The Standing Orders provide Members with an
opportunity to give their attention to a pressing matter by moving a debatable
adjournment motion. A Member may request leave from the Speaker “to make a
motion for the adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a
specific and important matter requiring urgent consideration”. Furthermore, the matter “must relate to a genuine emergency” and, if the request is granted by the Speaker, the House is
permitted to debate the topic at an early opportunity, foregoing the usual 48
hours’ notice period.
Until the turn of the twentieth century,
any Member, at virtually any time in the proceedings, could introduce a new
matter for discussion by moving the adjournment of the House. Since the
adjournment motion could be moved at any time and was always subject to debate,
the result would be an interruption of the business then before the House,
often leading to the disruption of the entire day’s program. In 1906, the
government of the day decided to remedy this situation and implemented a new
rule, the ancestor to the present Standing Order, whereby debate would be
permitted only on adjournment motions dealing with definite matters of urgent
From 1906 to 1968, motions under the
emergency debate rule were considered immediately after they had been accepted
for debate. This meant that other business was put aside. In
December 1968, the House amended the rule to have the debate begin at 8:00
p.m., except on Fridays when it would begin at 3:00 p.m., if proceeded with the
same day. This still resulted in a conflict and a displacement of the regular
business of the House. When the regular evening sittings of the House were
abolished in 1982, the conflict between emergency debates and the regular business of
the House was eliminated, except for Fridays.
As one Speaker noted, an emergency debate
should be on a topic “that is immediately relevant and of attention and concern
throughout the nation”. Thus, matters of chronic or continuing concern, such as economic
conditions, unemployment rates and constitutional matters, have tended to be set
aside whereas topics deemed to require urgent consideration have included work
stoppages and strikes, natural disasters, and international crises and events. At various times other topics such as fisheries, forestry and
agriculture have also been judged acceptable.
Topics considered highly partisan in nature are not as readily approved.
Any Member, whether a private Member or a
Minister, who wishes to move the adjournment of the House to discuss a
specific and important matter requiring urgent consideration must give the
Speaker written notice of the matter he or she wishes to propose for discussion
at least one hour prior to rising in the House to make the formal request. At the conclusion of Routine Proceedings,
any Member who has filed an application with the Speaker rises to ask the
Speaker for leave to move the adjournment of the House to debate the issue
outlined in the application. The Member then makes a brief statement, normally by simply reading
the text of the application filed with the Speaker. No
discussion or argument is allowed in the presentation
because, as one Speaker stressed, a lengthy statement may provoke debate. However, occasionally a Member will be permitted to expand on the
application if the Chair indicates that the additional information could be of
assistance in reaching a decision.
Under the Standing Orders, not more than
one motion to adjourn the House for an emergency debate may be moved in a
particular sitting. On occasion, more than one application has been forwarded to the
Speaker. In such cases, Members are recognized in the order in which
applications were received.
If the point in the day’s order of business
set aside for hearing the application has not been reached, or if the House
decides to proceed to other business, for example, by adopting a motion to move
to the Orders of the Day during Routine Proceedings, then the Chair cannot hear
applications for emergency debates. These applications must be refiled at the next
sitting of the House unless unanimous consent is granted for the Speaker to
hear them at some other time during the sitting.
The timeliness of an application is
important. On one occasion, the Speaker advised a Member who had risen to
present his application that had been filed on a previous day to refile it. Although the House may grant a Member unanimous consent to present
an application that had not been filed that day,
the Chair has expressed reservations about holding over applications. One
Speaker stated that a matter which requires urgent action one day may not
necessarily demand the same attention the next day, or conversely may be even
more critical, a determination that should be left to the discretion of the
Member who filed the application. On one occasion, applications were filed during a lengthy
adjournment of the House and were heard at the conclusion of Routine
Proceedings the first day the House resumed sitting.
Having heard an application for an
emergency debate, the Speaker decides without debate whether the matter is
specific and important enough to warrant urgent consideration by the House. In deciding whether to approve the application, the Chair is guided
by the Standing Orders, the authorities and practice. If the Speaker so
desires, he or she may defer the decision until later in the sitting, when the
proceedings of the House may be interrupted for the purpose of announcing the
decision. In exceptional cases, the Speaker has not returned to the House
with a decision until the following day.
