The rights, privileges and immunities of
individual Members of the House are finite, that is to say, they can be
enumerated but not extended except by statute or, in some cases, by
constitutional amendment. Moreover, privilege does not exist “at large” but
applies only in context, which usually means within the confines of the
Parliamentary Precinct and a “proceeding in Parliament”.
The rights, privileges and immunities of
individual Members of the House may be categorized as follows:
from arrest in civil actions;
from jury duty;
from being subpoenaed to attend court as a witness; and
from obstruction, interference, intimidation and molestation.
By far, the most important right accorded
to Members of the House is the exercise of freedom of speech in parliamentary
proceedings. It has been described as:
[…] a fundamental right without which they
would be hampered in the performance of their duties. It permits them to speak
in the House without inhibition, to refer to any matter or express any opinion
as they see fit, to say what they feel needs to be said in the furtherance of
the national interest and the aspirations of their constituents.
Much has been written about this over the
centuries in Great Britain, Canada and throughout the Commonwealth. In Odgers’ Australian Senate Practice, this privilege is
expressed in broader terms as immunity of proceedings from impeachment and
question in the courts. It is also stated that this is the only immunity of substance
possessed by the Houses of Parliament and their Members and committees. Odgers asserts that there are two aspects to the immunity:
First, there is the immunity from civil or
criminal action and examination in legal proceedings of members of the Houses
and of witnesses and others taking part in proceedings in Parliament….
Secondly, there is the immunity of parliamentary proceedings as such from
impeachment or question in the courts.
A similar position has been adopted in Canada in a decision of the Commission of Inquiry into the Sponsorship Program and
Advertising Activities which indicated that allowing transcripts from a
committee to be used in a public inquiry to question witnesses could result in
the proceedings in the committee being questioned or impeached. This decision
was upheld by the Federal Court.
The right to freedom of speech is protected
by the Constitution Act, 1867 and the Parliament of Canada Act. The statutory existence of parliamentary privilege in relation to
freedom of speech dates from the adoption of the English Bill of Rights
in 1689. Though meant to counter the challenge of the Crown, it also prohibited
actions of any kind by any person outside the House against Members for what
they might say or do in Parliament. Article 9 of that statute declares
“[t]hat the freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought
not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament”.
Generally considered to be an individual
privilege, the courts have confirmed that freedom of speech is also a collective
privilege of the House. Motions carried by the House are expressed collectively
by its Members and therefore cannot be challenged in a court of law.
The privilege of freedom of speech is
generally regarded as being limited to “proceedings in Parliament”. No
definition of “proceedings in Parliament” is contained in the English Bill
of Rights and there is no statutory definition in Canada. May defines it as follows:
The primary meaning of proceedings, as a
technical parliamentary term, which it had as least as early as the seventeenth
century, is some formal action, usually a decision, taken by the House in its
collective capacity. This is naturally extended to the forms of business in
which the House takes action, and the whole process, the principal part of
which is debate, by which it reaches a decision. An individual Member takes
part in a proceeding usually by speech, but also by various recognized forms of
formal action, such as voting, giving notice of a motion, or presenting a
petition or report from a committee, most of such actions being time-saving
substitutes for speaking. Officers of the House take part in its proceedings
principally by carrying out its orders, general or particular. Strangers also
may take part in the proceedings of a House, for example by giving evidence
before it or one of its committees, or by securing the presentation of a
The Parliament of Australia enacted the Parliamentary
Privileges Act, 1987 which defines “proceedings in Parliament” as follows:
… all words spoken and acts done in the
course of, or for purposes of or incidental to, the transacting of the business
of a House or of a committee, and, without limiting the generality of the
the giving of evidence before a House or a committee, and evidence so
the presentation or submission of a document to a House or a committee;
the preparation of a document for purposes of or incidental to the
transacting of any such business; and
the formulation, making or publication of a document, including a
report, by or pursuant to an order of a House or a committee and the document
so formulated, made or published.
From the numerous court cases where the law
of parliamentary privilege has been applied in Canada, it is clear that the
courts understand the meaning of the term and see it as part of the law of Canada. However, the courts have been reluctant to extend the immunity deriving from the
rule of free speech beyond the context of parliamentary proceedings. In other
words, despite the fact that the role of a Member of the House of Commons has
evolved considerably since the seventeenth century when the rule was formulated
in the Bill of Rights, the courts have, with few exceptions, confined
the scope of this immunity to the traditional role of Members as debaters and
legislators in Parliament.
Freedom of speech permits Members to speak
freely in the Chamber during a sitting or in committees during meetings while
enjoying complete immunity from prosecution or civil liability for any comment
they might make. This freedom is essential for the effective working of the House.
Under it, Members are able to make statements or allegations about outside
bodies or persons, which they may hesitate to make without the protection of
privilege. Though this is often criticized, the freedom to make allegations
which the Member genuinely believes at the time to be true, or at least worthy
of investigation, is fundamental. The House of Commons could not work
effectively unless its Members were able to speak and criticize without having
to account to any outside body. There would be no freedom of speech if
everything had to be proven true before it were uttered. In ruling on a
question of privilege in 1984, Speaker Bosley affirmed that “the privilege of a
Member of Parliament when speaking in the House or in a committee is absolute,
and that it would be very difficult to find that any statement made under the
cloak of parliamentary privilege constituted a violation of that privilege”.
This right is also extended to individuals
who appear before the House or its committees in order to encourage truthful
and complete disclosure, without fear of reprisal or other adverse actions as a
result of their testimony. In 2005, the Federal Court of Appeal ruled that the
testimony of parliamentary witnesses fell within the scope of parliamentary
privilege because it is necessary for the functioning of Parliament for three
reasons: “to encourage witnesses to speak openly before the Parliamentary
committee, to allow the committee to exercise its investigative function and,
in a more secondary way, to avoid contradictory findings of fact”.
