when the executive, the Prime Minister's Office, suggested confidentiality would prevent parliamentarians from exercising their absolute privileges. All four corners of that Speaker's decision apply to this case. In fact, the , as I raised in question period today, highlighted that breach of privilege yesterday to the media when he confirmed the national security adviser, we believe at the request of the Prime Minister's Office, shared information with journalists that they are now preventing us from having, with claims of confidentiality.
Here is an interesting sidebar. Everyone knows, especially the deputy House leader, that I love to look back into the history of things. When the Milliken decision in 2010 came out, the then-Liberal leader, Michael Ignatieff, was quite happy with this decision. Speaker Milliken recommended a compromise, because there actually was confidential information. Here, the waiving of confidentiality by allowing the national security adviser to brief the media shows it is a red herring in this case. However, in the Afghan documents case, it was a real concern so the Speaker's decision recommended a compromise so that the parties could get together and make sure the privilege of MPs was not impeded.
Who did Michael Ignatieff charge to work on behalf of the Liberal Party to make sure that privilege was maintained? It was the House leader for the Liberal Party at the time. Who was that? It was the .
Sometimes when one is here a long time, one sees everything, and so that minister has seen everything. He has seen this. He knows that not providing us the very same information the Liberals provided journalists, and his work on the Milliken decision and the compromise out of it shows this, the production of documents, the provision of information, and even witnesses to allow a proper deliberation, debate, and holding of government to account, is a breach of privilege. That decision dealt with not just the production of documents and information to allow for that deliberation, that debate, that holding to account. It also dealt with the issue of tampering or impeding witnesses from being part of the parliamentary inquiry. Therefore, I would refer the Chair to the Milliken decision with respect to that.
It is interesting in this case as well, because the national security adviser is a senior civil servant. He was charged to brief the media, thereby suggesting that there was no confidential information that they are now claiming cannot be shared with us and Mr. Jean cannot appear before the public safety committee or a committee of the Senate.
I suggest that any confidentiality or sensitivity of that information was waived, but even if it was not, what did Speaker Milliken suggest in the case with a letter from an associate deputy minister with respect to the Afghan documents? He suggested that letter provided a chilling effect on the civil servant, civil service, and the ability for Parliament to fulfill its obligation. However, this is a far worse chilling effect, because the national security adviser for Canada has never made public statements, particularly quiet, hastily arranged media briefings. This is unprecedented, and with even a more senior person than an associate deputy minister.
Therefore, the chill effect that the Milliken decision was concerned about with respect to impeding, with respect to tampering with the ability for documents and deliberations to take place in this case, also applies here. Unfortunately, unless we get some answers, I feel that the Prime Minister's Office has sullied the reputation of a fine three-decade-long civil servant. He should come before committee and confirm whether he was acting rogue here. Without the information, I am not sure, but my hunch is that this is not the case. Either way, we do not have the information and my privilege is breached.
I will end with this. Perhaps I wanted to speak a little more before we broke for two weeks, but this is very serious. The only limitations on the privileges of a member of Parliament must be self-imposed. We regulate our debates. My very capable , on behalf of our parliamentary caucus, works with the and other colleagues to make sure the debate functions, to make sure that we hold one another to account, and the Chair helps us in that exercise, capably informed by the table officers.
We determine what information we see, not the . The very fact that he was involved in the Milliken decision compromise tells me he knows that. As well, unelected officials in the 's Office, who determine which civil servants go out, who they brief, and what information they share, if they are now trying to impede me from doing my job by not sharing that same information, they must be held to account. They are not members of this place.
We regulate our own debate, and our own respect for the privileges of this place. Further, and the Milliken decision confirms this once again, that privilege is not affected by statutes that might prohibit distribution of information. If there are real confidentiality or national security concerns, and I have said already in my remarks that I do not think that is the case here, which is what the minister is claiming, disclosure, sunshine, will show all that.
However, even if there is sensitive information or confidential documents, that does not impact my privilege to see it. The Milliken decision confirms that accommodation must be made. The public safety committee could meet in camera. The parliamentary House leaders could get together, like they did with the Milliken decision, like the did in 2010, to make sure that Parliament is supreme.
We are not impacted by claims of confidentiality, especially what I am suggesting are false claims.
This is a very serious affair. The national security adviser of Canada is now implicated. One of Canada's most important allies in the Asia-Pacific going forward, one with which all sides of this House have taken strong work to try to improve and enhance relationships and enhance trade, and under the Conservatives two-way trade doubled, that country has now said that the 's claims are baseless.
I cannot confirm they are baseless because I am being impeded in my function. Canada's allies are affected. Our reputation is affected. My role as a parliamentarian is affected. For all of my collective colleagues here, their ability to perform their function is affected. This is serious.
Given the nature of this affair, I would ask the Chair, relying heavily on the Milliken decision, which is totally on point, when the House returns, to make a decision so that all of us, on all sides of the chamber, can fulfill our roles as parliamentarians.