If more than one request for an emergency
debate on the same topic is made in the same sitting and found acceptable, the
Speaker grants leave to move the adjournment of the House to the Member who
first submitted an acceptable application.
The Speaker is not required to give reasons
when granting or refusing a request for an emergency debate. Nonetheless, from time to time reasons are offered, although Chair
Occupants have tried to refrain from this practice in order to prevent the
build‑up of jurisprudence, which could itself become a subject of a
debate in the Chamber.
Although the Standing Orders give
considerable discretion to the Speaker in deciding if a matter should be
brought before the House for urgent consideration, certain criteria must be
weighed. The Speaker determines whether a matter is related to a genuine
emergency that could not be brought before the House within a reasonable time
by other means, such as during a supply day or a take-note debate. To do this, consideration is given to the importance and
specificity of the issue and the degree to which the matter falls within the administrative
responsibilities of the government or could come within the scope of
The Speaker then considers whether the
request meets certain other criteria. The matter being raised for discussion
must contain only one issue. Moreover, the motion to adjourn the House for an emergency debate
cannot revive discussion on a matter previously debated in this way during the
session, nor may it raise a question of privilege.
In addition, the motion cannot deal with a matter normally debatable only by
means of a substantive motion for which notice has been given and which calls
for a decision of the House.
Other conditions that have evolved from
decisions of previous Speakers are also considered. Chair Occupants have
established that the subject matter proposed should not normally be of an
exclusively local or regional interest nor be related to only one specific
group or industry, and should not involve the administration of a government
department. Applications to debate ongoing matters have been rejected, as have applications to debate matters arising out of the business
of the same session, Senate proceedings, matters before the courts or other administrative bodies, and non‑confidence or censure motions.
Furthermore, the Chair has ruled that an emergency debate cannot be held to
debate the interpretation of a Standing Order,
nor may it be “used as a vehicle for the purpose of airing statements made
outside the House by organizations or people who are not answerable or responsible
to this chamber”. In addition, one Speaker ruled that the emergency debate provisions
cannot be used to debate “items which, in a regular legislative program of the
House of Commons and regular legislative consideration, can come before the
House by way of amendments to existing statutes, or in any case will come
before it in other ways”.
However, in one exceptional circumstance,
an application was approved for an emergency debate on “the sudden and
unexpected revelation of events which [had] taken place in the past, in that
they might precipitate a course of conduct which, if allowed to continue
unchecked, would certainly classify itself as an emergency and a matter of
Finally, the Speaker may take into account
the general wish of the House to have an emergency debate and grant a request
for an emergency debate. Similarly, the Chair has periodically allowed an emergency debate
on an issue which was not necessarily urgent within the meaning conferred by
the rule, but was one on which the House of Commons timetable prevented any
discussion in a timely manner.
The responsibility for deciding whether an
issue is an acceptable topic for an emergency debate is occasionally taken out
of the hands of the Chair. There have been instances when the House itself has
unanimously decided to hold an emergency or a take-note debate. On one noteworthy occasion, the Speaker was not required to render
a decision on a number of similar applications because later in the sitting
unanimous consent was granted for the introduction of a bill on the same topic,
and the House decided to proceed immediately to debate on the motion for the
second reading of the bill.
Once the application for an emergency
debate has been granted, the actual debate is deferred until the ordinary hour
of daily adjournment that same day, except on Fridays when it is held
immediately. In all cases, however, the Speaker is free to defer debate until a
specific time during the next sitting day. The
House has also periodically adopted special orders setting a time for an
emergency debate. In three cases, an application for an emergency debate was granted
at a time when the House had extended its sitting hours in June.
When a debate on the same day is scheduled
for a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, the Adjournment Proceedings are
not held. Instead, the House proceeds with the emergency debate at the ordinary
hour of daily adjournment and the Member who was granted leave moves the
motion, “That this House do now adjourn”. If the debate is held on a
Friday, it takes away approximately two hours of House time that would
otherwise be used for other business, such as Government Orders or Private
Members’ Business, as it begins shortly after Routine Proceedings at 12:00 noon. In addition, the emergency debate can continue past the ordinary hour
of daily adjournment of 2:30 p.m. until 4:00 p.m.
