House of Commons Procedure and Practice
Edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit
2000 EditionMore information …
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As part of the consideration of the matters referred to them by the House or taken up as part of the general mandate conferred on them, committees seek information and comment from a wide variety of sources. Briefings and background documents are routinely provided by committee research staff and government departments. Committees also devote considerable effort to gathering the views of those knowledgeable about or directly concerned by the issue before them. This may range from a relatively small group of technical experts to the Canadian public at large.

Information and comment are generally gathered in two ways: by the direct testimony of witnesses and by the submission of written briefs. The power to send for persons and papers, which is accorded to committees, [422]  includes not only the power to invite the appearance of witnesses and the filing of briefs, but also to order, by summons, that individuals appear or that certain documents be filed with the committee.

At the beginning of a study, a committee may take steps to inform the public of its activities and solicit their views. For this purpose, the committee may make use of press releases, newspaper advertisements, announcements placed on the CPAC television network or on the Parliamentary Website. [423] 


A committee may wish to hear testimony from private individuals, representatives of groups, or public officials concerning the matter which it is studying. Witness selection may be carried out in a number of different ways. Normally, witnesses are proposed by individual committee members. The committee may also invite potential witnesses to indicate their interest in appearing. The selection is often delegated to the Sub-committee on Procedure and Agenda, subject to ratification by the full committee. [424]  In addition, groups or individuals who are aware of an upcoming committee study may indicate their interest in appearing without any solicitation on the part of the committee. Finally, when holding meetings in the form of “town halls”, committees often reserve a period of time when those in the audience have the opportunity to ask questions or make brief comments without having formally arranged for their appearance in advance.

It is the responsibility of the committee as a whole to determine which witnesses it will hear. Practical considerations, such as the length of time allocated for a study, limit the number of witnesses the committee will be able to accommodate. While any member of a committee may propose witnesses, the committee makes the final decision as to who will be heard. Witnesses are ordinarily reimbursed for the reasonable expenses which they have incurred in order to appear before the committee. [425] 

Summoning Witnesses

In the vast majority of cases, committees are able to obtain the evidence they seek by inviting witnesses to appear before them. However, some witnesses may not agree to appear willingly. When a witness has declined an invitation to appear, a committee may issue a summons to that witness by adopting a motion to that effect. [426]  If a proposed witness fails to appear when summoned, the committee may report the fact to the House. The House then takes any action it deems appropriate. [427] 

Committees are not empowered to summon Members of the House of Commons or Senators. Should a Member refuse to testify when requested to do so by a committee, the committee can report this to the House which will then decide what action, if any, is necessary. While Senators may appear before House committees voluntarily, their attendance cannot be compelled. If a committee wishes a formal request to be made for a Senator to appear, it must seek the agreement of the House. The House, if it agrees with the committee, sends a message to the Senate requesting that the Senator appear before the committee. [428] 

Swearing-in of Witnesses

Any witness appearing before a committee may be required to take an oath or make a solemn affirmation; [429]  however, under normal circumstances, witnesses are not sworn in. The decision as to the swearing-in of witnesses is entirely at the discretion of the committee. [430]  A witness who refuses to be sworn in might face a charge of contempt. [431]  Likewise, the refusal to answer questions or failure to reply truthfully may give rise to a charge of contempt of the House, whether the witness has been sworn in or not. [432] In addition, witnesses who lie under oath may be charged with perjury. [433] 


Witnesses appearing before committees are usually asked to make a brief opening statement, summarizing their views or the views of the organization they represent, on the subject of the committee’s inquiry. Following this opening statement, there is a period for questioning. [434] Questions may be asked by any member of the committee; the Chair may, on occasion, also participate in the questioning of witnesses. [435]  Other Members of the House in attendance at committee meetings may also be permitted to pose questions. [436]  This depends, in part, on the amount of time the committee has accorded to dealing with each witness and the number of committee members who wish to ask questions. Committee members are usually given priority in the questioning of witnesses.

Witnesses appearing before committees enjoy the same freedom of speech and protection from arrest and molestation as do Members of Parliament. [437]  At the committee’s discretion, witnesses may be allowed to testify in camera when dealing with confidential matters of state or sensitive commercial information. [438]  Under special circumstances, witnesses have been permitted to appear anonymously. [439]  Tampering with a witness or in any way attempting to deter a witness from giving evidence at a committee meeting may constitute a breach of privilege. Similarly, any interference with or threats against witnesses who have already testified may be treated as a breach of privilege by the House. [440] 

Witnesses giving testimony may be assisted by counsel, although permission is seldom sought. [441]  Counsel, when permitted, is restricted to an advisory role and may not ask questions or reply on the witness’ behalf.

