Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your intervention.
We have carefully read the text tabled by the , and we have noticed that efforts are being made. However, these efforts to find an appropriate solution are many months late.
Let us recall that there were two positive votes at the former Special Committee on Canada‑China Relations, as well as two votes here, in the House, in favour of our proposal to order the production of documents.
The will of Parliament is therefore clear and, aside from a few details, the September election did not change the seat map to such an extent that one could expect a different result if, by any chance, there were a fifth vote on this request.
My counterpart cited the handling of Afghan detainee documents as an example that we could follow, so allow me to add a bit of context.
An ad hoc committee of parliamentarians was created as a solution forged by necessity given that a 2009 Liberal opposition motion recklessly ordered the public release of some 40,000 pages in their original and uncensored form, despite the fact that this could have prejudiced the interests of Canada and its NATO allies where our troops were at risk on the ground.
In his widely celebrated April 27, 2010, ruling, Speaker Milliken, recognizing that there was support across the House to address the Liberal motion’s shortcomings and ensure sensitive information was protected, invited senior figures in the House to find an “interest-based solution to this thorny question” of reconciling the House’s role as grand inquest of the nation and the executive’s role as defender of realm, before he would turn the matter over to the House for its adjudication. Those discussions yielded the ad hoc committee, whose processes built upon the good-faith efforts of the government of the day, begun well ahead of any Speaker’s rulings, to have a trusted, independent review, at arm’s length from the government, determine what information could safely be placed in the public domain.
Unlike the situation in 2009–10, the motions adopted by the Special Committee on Canada–China Relations and the House included mechanisms to strike a balance between parliamentary accountability and protecting sensitive information in the 546 pages in question, which represent only about 1.4% of the volume of the Afghan detainee documents, and foster ongoing dialogue on the issue, as the Speaker acknowledged in his ruling on June 16, 2021.
The very basis of the government's argument against our point of privilege is that when the Conservatives were in power, they applied the solution that the Liberal government now wishes to apply to the situation at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg. However, this is like comparing apples and oranges.
The situation in 2009–10 involved the production of 40,000 pages of unredacted documents to be released to the public. We are proposing that 546 pages be released. That is not the same thing at all. In addition, we would like the documents to be analyzed by table officers to prevent any sensitive information that could compromise public safety from being released. Evidently, it is apples and oranges.
It is also important to remember, with respect to the Afghan documents of 2009-10, that our country was involved in a military operation on enemy territory. Soldiers from our army, Canadians in uniform, were fighting the Taliban enemy in Afghanistan. Their health, their safety, and their lives were at risk, whereas with regard to the Winnipeg issue, what we are talking about is analyzing the work of public servants to see what they did with respect to other public servants. This involves a few people, a few individuals. These are two completely different things.
I wish to remind the House that it is also important to keep in mind that the majority of the House voted to have the law clerk and parliamentary counsel conduct a reliable, independent review at arm's length from the government.
To that end, Mr. Speaker, in your June 2021 ruling, you stated the following: “It is, however, not up to the Chair to judge the extent of the measures taken, but to note that they were considered. There is thus no reason to allow an additional delay.”
Regrettably, delay was the name of the game for the government. Its approach this spring was not to accept the reasonable compromise set out in the motions, nor to negotiate workable amendments to those arrangements. Instead, its approach was to deny, then to deflect and then to finally litigate, in an entirely shocking and unprecedented court application against the House of Commons. Members will recall I argued last month that that also constitutes contempt against the House.
We must unfortunately note that this is, to our knowledge, the only time in Canadian history and in Commonwealth parliamentary history that the government has gone to Federal Court to challenge the voted will of the House of Commons. The executive branch used the judicial branch to prevent the legislative branch from doing its job. The government is knocking on the Federal Court's door to prevent the House of Commons from doing its job. This has never happened in Canadian history, nor, as far as we know, has it ever happened in Commonwealth parliamentary history.