In this way, the Standing Orders provide
that emergency debates take precedence on Friday or if the Speaker sets down a
time at the next sitting that is within the normal sitting hours. The Speaker
then determines when any other business that has been superseded by an
emergency debate should be considered or disposed of.
During an emergency debate, speeches are
limited to 20 minutes per Member and may be followed by a 10-minute questions and
comments period. Members may divide their speaking time with another Member if
they so desire. Furthermore, Members are not required to speak from their places.
The established rules of debate apply to
emergency debates. Therefore, as with all other motions to adjourn, the motion to
adjourn the House to discuss an important and urgent matter is not amendable.
Finally, the House quite frequently adopts
a special order not to allow quorum calls, requests for unanimous consent or
dilatory motions during an emergency debate.
Since the wording of the motion for an
emergency debate is simply, “That this House do now adjourn”, at the conclusion
of the debate, the House is not required to render a decision on the matter
At midnight (4:00 p.m. on Friday), or when no Member rises to speak, the motion
is declared carried by the Speaker and the House adjourns until the next
However, if the debate is held during the regular sitting hours of the House
and concludes prior to the ordinary hour of daily adjournment, the motion is
deemed withdrawn and the House continues with other business.
The Standing Orders allow a Member to
propose a motion to continue the debate beyond midnight, or 4:00 p.m. on
Fridays, if the motion is moved in the hour preceding the time the debate would
normally adjourn, that is, between 11:00 p.m. and midnight, and between 3:00
and 4:00 p.m. on Fridays.
If fewer than 15 Members rise to object to this motion, the motion is deemed
adopted. A handful of debates have been extended past midnight pursuant to the
while several have been prolonged by unanimous consent.
There have been occasions when the House
has wanted to express its opinion on the topic of an emergency debate by
adopting a motion or resolution. In 1970, the House held an emergency debate on
the Nigerian‑Biafran conflict; pursuant to a Special Order adopted
earlier in the sitting, the debate was interrupted at 10:30 p.m., the House
adopted a motion on the same subject and then adjourned without question put.
In 1983, following an emergency debate regarding the shooting down of a South
Korean civilian aircraft by the Soviet Union, the motion to adjourn the House
was deemed withdrawn, the House adopted a resolution denouncing the actions of
the Soviet government, and then adjourned until the next sitting day by unanimous
In 1989, an emergency debate on the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing, China, was temporarily interrupted to allow the House to adopt a resolution
condemning the massacre.
In 2007, a resolution urging the government to employ every means possible to stop
the flow of water from Devils Lake into the Canadian water system was adopted
on a brief point of order during an emergency debate dealing specifically with the
operation of the Devils Lake outlet.
 Standing Order 52(1).
 Standing Order 52(6)(a).
 Journals, July 10, 1906, p. 580. The first
emergency debate held in accordance with the new rules occurred on
February 25, 1907, when the topic of discussion was the Trent Valley Canal (Debates, cols. 3627‑8).
 Journals, December 20, 1968, pp. 554‑79, in
particular p. 555.
 Journals, November 29, 1982, p. 5400.
 Debates, February 22, 1978, p. 3128.
 See, for example, the debate on the situation in Iraq, a few days prior to the military action led by American and British forces (Journals,
March 17, 2003, p. 499).
 There have been, for instance, a few debates on the softwood lumber
industry (see, for example, Journals, November 6, 2001, p. 807), several
debates on agriculture (see, for example, Journals, October 7, 2002, p.
35; February 13, 2008, p. 438) and the fisheries (see, for example, Journals,
April 29, 2003, p. 713).
 Between 1984 and 1988, for example, there were 21 requests for
emergency debates on the Canada‑United States Free Trade Agreement;
none was granted.
 Ministers have been granted leave to move the adjournment of the
House on two occasions: October 14, 1971 (Debates,
p. 8688) and November 18, 1991 (Debates, p. 4920). On
April 2, 1924, the motion to adjourn was moved by the Prime Minister (Debates,
 Standing Order 52(2).
 Standing Order 52(1). The original reason for delaying the hearing
of applications of emergency debates until the conclusion of Routine
Proceedings was “to make sure that all business of the House which was not of a
controversial nature would be duly attended to” (Journals, April 5,
1951, p. 247; Debates, January 11, 1956, p. 20).