In 2007, the Federal Court again upheld
that a witness’s testimony before a House committee is protected by
[A]lthough witnesses before a parliamentary
committee are not Members of Parliament, they are not strangers to the House
either. Rather they are guests who are afforded parliamentary privilege
because, as with members, the privilege is necessary to ensure that they are
able to speak openly, free from the fear that their words will be used against
them in subsequent proceedings ….
The Court confirmed that parliamentary privilege “precludes other entities from holding
Members of Parliament or witnesses before committees liable for statements made
in the discharge of their functions in the House”.
Although the testimony of a witness before
a parliamentary committee is protected by parliamentary privilege, allegations
that a witness has lied or misled a committee are taken seriously and may be
pursued by the committee. If a committee determines that a witness has given untruthful
testimony, it may report the matter to the House. The House alone is responsible for deciding if the witness has
deliberately misled the committee and is in contempt of the House as well as
for determining the appropriate punitive action. If the House determines that a witness has lied while testifying
under oath and the House deems it appropriate, it may waive its privileges over
the testimony and refer the matter to the Crown to determine whether there is
sufficient evidence to charge the witness with perjury for deliberately lying
to a parliamentary committee.
The privilege of freedom of speech is not
limitless and grey areas remain. Members may be confident of the protection
given to their speeches in the House and other formal proceedings, but can
never be certain how far their freedom of speech and parliamentary action
extends. The parliamentary privilege of freedom of speech applies to a
Member’s speech in the House and other proceedings of the House itself, but may
not fully apply to reports of proceedings or debates published by newspapers or
others outside Parliament. Parliamentary privilege may not protect a Member
republishing his or her own speech separate from the official record.
Members should be aware that utterances
which are absolutely privileged when made within a parliamentary proceeding may
not be when repeated in another context, such as in a press release, a
householder mailing, on an Internet site, in a television or radio interview,
at a public meeting or in the constituency office. Members also act at their
peril when they transmit otherwise defamatory material for purposes unconnected
with a parliamentary proceeding. Thus, comments made by a Member at a function
as an elected representative—but outside the forum of Parliament—would likely not
be covered by this privilege, even if the Member were quoting from his or her
own speech made in a parliamentary proceeding.
Telecommunications, including technology such as electronic mail, facsimile
machines and the Internet, should therefore not be used to transmit otherwise
The publication of defamatory material has
been considered by most courts to be beyond the privileges of Parliament when
such publication was not part of the parliamentary process to begin with. Even correspondence between one Member and another on a matter of
public policy may not be considered to be privileged.
Courts take a distinctly “functional” approach to the interpretation of
parliamentary privilege by relating any novel situation in which a Member may
become involved back to the function and purpose that parliamentary privilege
was originally intended to serve: the need for Members of Parliament to be
able to fearlessly debate issues of public policy in Parliament. In 2006, the
Federal Court confirmed that since communications to constituents are not part
of a parliamentary proceeding, they are not protected by parliamentary
The privilege of freedom of speech is an
extremely powerful immunity and on occasion Speakers have had to caution
Members about its misuse. Ruling on a question of privilege in 1987, Speaker Fraser spoke at length about the
importance of freedom of speech and the need for care in what Members say:
There are only two kinds of institutions in
this land to which this awesome and far‑reaching privilege [of freedom of
speech] extends—Parliament and the legislatures on the one hand and the courts
on the other. These institutions enjoy the protection of absolute privilege
because of the overriding need to ensure that the truth can be told, that any
questions can be asked, and that debate can be free and uninhibited. Absolute
privilege ensures that those performing their legitimate functions in these
vital institutions of Government shall not be exposed to the possibility of
legal action. This is necessary in the national interest and has been
considered necessary under our democratic system for hundreds of years. It
allows our judicial system and our parliamentary system to operate free of any
Such a privilege confers grave
responsibilities on those who are protected by it. By that I mean specifically
the Hon. Members of this place. The consequences of its abuse can be terrible.
Innocent people could be slandered with no redress available to them.
Reputations could be destroyed on the basis of false rumour. All Hon. Members
are conscious of the care they must exercise in availing themselves of their
absolute privilege of freedom of speech. That is why there are long‑standing
practices and traditions observed in this House to counter the potential for
Speaker Parent also emphasized the need for
Members to use great care in exercising their right to speak freely in the
… paramount to our political and
parliamentary systems is the principle of freedom of speech, a member’s right
to stand in this House unhindered to speak his or her mind. However when debate
in the House centres on sensitive issues, as it often does, I would expect that
members would always bear in mind the possible effects of their statements and
hence be prudent in their tone and choice of words.
Speakers have also stated that although
there is a need for Members to express their opinions openly in a direct
fashion, it is also important that citizens’ reputations are not unfairly
attacked. In a ruling on a question of privilege involving an individual who
was not a Member of the House, Speaker Fraser expressed concern that the person
had been referred to by name: “But we are living in a day when anything
said in this place is said right across the country and that is why I have said
before and why I say again that care ought to be exercised, keeping in mind
that the great privilege we do have ought not to be abused”.
In a later ruling, Speaker Fraser observed
that the use of suggestive language or innuendo with regard to individuals or
an individual’s associations with others can provoke an angry response which
inevitably leads the House into disorder. Specifically referring to individuals
outside the Chamber, he agreed with a suggestion that the House consider
constraining itself “in making comments about someone outside this Chamber
which would in fact be defamatory under the laws of our country if made outside
the Chamber”. As Speaker Milliken noted in 2003:
Speakers discourage members of Parliament
from using names in speeches if they are speaking ill of some other person
because, with parliamentary privilege applying to what they say, anything that
is damaging to the reputation or to the individual, … is then liable to be
published with the cover of parliamentary privilege and the person is unable to
bring any action in respect of those claims.