In light of the protection afforded witnesses by Parliament, they are expected to exercise judgement and restraint in presenting their views to committees. Where witnesses persist in making comments which are deemed to be inappropriate by the committee, their testimony may be expunged from the record. [442] 

There are no specific rules governing the nature of questions which may be put to witnesses appearing before committees, beyond the general requirement of relevance to the issue before the committee. [443]  Witnesses must answer all questions which the committee puts to them. [444]  A witness may object to a question asked by an individual committee member. However, if the committee agrees that the question be put to the witness, he or she is obliged to reply. [445]  Members have been urged to display the “appropriate courtesy and fairness” when questioning witnesses. Nevertheless, a witness who refuses to answer questions may be reported to the House. [446] 

Particular attention has been paid to the questioning of public servants. [447]  The obligation of a witness to answer all questions put by the committee must be balanced against the role that public servants play in providing confidential advice to their Ministers. The role of the public servant has traditionally been viewed in relation to the implementation and administration of government policy, rather than the determination of what that policy should be. Consequently, public servants have been excused from commenting on the policy decisions made by the government. In addition, committees will ordinarily accept the reasons that a public servant gives for declining to answer a specific question or series of questions which involve the giving of a legal opinion, or which may be perceived as a conflict with the witness’ responsibility to the Minister, or which is outside of their own area of responsibility or which might affect business transactions. [448] 

As with the House, committees respect the sub judice convention. [449] The convention is applied not only in the discussions held amongst members of the committee but also in the questioning of witnesses. [450] 

Briefs and Other Papers

Most documents which committees seek are provided voluntarily. They include government reports, statistics, correspondance, memoranda and agreements of various sorts, as well as briefs. For committee purposes, a brief is any document presenting the position of an individual, group, organization or government department with respect to a particular issue. Ordinarily, committees are able to obtain the documents they require for their work by simply requesting them. [451]  Where a committee meets with a refusal to provide a document it deems essential to its work, the committee may pass a motion ordering its production. [452]  If such an order is ignored, the committee has no power to compel its production, but may report the matter to the House and request that appropriate action be taken. [453] 

Although the House has not placed any restrictions on the power to send for papers and records, it may not be appropriate to insist on the production of papers in all cases. In 1991, the Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections pointed out that:

The House of Commons recognizes that it should not require the production of documents in all cases; considerations of public policy, including national security, foreign relations, and so forth, enter into the decision as to when it is appropriate to order the production of such documents. [454] 

Where concerns about confidentiality exist, a committee may agree to have documents tabled at an in camera meeting. [455]  Transcripts of in camera meetings and other confidential documents of committees are to be classed as Secret Records by the National Archives for a period of 30 years from the end of the session in which they were created. These documents remain available to Members of the House during that time. [456] 

A document submitted to a committee becomes the property of the committee and forms part of the committee’s records. Government departments are required to submit documents in both official languages when presenting them to committees. Everyone else, including Members of the House of Commons, may submit written material in either or both official languages. Each committee must decide whether documents submitted to it in only one official language will be distributed to members immediately or once a translation is available. [457] The right to submit a document does not, however, imply the right to have the document considered forthwith.

On occasion, a committee will consider a document to be of sufficient importance that it will agree to treat it either as an “Appendix” or an “Exhibit”. An Appendix is a document which the committee has ordered to be published appended to the Evidence taken at a particular meeting. [458]  An Exhibit is any document or item classified as such by the committee and is therefore part of the committee’s permanent records. [459]  Exhibits are not published or distributed to members but are retained by the clerk and are available for consultation. When a decision is made to designate a document as an Appendix or an Exhibit, the appropriate entry is made in the committee’s Minutes of Proceedings. Appendices and Exhibits are used, among other purposes, for preserving parts of a presentation to a committee that would otherwise not be included in the Evidence. For example, copies of slides or charts used during a presentation may be preserved as Appendices or Exhibits.

