That the matter of the premature disclosure of the contents of Bill C-7, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (medical assistance in dying) be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
He said: Mr. Speaker, thank you for your finding that a breach of our privileges did exist in this case in the leaking of the contents of Bill C-7 to the media before members of the House could see the bill.
There is a reason why we have rules in this place to protect the rights and the privileges of members of Parliament in this place on all sides of the House, so that we are able to do the job that we were elected to do, which is to represent our constituents, to pass legislation and to debate. Those are the things that we have been given the ability to do by our constituents. When we have government departments, government members that do not abide by the rules of the House, it undermines not just those members in the opposition, it undermines all of us.
It is well-established practice in the House that when a bill is on notice for introduction, the House has the first right to the contents of the bill. Everyone in the House knows this. We know that the House is paramount when it comes to the introduction of the legislation, but if there is any one department in the whole of government that we would expect would know the rules around the laws and procedures in the House, that department would be the justice department, the department tasked with making laws that impact the lives of all Canadians. That department knows better. That is a department filled with hundreds if not thousands of lawyers and legal minds that know better.
Let us say they did not know better. Just like with any one of our children, sometimes if they make a mistake we correct them. Maybe if they make a second mistake, we will correct them again. By the third time around, we expect that they know the rules.
This is the fourth time there has been found a breach of our privileges in the House that was made by the Department of Justice. In fact, the last ruling on this matter was also on the previous legislation around medical assistance in dying. It was even the same legislation.
The article that was put forward within The Canadian Press had very detailed and specific information contained in the bill. That is why this breach of privilege has been found.
The reporters and those who were leaking know that contempt has occurred by revealing later in the article that, "The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to reveal details of the bill prior to its tabling in the House of Commons this afternoon."
There is no doubt in anyone's mind that those who were leaking this information from the Department of Justice or some other arm of government knew exactly what they were doing when they did it. What they thought about this place is not much, because we have rules, and they thumbed their nose at the rules that we have.
After the sources indicated to the reporter that they were aware of their guilty actions, they boldly and defiantly continued their affront to Parliament by providing even more detail of the bill. Quoting again from that article, “Sources say today's bill will not deal with broader issues that were excluded in the new law and that must be considered as part of a parliamentary review of the law that is to begin this summer.” Again, bang on with what was in the bill.
We saw the news articles and we thought we knew what had happened, another leak from the Department of Justice, another affront to this Parliament, another breach of all of our collective privileges, but again we had to read the bill to find out whether in fact that was the case.
We carefully reviewed the contents of Bill C-7 following its introduction in the House. When I and other members of Parliament got to see the bill for the first time, others in the media had seen the bill in its entirety for hours before.
The details reported by The Canadian Press hours earlier were indeed contained in Bill C-7. Ironically, over and over, the first precedent that I had quoted earlier was from the last Parliament, brought to the Speaker's attention on April 14, 2016, and in regard to Bill C-14, an act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other acts (medical assistance in dying).
The department in question is being absolutely recidivist. It is not taking seriously the consequences and the rulings of Speakers. The Speaker in 2016 found that there was, in fact, a prima facie case of privilege regarding Bill C-14 and said:
As honourable members know, one of my most important responsibilities as Speaker is to safeguard the rights and privileges of members, individually and collectively. Central to the matter before us today is the fact that, due to its pre-eminent role in the legislative process, the House cannot allow precise legislative information to be distributed to others before it has been made accessible to all members. Previous Speakers have regularly upheld not only this fundamental right, but also expectation, of the House.
The Speaker's concluding remarks in 2016 were as follows:
In this instance, the chair must conclude that the House's right of first access to legislative information was not respected. The chair appreciates the chief government whip's assertion that no one in the government was authorized to publicly release the specific details of the bill before its introduction. Still, it did happen, and these kinds of incidents cause grave concern among hon. members. I believe it is a good reason why extra care should be taken to ensure that matters that ought properly to be brought to the House first do not in any way get out in the public domain prematurely.
On October 4, 2010, on page 4711 of the House of Commons Debates, Speaker Milliken noted:
It is indisputable that it is a well-established practice and accepted convention that this House has the right of first access to the text of bills that it will consider.
This all goes back to my point about the Department of Justice not taking seriously the rules of this House. The one department that ought to know best about the rules of this House is now a four-time offender, with breaches of privileges found by successive Speakers over the last several years, sometimes over the same bill subject matters. The House, and the rules of the House, are being completely ignored.
The Speaker found another case of contempt on October 15, 2001, after, and members are not going to believe this, the Department of Justice briefed the media on the contents of a bill prior to the legislation being introduced in the House.
Maybe, in this minority House, members can finally take this department and this Minister of Justice's office to account and to task for their continuous disrespect of the privileges and the rights of this place, and the rights of all Canadians who send us as members of Parliament to do good work on their behalf.