There are other limitations to the
privilege of freedom of speech, most notably the sub judice (“under the
consideration of a judge or court of record”) convention. It is accepted practice that, in the interests of justice and fair
play, certain restrictions should be placed on the freedom of Members of
Parliament to make reference in the course of debate to matters awaiting
judicial decisions, and that such matters should not be the subject of motions
or questions in the House. Though loosely defined, the interpretation of this
convention is left to the Speaker. The word “convention” is used as no “rule”
exists to prevent Parliament from discussing a matter which is sub judice.
The acceptance of a restriction is a voluntary restraint on the part of the
House to protect an accused person or other party to a court action or judicial
inquiry from suffering any prejudicial effect from public discussion of the
issue. While certain precedents exist for the guidance of the Chair, no
attempt has ever been made to codify the practice in the House of Commons.
The sub judice convention is
important in the conduct of business in the House. It protects the rights of
interested parties before the courts, and preserves and maintains the
separation and mutual respect between the legislature and the judiciary. The
convention ensures that a balance is created between the need for a separate,
impartial judiciary and free speech.
The practice has evolved so that it is the
Speaker who decides what jurisdiction the Chair has over matters sub judice. In 1977, the First Report of the Special Committee on the Rights
and Immunities of Members recommended that the imposition of the convention should
be done with discretion and, when there was any doubt in the mind of the Chair,
a presumption should exist in favour of allowing debate and against the
application of the convention. Since the presentation of the report, Speakers have followed these
guidelines while using discretion.
A further limitation on the freedom of
speech of Members is provided by the authority of the Speaker under the
Standing Orders to preserve order and decorum, and when necessary to order a Member
to resume his or her seat if engaged in irrelevance or repetition in debate, or
to name a Member for disregarding the authority of the Chair and order him or
her to withdraw.
The House determines how it exercises its
privileges and if it wants to assert these privileges or not. There have been
instances where the House has been asked to waive, in particular, its privilege
of freedom of speech to allow its proceedings and transcripts of proceedings to
be examined in courts or elsewhere. On two occasions, in 1892 and in 1978, at
the request of a judicial body, the House chose not to insist on its privilege
of freedom of speech.
In the late 1880s, Thomas McGreevy (Quebec
West) was accused of abusing his position by taking bribes and offering to use
his influence to help the firm of Larkin, Connolly & Co. secure a dredging
contract for the harbour of Quebec City. The matter was referred to the
Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections where Mr. McGreevy was
asked about his relationship with the firm. The Member refused to answer.
Mr. McGreevy was subsequently expelled from the House and charges of
conspiracy were contemplated against both Mr. McGreevy and Nicholas Connolly.
In order to obtain the warrant to formally charge the two men, the Crown
prosecutor filed the transcripts of the committee evidence with the magistrate.
The magistrate refused to consider the transcripts on the basis that the
evidence was protected by parliamentary privilege. On a judicial review, the
Ontario High Court of Justice upheld the magistrate’s decision; the High Court
also indicated that the House could choose to waive its privileges. On
April 12, 1892, the House of Commons resolved to allow the evidence
to go before the magistrate, stipulating that in allowing this limited use, it
was not giving up any of its privileges.
In 1978, the Standing Committee on Justice
and Legal Affairs held hearings into alleged wrongdoings by members of the
RCMP. In the course of its proceedings, certain witnesses requested and were
granted permission to testify in camera. Months later, a commission of
inquiry was established to investigate the allegations and in the course of its
inquiry, the commission requested access to the tapes and transcripts of the in
camera proceedings. On December 14, 1978, the House of Commons ordered that
“the committee be authorized to make such evidence adduced in camera
available to the Commission of Inquiry … under such terms as may be
established by the Committee”. The Committee was concerned about releasing its evidence given that
it had assured the witnesses that they would be able to testify in camera.
The Committee wrote to each of the witnesses, requesting their permission to
allow the commission to examine their testimony. Upon receipt of the witnesses’
permission, the Committee released the transcripts to the commission on the
condition that they be examined in camera and returned to the Committee
In 2004, the House of Commons was again
asked to waive its privilege of freedom of speech. A commission of inquiry
(known as the Gomery Inquiry after its Commissioner,
Justice John Gomery) had been established to investigate and report
on questions raised in the November 2003 Report of the Auditor General with
respect to the sponsorship and advertising activities of the Government of
Canada. Questions had arisen as to whether counsel at the Commission could
cross-examine witnesses on the basis of their statements before the Standing
Committee on Public Accounts during its hearings into the Report. The Standing Committee on Public Accounts considered the request
and presented a report to the House on the matter on November 5, 2004. The
Committee recommended that the House resolve to reaffirm all of its privileges,
powers and immunities as provided by section 18 of the Constitution Act,
1867, section 4 of the Parliament of Canada Act, and Article
9 of the Bill of Rights, 1689, as well as the extension of those
privileges to committees of the House and to anyone participating in their
proceedings. In addition, the Committee recommended that the question of when
privilege may be waived, and whether it may be waived in the case of the Gomery
Inquiry, be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
The House concurred in the report on November 15, 2004.
In its Fourteenth Report presented to the House and concurred in on
November 18, 2004, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs
recommended that the privileges and immunities as set down in the Third Report
of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts be reaffirmed and that the
proceedings, evidence, submissions and testimony of all persons testifying
before the said Committee continue to be protected by the House. In particular, the Committee stated:
Some witnesses who appeared before the
Standing Committee on Public Accounts were given written or oral assurances and
others could assume that their testimony would be protected by parliamentary
privilege. To withdraw such protection after the fact would be unfair to them
as individuals. Moreover, as a matter of principle, it would be contrary to the
best interests of Parliament and parliamentary rights. Members of Parliament
and other persons participating in parliamentary proceedings must be assured
that there is complete freedom of speech, so that they are able to be as open
and forthright as possible.