 In 1988, the Leader of the New Democratic Party filed notice of an
application for an emergency debate on minority language rights. Following
Routine Proceedings, the NDP House Leader presented the application. In
response to a point of order raised as a result of this, the Speaker ruled that
while the person giving notice and the person speaking to it should be the
same, he had allowed the House Leader to present the application given its
subject matter (Debates, April 11, 1988, p. 14309).
 See, for example, Debates, June 21, 2005, p. 7512.
 Standing Order 52(3). For the same reason, the other Members are
not normally allowed to speak in support of the Member presenting the
application for an emergency debate. See, for example, Debates, February
26, 2007, pp. 7314-5.
 Debates, September 24, 1990, p. 13229.
 See, for example, Debates, May 9, 1989, pp. 1501‑2.
 Standing Order 52(6)(c).
 See, for example, Debates, November 24, 1999, p. 1688;
April 8, 2002, p. 10096.
 See, for example, Debates, January 23, 1990,
 Debates, January 29, 1990, p. 7559.
 See, for example, Debates, February 4, 1992,
 Debates, March 6, 1990, p. 8845.
 See Debates, September 24, 1990, pp. 13229‑32.
 Standing Order 52(4). Between 1906 and 1927, the rules stipulated
that the Speaker had to decide on whether the matter was in order rather than
urgent and this resulted in most requests being accepted. In 1927, the Standing
Orders were amended to clarify that the Speaker also had to rule on the urgency
of the matter raised. This new power, however, did not prevent Members from
challenging the Chair's decision and only when the Standing Orders were amended
in 1965 to prohibit appeals to the House of the decisions of the Chair did this
practice cease. This change substituted the right of appeal for a process
whereby, if the Chair questioned the urgency of a request, Members would first
debate the merits of it, which resulted in the loss of valuable House time. In
1968, amendments to the Standing Orders eliminated this stage in the process,
but the Member presenting the application was still required to obtain the
leave of the House to move the adjournment motion if it had been accepted by
the Speaker. This procedure, by which the House granted leave, was eliminated
altogether in 1987.
 Standing Order 52(8). See, for example, Debates, June 21,
2005, pp. 7512, 7544.
 Debates, January 30, 1990, pp. 7589-90; January 31, 1990, p.
7658. See also Debates, December 11, 2006, pp. 5932-3; December 12,
2006, p. 5973. In the latter case, the application for an emergency debate was
made late in the afternoon and the Speaker, considering that the debate could
not be held that day, asked the House for consent to defer his decision until
the next sitting day. Unanimous consent was given and the Speaker delivered his
ruling the next day.
 See, for example, Debates, June 5, 1989, pp. 2523-4, 2591;
September 18, 2000, pp. 8255-6, 8279; April 8, 2002,
p. 10096; April 9, 2002, p. 10177; May 26, 2003,
pp. 6445, 6467.
 Standing Order 52(7). See, for example, Debates, October 18,
1999, pp. 280-1. Between 1927 and 1968, a number of conditions, based on previous rulings, had to be met before the Speaker would grant a request for an
emergency debate. In 1968, the Standing Orders were modified so that the
Speaker would no longer be obliged to base a decision on these previous
rulings, although some precedent‑based conditions were incorporated into
the Standing Orders (Journals, December 20, 1968, pp. 554‑79,
in particular pp. 554‑6).
 In 1985, a special committee recommended the adoption of the
practice of not giving reasons, and the government in its response to the
committee report supported the recommendation. See the Third Report of the
Special Committee on the Reform of the House of Commons, p. 45, presented
to the House on June 18, 1985 (Journals, p. 839); Journals,
October 9, 1985, p. 1082. See also Debates, September 22,
1987, p. 9172.
 See, for example, Debates, November 5, 2003, pp. 9201-2;
September 18, 2006, pp. 2915‑6; February 4, 2008, pp. 2538-9. A number of Speakers have refused applications for emergency debates during consideration of the
Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne because the Address debate
allows for discussion on a wide range of topics. See, for example, Debates,
February 18, 1972, p. 18; April 4, 1989, p. 41;
September 25, 1997, p. 60; November 26, 2008, p. 293.