Committee Publications

Like the House, committees publish a number of documents for the use of their members, their staff and the general public. [460]  These committee publications parallel, in many respects, those used by the House. [461] They provide a permanent record of evidence received, decisions made and the results of studies carried out. Every committee publishes Minutes of Proceedings, Evidence and, from time to time, reports to the House. The Minutes of Proceedings are the official record of what the committee has done and are prepared by the clerk of the committee and signed by him or her. The Minutes are the equivalent of the Journals of the House. The Evidence is the transcribed, edited and corrected record of what is said in committee, both by committee members and by witnesses appearing before committees. Reports to the House may be brief documents of less than a page or they may be much larger works, printed and bound separately. All committee publications are prepared in both official languages.

All of the documents published by committees were formerly available in printed format. In 1994, the House began to distribute its publications electronically. Until that time, committees produced a document called Minutes of Proceedings and Evidence, containing the material which is now supplied separately in two documents: Minutes and Evidence. Reports to the House which were deemed too short to merit separate publication were also included in the Minutes of Proceedings and Evidence. Since September 1998, the Minutes and Evidence, as separate documents, have been available only in electronic format. As the House has moved to the electronic distribution of its publications, the printing of committee documents has, for the most part, been discontinued. They are now available in electronic format at the Parliamentary Website, Parliamentary Internet Parlementaire[462] Committees may still publish major substantive reports in printed format. [463] 

Minutes of Proceedings

Minutes of Proceedings are prepared for each meeting of a committee by the clerk, who signs the original copy to attest to its accuracy and authenticity. The original copy of all Minutes is kept by the clerk of the committee and is archived along with other committee documents at the end of each session. The Minutes record the deliberations and decisions of the committee in a manner similar to the Journals of the House. In addition, the Minutes of Proceedings indicate the meeting number; [464]  the time and place of the meeting; whether the meeting was held in public or was in camera; who presided; which members and substitutes were present, whether for all or only part of the meeting. Thus, for a member who attended part of a meeting and was replaced by a substitute for the remainder of it, the Minutes will show the member as present and show another member as being a substitute for him or her. [465]  The Minutes also include the names of other Members and Senators who were in attendance; the names of staff in attendance; the names of witnesses, if any, including their titles and affiliated organizations; the orders of reference that were taken up; and the time of adjournment. The Minutes may also contain the text of rulings given by the Chair with respect to the procedural acceptability of motions proposed during the meeting.


The Evidence is the record of what was said at a committee meeting, corresponding to the Debates of the House. It records not only the remarks made by members of the committee but also what was said by witnesses. Evidence is published only for public meetings, or for those parts of a meeting which are held in public. [466]  It is prepared in a bilingual format, in a process which parallels the production of the House Debates from the “blues”. Since it has been ruled that the power of a committee to print also includes the power to decide against printing if a committee finds testimony offensive, it may have it expunged from the Evidence[467] 

Documents presented at a meeting which a committee considers to be of sufficient importance may be appended to the Evidence of that meeting as an Appendix or recorded in the Minutes as an Exhibit. [468] 


The observations and recommendations of committees are made known to the House through reports. [469] Reports to the House are available in electronic format and, from time to time, large substantive reports may also be available in printed format. Reports are numbered sequentially by each committee within a session. In addition to observations and recommendations, reports contain a citation to the authority under which the study was conducted, a reference to the relevant Minutes of meetings held on the topic, and the signature of the Chair. Attached to the report after the signature of the Chair are any opinions or recommendations dissenting from or supplementary to the report. [470] 


Committees are permitted to televise their hearings in accordance with the provisions of the Standing Orders, [471]  using the facilities provided by the House. [472] Formerly, a committee required special permission of the House to broadcast its proceedings. In 1991, the procedure for obtaining consent to use House facilities for broadcasting was formalized in the Standing Orders. A further change to the Standing Orders in 1994 allowed committees to televise their proceedings using House facilities, without the need to seek permission on each occasion. [473]  Where a committee wishes to televise using other facilities, special permission is required. [474] 

The broadcasting of committee meetings follows guidelines established by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs which are very similar to those used in broadcasting the proceedings in the House. [475]  Only the person recognized by the Chair is shown, and reaction shots are prohibited.

The House also provides facilities for the in-house audio broadcasting of all public committee meetings. The audio broadcast is available to all Members in their Parliament Hill offices as well as to the Press Gallery.

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