In 2007, the House was again asked to waive
its privilege of freedom of speech in order to allow the testimony of a
witness, who had appeared before the Standing Committee on Public Accounts with
respect to its inquiry into the administration of the RCMP’s pension and insurance
plans, to be admitted as evidence in a criminal prosecution. The Committee
considered the request and recommended that the House reaffirm “the
parliamentary privileges and immunities of freedom of speech, which precludes
the use of testimony before a parliamentary committee in any other legal
proceeding or process, including investigations undertaken for possible
criminal prosecution”. In addition, the Committee recommended that the House
not waive parliamentary privilege in this particular case. The House concurred in the report the same day.
The Parliaments of the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand have each established committees to consider whether or
not and to what extent a legislature could waive the protections of Article 9
of the Bill of Rights, 1689. All three committees concluded that, absent
clear authority, the privileges could not or should not under any circumstances
provisions of Article 9 are a matter of public importance and were enacted for
the protection of the public interest and, absent statutory amendment, cannot
allow waiver by a simple majority, the question could be open to abuse by a
majority at the expense of a minority or a single Member;
waiver could stifle free speech since at the time of testifying, the person
will not know whether at some future date the protection of the privileges of
the House will not be withdrawn;
waiver could lead to further and more frequent requests for waivers; and
provisions of Article 9 do not only constitutionally grant the right of free
speech to the House but also constitutionally restrict the jurisdiction of
courts and other places. It is not certain that the House alone, by waiving its
privileges, can enlarge the constitutionally circumscribed jurisdiction of the
Freedom from arrest in civil actions is the
oldest privilege of the House of Commons, pre‑dating freedom of speech in
the United Kingdom. The immunity exists because the House has the pre‑eminent
claim to the attendance and service of its Members, free from restraint or
intimidation particularly by means of legal arrest in civil process. It has
only applied to arrest and imprisonment under civil process and does not
interfere with the administration of criminal justice.
In determining whether there has been a prima
facie breach of this privilege, the Speaker must differentiate between
actions which directly affect Members in the performance of their duties, and
actions which affect Members but do not directly relate to the performance of
their functions. For example, if a Member is summoned to court for a traffic
violation or if the income tax return of a Member is under investigation, it
may appear at first glance that the Member may be hampered in the performance
of his or her duties—for the Member may have to defend himself or herself in
court instead of attending to House or committee duties. However, in these
cases, the action brought against a Member is not initiated as a result of his
or her responsibilities as an elected representative, but rather as a result of
actions taken by the Member as a private citizen. In these situations, the protection afforded by parliamentary
privilege does not apply.
Any incident of a criminal nature in which
a Member has been charged is not a matter where immunity from arrest will protect
that Member. Indeed, Members are not above the law. This is in accordance with
the principle laid down by the British House of Commons in a conference with
the House of Lords in 1641 where it was stated: “Privilege of Parliament
is granted in regard of the service of the Commonwealth and is not to be used
to the danger of the Commonwealth”. In its 1967 report, the British House of Commons Select Committee
on Parliamentary Privilege noted that it could see no reason why, unless the
circumstances are exceptional, a Member should be able to claim immunity from
the normal process of the courts.
The right to freedom from interference in
the discharge of parliamentary duties does not apply to actions taken by
Members outside of parliamentary proceedings which could lead to criminal
charges. Matters of a criminal nature would include treason, felonies, breaches
of the peace, breaches of provincial statutes (considered quasi-criminal) which
involve the summary jurisdiction of the Criminal Code, forcible entries,
kidnapping, printing and publishing seditious libel, and criminal contempt of
court (though not civil contempt). A Member of the House of Commons is in
exactly the same position as any other citizen if he or she is suspected of,
charged with, or found guilty of a crime, provided that it is unrelated to a
proceeding in Parliament.
If Members are charged with infractions of
the law, then they must abide by the due process of law just like any other
citizen. To do otherwise would be contemptuous of the justice system. While a
Member is protected from arrest for civil contempt of court, there is no
protection from arrest for criminal contempt of court.
If a Member is arrested on a criminal charge or is committed for a contempt of
court, the House should be notified by the authorities if it is in session. Similarly, if a Member is sent to prison after a conviction, the
House is informed by way of a letter addressed to the Speaker by the judge or
Whatever privilege of freedom from civil
arrest a Member may claim, it exists from the moment of the execution of the
return of the writ of election by the returning officer. It continues while the
House is sitting and also applies 40 days before and after a session of
Parliament and 40 days following the dissolution of Parliament.
Senior officials of the House whose duties
require them to be in immediate attendance of the services of the House are
exempt from civil arrest as are witnesses and other persons with business
before the House while entering and leaving the premises and while in
attendance at the proceedings of the House or one of its committees.
Since the House of Commons has first claim
on the attendance and service of its Members, and since the courts have a large
body of individuals to call upon to serve on juries, it is not essential that
Members of Parliament be obliged to serve as jurors. This was the tradition in
the United Kingdom long before Confederation and this has been the Canadian
practice since 1867. The duty of Members to attend to their functions as elected
representatives is in the best interests of the nation and is considered to
supersede any obligation to serve as jurors. It has also been recognized in
One of the rights of the House is to
provide for the protection of its officers so that they may assist in its
deliberations. Therefore, senior officials of the House are exempt from jury
duty under the same circumstances as Members, as are individuals summoned to
appear before the House or its committees.
The right of the House to the attendance
and service of its Members exempts a Member, when the House is in session, from
the normal obligation of a citizen to comply with a subpoena to attend a court
as a witness. This exemption applies in civil, criminal and military matters
before the courts. However, this claim is not intended to be used to impede the course
of justice and, therefore, is regularly waived, particularly for criminal
cases. When the House is in session, should a subpoena or other legal
process be served on a Member, the Member may wish to appear in court if he or
she feels that absence from court might affect the course of justice. However,
the Member still has a right to claim the privilege of exemption from appearing
as a witness. A Member may give evidence voluntarily without any formality, even
on a day when the House is sitting or scheduled to meet,
but if he or she does so, the Member surrenders the protection this privilege
provides. No claim of privilege may be made and the Member is required to give
Members are exempt from appearing as a
witness in any court when the House is in session, 40 days before and after a
session, and 40 days following a dissolution of Parliament. This includes periods when Parliament is prorogued.