However, there have been exceptions to this practice to allow for debate on
issues that were considered urgent or that were mentioned only briefly, if at
all, in the Speech from the Throne. See, for example, Debates,
April 4, 1989, pp. 40-1; October 4, 2002, p. 322. On the other hand, a
request for an emergency debate on the alleged premature disclosure of the
budget was disallowed because Members would have ample opportunity to discuss
the issue during debate on the budget motion (Debates, April 20,
1983, p. 24685). For further information on take-note debates, see the
section in this chapter entitled “Take-note Debates”.
 See, for example, Debates, January 23, 1985,
 Standing Order 52(5).
 Standing Order 52(6)(b).
 Standing Order 52(6)(d). See, for example, Debates,
September 15, 2003, p. 7353.
 Standing Order 52(6)(e).
 Standing Order 52(6)(f). See, for example, Debates, April 20,
1983, p. 24685; February 11, 1985, pp. 2210‑1.
 See, for example, Debates, February 13, 1978,
pp. 2785‑7; December 18, 1984, p. 1351; December 19,
1984, pp. 1366‑7; February 6, 1985, p. 2064;
February 3, 1986, p. 10381; February 14, 1986, p. 10830;
June 11, 1987, p. 6974; June 22, 1987, p. 7418; March 18,
2002, pp. 9761-2. There are exceptions, however. See, for example, Debates,
February 13, 2008, p. 3012, when the Chair allowed an emergency debate on
the livestock industry.
 See, for example, Debates, March 27, 1974, p. 906.
 See, for example, Debates, December 13, 1989,
pp. 6875‑6; February 9, 2004, p. 322.
 See, for example, Debates, September 27, 1990,
pp. 13485‑6; February 6, 1992, pp. 6464, 6505.
 See, for example, Debates, October 5, 1990,
 See, for example, Debates, March 5, 1981, p. 7928;
November 20, 1989, p. 5834.
 See, for example, Debates, May 3, 1971, p. 5425;
June 29, 1971, pp. 7434‑5; June 12, 1973, p. 4658.
 Debates, April 16, 1974, pp. 1454‑5.
 Debates, December 13, 1971, p. 10393.
 Debates, April 30, 1975, p. 5340. See also Debates,
July 9, 1980, p. 2711; May 4, 1984, p. 3419.
 This referred to revelations made in the House on October 28,
1977, by the Solicitor General, concerning illegal actions committed by the
national security forces of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in 1973.
This matter was referred to the McDonald Royal Commission and to the Attorney
General of Quebec (Debates, October 28, 1977, pp. 393‑6;
October 31, 1977, pp. 433‑4).
 See, for example, Debates, June 1, 1988, p. 15993.
 See, for example, Journals, April 9, 1974, pp. 108‑9;
Debates, December 18, 1980, pp. 5888‑9.
 See, for example, Journals, October 14, 1971,
p. 870; October 27, 1983, p. 6356; February 2, 1998,
p. 402; Debates, September 26, 2005, pp. 8023-4; April 5, 2006, pp.
 Debates, January 19, 1987, pp. 2346‑7, 2370.
 Standing Order 52(11).
 Standing Order 52(9). See, for example, Journals, April 28,
2003, p. 700, when the Speaker ordered one debate to be held that night and
another to be held the next day. Prior to 1968, if an application for an
emergency debate was approved, the business of the House was immediately put
aside and the Member who requested the debate was given leave to move the
adjournment of the House. In 1968, the Standing Orders were amended to
stipulate that emergency debates would begin at 8:00 p.m. if proceeded with the
same day, 3:00 p.m. on Friday. No time limit for these debates was provided in
the Standing Orders and Members often seized the opportunity to extend the
debates, in one instance for more than 35 hours (Journals, May 4‑5,
1982, pp. 4796‑800; May 6, 1982, pp. 4802‑4).
 See, for example, Journals, June 21, 2005, p. 943. On this
occasion, the House decided to begin the emergency debate immediately following
the taking of the recorded divisions on a government bill at report stage.