The only event that comes to mind happened in June, July and August 1974 at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., when the President of the United States went to the Supreme Court to prevent the release of documents as requested by the U.S. Congress. The executive branch knocked on the door of the judicial branch to prevent the legislative branch from doing its job. That was the Watergate scandal. Need I remind the House that the government or executive branch at the time, meaning the President, resigned a few days after the Supreme Court decision?
Surely, members can appreciate that Conservatives are worried about the government's sudden 180° turn. Indeed, the official opposition has serious concerns, to say the least, that the government's proposal represents an actual change in any way, shape or form to the government's approach, given the Liberal's pattern of behaviour concerning parliamentary accountability over the past few years.
Furthermore, I must also take note of the government House leader's words on the floor of the Commons last week, which were not in the letter that was shared with journalists, on how his proposition was conditional, when he stated, “If the matter is revived again in this new Parliament by way of substantive motion”.
Therefore, if I am to understand his position correctly, it is not actually an effort to address my question of privilege, which is currently before the Chair, but rather, I would say, distract from it. It will follow that, for the House to achieve any forward progress in obtaining the documents, which have already been ordered four times to be produced, you must deliver your ruling, Mr. Speaker.
The government House leader's parliamentary secretary recently rose in the House to distract us from the principle that a Parliament may punish the contempts committed against its predecessor by discussing imprisonment in the Tower of London five centuries ago. I would remind you of the recent citations of several Canadian speakers' statements on that matter, all from our own lifetime, and all delivered by the hon. member for , who is also the deputy House leader of the official opposition.
Nevertheless, in the interests of finding an adequate solution that addresses the concerns of all the parties, I think that the response could actually be found in the June 21 letter and in the speech given in the House by the former government House leader, the member for , who said, and I quote:
While the government accepts that the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel has the appropriate security clearance to review the information, we do not believe he has the necessary training or expertise in national security-related information to make the necessary assessment.
The government is open to providing the unredacted documents to the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel if the House of Commons agrees that national security specialists can assist him in this process and that other appropriate safeguards be put in place.
This offer is consistent with the open-door policy that the law clerk talked about during the March 31 meeting of the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations. He said, and I quote:
In terms of national security and other grounds, my office acts essentially as the department of justice for the legislative branch and we provide legal services and legal advice to committees on all of their areas of law, including all of those potential grounds for confidentiality that committees and/or the House may decide to accept or not accept. We are prepared and able to provide that legal advice in the interpretation of those concepts, including national security, commercial sensitivity and so on.
That said, there may well be some factual information and knowledge that the government or other entities have that we don't have, because it's their information and their concerns, and they may be well placed to share that with us with regard to proposed redactions or proposed areas of concern. That's certainly something the committee can consider, namely, to have my office provide you with advice on the scope and application of those grounds, but not preventing the government or any witness from proposing and raising a concern—albeit, with this committee, and ultimately the House, still having the last word on accepting or not that interpretation.
Therefore, I would propose that the government deposit the documents with the law clerk, as previously ordered, and together, along with other representatives of the acting national security and intelligence adviser to the Prime Minister and/or the director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, to suggest what, in their professional opinions, ought to be redacted and why, in order to assist the law clerk in discharging his duty.
As for the other unspecific “appropriate safeguards” the former government House leader referred to, I believe these should be simple, incontrovertible matters, such as ensuring that in camera discussion of the documents does not take place on Zoom or allowing the meeting to take place at a secure facility away from Parliament Hill. These could be easily negotiated in a unanimous consent motion to supplement the existing sound and responsible measures already adopted by the House.
That is what Conservatives believe to be a reasonable resolution to the situation. It would allow the government's concerns to be addressed while vindicating the authority of Parliament to order the production of documents. Hopefully, the Liberal government will voluntarily table the documents, so we can get on with the redaction process.
Otherwise, you will have to make a ruling to allow the process to move forward, and if you find a prima facie case of contempt, I remain prepared to move an appropriate motion.