Speaker Fraser reinforced this claim in a May 1989 ruling: “… the right of
a Member of Parliament to refuse to attend court as a witness during a
parliamentary session and during the 40 days preceding and following a
parliamentary session is an undoubted and inalienable right supported by a host
The courts have not always agreed with this
viewpoint. In 2003, the matter of the extent of this privilege was the subject
of a case before the courts in British Columbia and it was determined that the
privilege does not extend beyond the session. In
2007, the Quebec Court of Appeal upheld an earlier decision of the Quebec
Superior Court which found that while a Member has immunity from appearing as a
witness when Parliament is in session, this immunity does not extend to a
Member as a party to the litigation. Relying on the United Kingdom Parliamentary
Privileges Act, 1770, the Court stated that the Member’s legal obligations
had priority over his parliamentary responsibilities. Nonetheless, the Court
urged the parties and the courts to try to schedule trial dates around the
The position in Ontario is somewhat
different. The courts in this province have accepted that the privilege extends
for 40 days before and 40 days after each session.
The courts have also decided that the summons for an examination is equivalent
to a subpoena for a witness and, therefore, the exemption period of 40 days
before and after a session of Parliament applies.
Just as in the case of jury service, senior
House officials or individuals summoned to appear before the House or its
committees are also exempt from appearing as witnesses if their services are
needed by the House.
Members of Parliament, by the nature of
their office and the variety of work they are called upon to perform, come into
contact with a wide range of individuals and groups. Members can, therefore, be
subject to all manner of interference, obstruction and influences. Maingot
Members are entitled to go about their
parliamentary business undisturbed. The assaulting, menacing, or insulting of
any Member on the floor of the House or while he is coming or going to or from
the House, or on account of his behaviour during a proceeding in Parliament, is
a violation of the rights of Parliament. Any form of intimidation … of a person
for or on account of his behaviour during a proceeding in Parliament could
amount to contempt.
Certain matters, most notably bribery, the
acceptance of fees and corrupt electoral practices, are dealt with in law. Over the years, Members have regularly brought to the attention of
the House instances which they believed were attempts to obstruct, impede,
interfere, intimidate or molest them, their staffs or individuals who had some
business with them or the House. In a technical sense, such actions are considered
to be contempts of the House and not breaches of privilege. Since these matters relate so closely to the right of the House to
the services of its Members, they are often considered to be breaches of
Speakers have consistently upheld the right
of the House to the services of its Members free from intimidation, obstruction
and interference. Speaker Lamoureux stated in a 1973 ruling that he had “no
hesitation in reaffirming the principle that parliamentary privilege includes
the right of a member to discharge his responsibilities as a member of the
House free from threats or attempts at intimidation”.
As Speaker Bosley noted in 1986:
If an Hon. Member is impeded or obstructed
in the performance of his or her parliamentary duties through threats,
intimidation, bribery attempts or other improper behaviour, such a case would
fall within the limits of parliamentary privilege. Should an Hon. Member be
able to say that something has happened which prevented him or her from
performing functions, that he or she has been threatened, intimidated, or in
any way unduly influenced, there would be a case for the Chair to consider.
In ruling on another question of privilege,
Speaker Bosley stated further that the threat or attempt at intimidation cannot
be hypothetical, but must be real or have occurred.
In order to find a prima facie
breach of privilege, the Speaker must be satisfied that there is evidence to
support the Member’s claim that he or she has been impeded in the performance
of his or her parliamentary functions and that the matter is directly related
to a proceeding in Parliament. In some cases where prima facie privilege has not been
found, the rulings have focused on whether or not the parliamentary functions
of the Member were directly involved. While frequently noting that Members
raising such matters have legitimate grievances, Speakers have consistently
concluded that Members have not been prevented from carrying out their
parliamentary duties. Speaker Jerome observed in a 1978 ruling that society demands much
of Members but not all demands strictly impose a parliamentary duty. While
every Member has duties as a representative of the electorate, a Member may
only claim the protection of privilege relating to his or her parliamentary functions,
though the line distinguishing these duties might blur.
In circumstances where Members claim to be
physically obstructed, impeded, interfered with or intimidated in the
performance of their parliamentary functions, the Speaker is apt to find that a
prima facie breach of privilege has occurred.
Incidents involving physical
obstruction—such as traffic barriers, security cordons and union picket lines
either impeding Members’ access to the Parliamentary Precinct or blocking their
free movement within the precinct—as well as occurrences of physical assault or
molestation have been found to be prima facie cases of privilege. For
example, in 1989, Speaker Fraser ruled that a prima facie case of
privilege existed when a RCMP roadblock on Parliament Hill, meant to contain
demonstrators, prevented Members from accessing the House of Commons. In 1999, a number of questions of privilege were raised resulting
from picket lines set up by members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada at
strategic locations of entry to Parliament Hill and at entrances to specific
buildings used by parliamentarians. One Member stated that the strikers had
used physical violence and intimidation to stop him from gaining access to his
office. On this matter, Speaker Parent ruled immediately that there was a prima
facie case of privilege and the matter was referred to the Standing
Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
Other related questions of privilege focused on the difficulties some Members
had had in gaining access to their offices, thus preventing them from
performing their functions and meeting their obligations in a timely fashion.