 In the first case, a time allocation order on a bill had also been
invoked that same day. The Speaker set the time for the emergency debate at
10:00 p.m. with the vote on the bill under consideration scheduled for 9:45
p.m. Unanimous consent was subsequently granted to extend the debate past
midnight (Journals, June 22, 1992, pp. 1823, 1825‑6, Debates,
pp. 12527‑8). The second case occurred in 2005: the debate began at
approximately 8:00 p.m., immediately following the taking of the recorded
divisions, as confirmed by the House by Special Order (Journals, June
21, 2005, pp. 943, 954, Debates, p. 7583). In the third case, the House
decided by unanimous consent to hold an emergency debate at the conclusion of
the debate on two government bills or at 9:00 p.m., whichever came first, and
limited the debate to three hours. The debate began at approximately 7:30 p.m.
and ended at 10:29 p.m. (Journals, June 14, 2007, pp. 1537-8).
 Standing Order 52(14).
 Since 1987, when this Standing Order came into effect (Journals,
June 3, 1987, p. 1020), no emergency debates have been held on a Friday,
although on three occasions the Speaker has deferred such a debate until the
following Monday at 8:00 p.m. (Journals, December 15, 1989,
p. 1022; November 27, 1998, p. 1323; October 4, 2002, p. 26).
The last emergency debate held on a Friday occurred in June 1986 (Journals,
June 13, 1986, pp. 2317‑9).
 Standing Order 52(15). This situation could occur if an emergency
debate were to take place on the same day as the consideration of the Business
of Supply on the last allotted day in a supply period. The Speaker would have
to resolve the conflict between Standing Orders 52 and 81.
 Standing Orders 43 and 52(13); Debates, June 21, 2005,
 Standing Order 17. This is similar to the situation in Committee of
the Whole, where Members are not required to be in their assigned seats when
they have the floor. In addition, the House wanted to experiment with holding two
emergency debates in Committee of the Whole in 2001 (Journals, September
27, 2001, pp. 644‑5, 663; October 4, 2001, pp. 691, 694), in response to
the suggestion made in the First Report of the Special Committee on the
Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons (par.
30, presented to the House on June 1, 2001 (Journals, p. 465) and
concurred in on October 4, 2001 (Journals, pp. 691-3) by Special
Order (Journals, October 3, 2001, p. 685)). As a motion to adjourn the
House is not appropriate in committee, on these two occasions, the committee
considered a motion to “take note” of the matter.
 See Chapter 13, “Rules of Order
 Debates, July 16, 1942, p. 4427.
 See, for example, Journals, February 13, 2008, p. 433.
 Debates, April 20, 1983, p. 24685.
 These motions have been disposed of in a variety of ways since
1906. Until 1917, motions were generally negatived after a short debate and the
House would continue with other business; by 1918, these motions were being
withdrawn at the conclusion of debate and the House would move on to other
business. In 1927, when the House agreed to adjourn evening sittings no later
than 11:00 p.m., adjournment motions for emergency debates were withdrawn if
debate concluded before 11:00 p.m., or the House would adjourn without question
put at the ordinary hour of daily adjournment. Motions were negatived by
recorded vote in 1916, 1942 and 1957 (Journals, May 5, 1916,
pp. 334‑5; July 16, 1942, pp. 544‑5;
February 25, 1957, pp. 181‑2) and negatived on division in 1961
and 1967 (Journals, June 14, 1961, pp. 668‑9;
November 24, 1967, pp. 534‑5). Since January 1969, at
the conclusion of debate, all such adjournment motions have been declared
carried by the Speaker.
 Standing Order 52(12).
 Standing Orders 26 and 52(12).
 See, for example, Journals, January 28, 1987,
p. 413; April 28‑29, 1987, p. 796;
February 19, 1992, pp. 1043‑4. In one instance, an
emergency debate lasted for more than 20 hours. At the next sitting, the
debate continued for an additional 14 hours after the House unanimously agreed
to resume the debate (Journals, April 28‑29, 1987,
pp. 796‑7; April 30, 1987, pp. 800‑2).
 See, for example, Journals, April 27, 1987,
p. 785; June 1, 1988, p. 2773; April 4, 1989, p. 23;
June 5, 1989, p. 315; December 18, 1989, p. 1034;
January 21, 1991, pp. 2589‑90; May 5, 1992,
p. 1398; June 22, 1992, p. 1825.
 Journals, January 12, 1970,
 Journals, September 12, 1983, pp. 6134‑5,
June 5, 1989, pp. 314‑5.
June 14, 2007, pp. 1537-8.