After consideration, Speaker Parent found that the incident constituted a prima
facie case of contempt of the House and the matter was also referred to the
Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
In 2004, a question of privilege was raised regarding the free movement of
Members within the Parliamentary Precinct during a visit by the President of
the United States, George W. Bush. A number of Members
complained that, in attempting to prevent protestors from gaining entrance to
Parliament Hill, police had also denied certain Members access to the
Parliamentary Precinct and thus prevented them from carrying out their
parliamentary functions. Speaker Milliken found a prima facie case of
privilege and the matter was referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure
and House Affairs.
A Member may also be obstructed or
interfered with in the performance of his or her parliamentary functions by
non-physical means. In ruling on such matters, the Speaker examines the effect
the incident or event had on the Member’s ability to fulfil his or her
parliamentary responsibilities. If, in the Speaker’s view, the Member was not
obstructed in the performance of his or her parliamentary duties and functions,
then a prima facie breach of privilege cannot be found.
It is impossible to codify all incidents
which might be interpreted as matters of obstruction, interference, molestation
or intimidation and as such constitute prima facie cases of privilege.
However, some matters found to be prima facie include the damaging of a
Member’s reputation, the usurpation of the title of Member of Parliament, the
intimidation of Members and their staff and of witnesses before committees, and
the provision of misleading information.
The unjust damaging of a Member’s good name
might be seen as constituting an obstruction if the Member is prevented from
performing his or her parliamentary functions. In 1987, Speaker Fraser stated:
The privileges of a Member are violated by
any action which might impede him or her in the fulfilment of his or her duties
and functions. It is obvious that the unjust damaging of a reputation could
constitute such an impediment. The normal course of a Member who felt himself
or herself to be defamed would be the same as that available to any other
citizen, recourse to the courts under the laws of defamation with the
possibility of damages to substitute for the harm that might be done. However,
should the alleged defamation take place on the floor of the House, this
recourse is not available.
There have only been a few instances of the
Speaker finding a prima facie breach of privilege related to the
damaging of a Member’s reputation. In April 2005, Speaker Milliken
ruled that the reputation of Brian Masse (Windsor West) may have been unjustly
damaged by Monte Solberg (Medicine Hat) who had distributed in the Windsor West
riding a bulk mailing containing inaccurate and misleading information about
Mr. Masse’s House and committee activities.
In a similar case raised in October 2005, Denis Coderre (Bourassa) claimed
that householders containing false allegations against him with respect to the
Government Sponsorship Program had been distributed in 24 Quebec ridings held by Bloc Québécois Members. He argued that these allegations had damaged
his reputation and adversely affected his ability to fulfil his parliamentary
functions. The Speaker ruled the matter a prima facie breach of
privilege in order for it to be afforded the same treatment as the April 2005
Also in 2005, a prima facie breach of privilege was found with respect to comments made by the Ethics
Commissioner to a journalist about Deepak Obhrai (Calgary East) who was the
subject of an inquiry under the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the
House of Commons. The Member alleged that the comments had damaged his
reputation, particularly since such inquiries were meant to be conducted in
private. While hesitant to rule that the conduct of the Ethics Commissioner
constituted a contempt of the House, particularly in the absence of a review
and an assessment of the new conflict of interest code, Speaker Milliken ruled
the matter to be a prima facie breach of privilege in order to allow the
House “to pronounce itself on how it wishes to proceed in this very delicate
The misrepresentation of someone who is not
a sitting Member as a Member of Parliament has been found to constitute a prima
facie case of privilege on two occasions. On May 6, 1985, Speaker
Bosley ruled that there was a prima facie question of privilege in a
case where a newspaper advertisement identified another person as a Member of Parliament
rather than the sitting Member. He stated:
It should go without saying that a Member of
Parliament needs to perform his functions effectively and that anything tending
to cause confusion as to a Member’s identity creates the possibility of an impediment
to the fulfilment of that Member’s functions. Any action which impedes or tends
to impede a Member in the discharge of his duties is a breach of privilege.
In 2004, a similar question of privilege was raised concerning a booklet published in connection
with a fundraising event and which contained an advertisement identifying a
former Member of Parliament as the sitting Member for the riding. The matter was found to be a prima facie breach of the privileges of the
House and referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
The intimidation by government officials of
Members and their staff in carrying out their parliamentary functions has been
considered a prima facie breach of privilege. In 1984, Speaker Francis
found a prima facie case of privilege involving the intimidation of an
employee of a Member. In a ruling given on February 20, 1984, the Speaker
A threat emanating from any government
department or public corporation to withhold information or cooperation from a
Member of Parliament would undoubtedly hinder that Member in the fulfilment of
his or her parliamentary duties and therefore constitute a breach of privilege.
By the same token, an offer of favourable treatment on condition that questions
are first cleared with the office concerned would also violate privilege in an
equally fundamental way…. It is therefore the view of the Chair that an action
which amounts to a form of intimidation does not need to be directed at the
Member in person in order to constitute an offence in terms of privilege.
Just as prima facie cases of
privilege have been found for the intimidation of Members and their staff, the
intimidation of a committee witness has also been found to be a prima facie
breach of privilege. In 1992, a witness who had testified before a
subcommittee was advised by a Crown corporation employee that the issue of her
testimony was being referred to the corporation’s legal department. The witness
informed one of the committee members who raised a question of privilege in the
House. The matter was found to be prima facie contempt by Speaker Fraser
and referred by the House to the Standing Committee on House Management for
consideration. In its report to the House on the question of privilege, the
Committee reaffirmed the principles of parliamentary privilege and the
extension of privilege to witnesses. The report stated:
The protection of witnesses is a fundamental
aspect of the privilege that extends to parliamentary proceedings and those
persons who participate in them. It is well‑established in the Parliament
of Canada, as in the British Parliament, that witnesses before committees share
the same privileges of freedom of speech as do Members. Witnesses before
parliamentary committees are therefore automatically extended the same
immunities from civil or criminal proceedings as Members for anything that they
say before a committee. The protection of witnesses extends to threats made against
them or intimidation with respect to their presentations before any
Misleading a Minister or a Member has also
been considered a form of obstruction and thus a prima facie breach of
privilege. For example, on December 6, 1978, in finding that a prima facie contempt of the House existed, Speaker Jerome ruled that a
government official, by deliberately misleading a Minister, had impeded the
Member in the performance of his duties and consequently obstructed the House
Finally, in finding a prima facie
case of privilege on March 21, 1978, Speaker Jerome ruled that the
electronic surveillance of a Member beyond the Parliamentary Precinct “could be
regarded as a form of harassment or obstruction or molestation or intimidation
of a Member, all of which phrases have been used in our precedents to support
the position that such conduct is a contempt of the House”.
As with the intimidation of a Member or
witness, the intimidation or attempted intimidation of the Speaker or any other
Chair Occupant is viewed very seriously by the House. On three occasions, the
House has viewed criticisms of the impartiality of the Chair as attempts at
intimidation and, therefore, as privilege matters.
On December 22, 1976, the House adopted a motion finding that a statement
made in a newspaper article about Speaker Jerome was “a gross libel on Mr.
Speaker and that the publication of the article was a gross breach of the
privileges of the House”. On March 23, 1993, Speaker Fraser ruled that a Member’s
comments about the impartiality of a Chair Occupant constituted a prima
facie case of privilege, noting that an attack against the integrity of an
officer of the House was also an attack against the House. On March 9, 1998, a Member rose on a question of privilege to
claim that quotations attributed to certain Members of the House in a newspaper
article constituted an attempt to intimidate the Speaker and, collectively, the
House. The Member was concerned that the comments, attributed by the media to
Members about matters which were before the Chair for adjudication and which
implied that if the Speaker ruled a particular way he should be removed from
the Chair, were attempting to influence his ruling. Speaker Parent ruled
that there was a prima facie case of privilege.
In instances where Members have claimed
that they have been obstructed or harassed, not directly in their roles as
elected representatives but while being involved in matters of a political or
constituency‑related nature, Speakers have consistently ruled that this
does not constitute privilege. On July 15, 1980, Speaker Sauvé stated:
While I am only too aware of the multiple
responsibilities, duties, and also the work the member has to do relating to
his constituency, as Speaker I am required to consider only those matters which
affect the member’s parliamentary work. That is to say, whatever duty a member
has to his constituents, before a valid question of privilege arises in respect
of any alleged interference, such interference must relate to the member’s
parliamentary duties. In other words, just as a member is protected from
anything he does while taking part in a proceeding in Parliament, so too must
interference relate to the member’s role in the context of parliamentary work.
This view was further reinforced in a
ruling given on May 15, 1985 by Speaker Bosley. Douglas Frith (Sudbury) had risen on a question of privilege claiming that his ability to serve his
constituents was being infringed or impeded by a departmental directive
restricting the release of information about a government program. In ruling
that, while the Member did have a complaint, there was no prima facie
question of privilege, Speaker Bosley noted “the purpose of parliamentary
privilege is to protect our speech in the House, the institution itself, and
the institution and Members from threats, obstructions and intimidation in the
exercise of our duties”.
The importance of the relationship of
privilege to parliamentary functions was reaffirmed by Speaker Milliken in a
ruling delivered on June 5, 2005. A question of privilege had been raised
respecting the inability of a number of Members to communicate with their
constituents because certain individuals and organizations, angry with same-sex
marriage legislation before the House, were inundating the offices of these
Members with computer-generated faxes and e-mails. Although he sympathized with
the Members, agreeing that the large number of faxes and e-mails had interfered
with the smooth functioning and orderly routine of their offices, the Speaker
concluded nonetheless that he was unable to find that they were prevented from
performing their parliamentary duties.
Finally, Speaker Fraser confirmed in a ruling given on November 17, 1987
that parliamentary privilege does not extend to a Member’s staff working on
constituency or political activities on behalf of that Member.
First Report of the Special Committee on Rights and Immunities of Members,
presented to the House on April 29, 1977 (Journals, pp. 720‑1).
This right is also extended to witnesses appearing before parliamentary
See May, 23rd ed., pp. 95‑118; Maingot,
2nd ed., pp. 25‑105, 115‑23; Redlich, J., The
Procedure of the House of Commons: A Study of its History and Present Form,
Vol. III, translated by A.E. Steinthal, New York: AMS Press, 1969 (reprint
of 1908 ed.), pp. 42‑50; Odgers, 12th ed., pp. 33‑43;
House of Representatives Practice, 5th ed., pp. 711‑24.
Odgers, 12th ed., p. 33.
Odgers, 12th ed., p. 33.
Odgers, 12th ed., p. 33.
Commission of Inquiry into the Sponsorship Program and Advertising Activities, Who
Is Responsible?: Fact Finding Report (hereinafter referred to as Gomery),
Vol. 1, Ottawa: Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2005, pp. 622-8,
affirmed in Gagliano v. Canada (Attorney General), 2005 FC 576;
appeal dismissed 2006 FCA 86.
R.S. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5, s. 18; R.S. 1985, c. P-1, ss. 4 to 5.
May, 23rd ed., p. 95. In 1999, the U.K. Joint Committee on
Parliamentary Privilege reaffirmed that freedom of speech is the single most
important parliamentary privilege (Joint Committee on Parliamentary
Privilege, Report, March 30, 1999, Chapter 2, par. 36 and 37).
Michaud c. Bissonnette, 2006 QCCA 775, par. 35 and 36.
May, 23rd ed., p. 111. See also pp. 110‑4 for a
discussion of the term. Maingot has also devoted considerable attention
to the term (2nd ed., pp. 77‑105). It has been argued that
confidential caucus meetings held in the Parliamentary Precinct are a
parliamentary proceeding to which the privilege of freedom of speech applies.
In 2004, when the confidential proceedings of an Ontario Liberal Caucus meeting
were disclosed in the media, a question of privilege was raised in the House.
In his ruling on the matter, Speaker Milliken stated: “The concept of caucus
confidentiality is central to the operations of the House and to the work of
all hon. Members” (Debates, March 25, 2004, pp. 1711‑2). The matter was ruled a prima facie
case of privilege and referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House
Affairs (Journals, March 25, 2004, p. 216). In its
Twenty-Second Report, presented to the House on April 26, 2004 (Journals,
p. 311), the Committee stated that the disclosure impeded Members in
carrying out their parliamentary functions and could constitute a contempt of
the House. Furthermore, the Committee asserted that the leak “severely
undermines the confidentiality of caucus meetings, and inhibits the ability of
Members to speak frankly and openly without fear or concern that their remarks
will leave the room” (par. 15). The Committee concluded, however, that
there was no evidence that the broadcast of the caucus meeting was done
deliberately and it was satisfied that corrective measures had been taken by
the House Administration to minimize chances of similar leaks in the future.
House of Representatives Practice, 5th ed., pp. 712‑3.
See Maingot, 2nd ed., pp. 90, 92‑4, 101‑2, for an
analysis of the scope of this privilege in relation to the role of the modern
Member of Parliament, and the reasons of Hugessen A.C.J., for the Superior
Court of Québec in Re Ouellet (No. 1), (1976) 67 D.L.R. (3d) 73
(English version) or  C.S. 503 (French version); confirmed by the
Court of Appeal of Quebec at (1976) 72 D.L.R. (3d) 95 (English version) or
 C.A. 788 (French version). See also Pankiw, 2006 FC 1544,
par. 76 to 102. In addition, see Speaker Jerome’s ruling, Debates,
May 15, 1978, p. 5411 and Speaker Milliken’s ruling, Debates,
February 12, 2003, pp. 3470‑1.
See Maingot, 2nd ed., pp. 33‑6, for a discussion of
freedom of speech and the criminal law.
Debates, December 11, 1984, p. 1114. Paraphrasing Speaker
Michener, Speaker Bosley went on to note that, unless such conduct has led to
the obstruction of other Members or of the House, “the conduct of a Member of
Parliament even though reprehensible, cannot form the basis of a question of
privilege although it can form the basis of a charge by way of a substantive
motion …” (p. 1115). John Nunziata (York South–Weston) had risen on a
question of privilege on December 7, 1984, to claim that comments made by
Svend Robinson (Burnaby) in a committee meeting constituted a contempt of
Parliament. Mr. Robinson had alleged that the United States Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA) had penetrated senior management levels of Petro‑Canada
and he named several individuals as CIA agents. On December 21, 1984, Mr. Robinson rose in the House to retract his remarks in the committee. He said that
he had relied upon a confidential source of information and had availed himself
of parliamentary immunity to accuse the Petro‑Canada employees of spying
for the CIA. He then went on to state: “While the tradition of
parliamentary immunity is a long and important one, in retrospect I regret that
I used my immunity to name these individuals. I have written to both men to
express unreservedly my regret for having publicly named them in the Justice
Committee. As well, Mr. Speaker, I wish at this time to issue a complete and
unequivocal retraction of the allegations I made and unreservedly apologize to
the two individuals involved …” (Debates, December 7, 1984,
pp. 1004‑7; December 21, 1984, p. 1447).
Gagliano, 2005 FC 576, in particular par. 72, 77, 78
and 83. In 2004, questions arose as to whether counsel at a commission of
inquiry could cross-examine witnesses on the basis of prior statements made
before a standing committee. The House of Commons was asked by a commission of
inquiry if it would be prepared to waive parliamentary privilege in order to
permit the use of committee evidence in this way. After the matter was
deliberated in two standing committees, the House reaffirmed the importance of
the privilege of freedom of speech, resolving that “the proceedings and all
evidence, submissions and testimony by all persons participating in the
proceedings of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts continue to be
protected by all the privileges and immunities of this House” (Journals,
November 18, 2004, pp. 232‑3). Upon being informed of the
House’s resolution, the commissioner heading the inquiry ruled that
parliamentary privilege precluded counsel from using that testimony in
cross-examination (Gomery, Vol. 1, pp. 622‑8). This decision was subsequently upheld
by the Federal Court (Gagliano v. Canada (Commission of Inquiry into the
Sponsorship Program), 2006 FC 720; appeal dismissed 2006 FCA 86).
For further information, see the section in this chapter entitled “Waiving the
Privilege of Freedom of Speech”.
George v. Canada (Attorney General), 2007 FC 564, par. 63. The
applicant had brought two applications for judicial review before the Federal
Court to prevent her testimony before the Standing Committee on Public Accounts
with respect to the administration of the RCMP’s pension and insurance plans to
be admitted as evidence in a criminal prosecution. See also the statement by
the Chair of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, Evidence, April 30, 2007,
Meeting No. 53.
George, par. 70. The Federal Court also determined that it did not
have jurisdiction to rule on whether parliamentary privilege applied to police
investigations, since such investigations fall under the jurisdiction of
provincial superior courts. The Court was reluctant to interfere with the
RCMP’s decision to pursue a criminal investigation: “It is clear that any issue
with respect to parliamentary privilege remains alive and that the
admissibility of any evidence which derives directly from the Applicant’s
testimony before the Public Accounts Committee will have to be addressed when
the criminal investigation unfolds” (George, par. 52).
In 2006, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts prepared a comparative
analysis on discrepancies in the testimony of certain individuals who had
appeared before it during the Thirty‑Seventh Parliament (2001‑04)
and also before the Commission of Inquiry into the Sponsorship Program and
Advertising Activities, commonly known as the Gomery Inquiry (Minutes of Proceedings,
November 21, 2006, Meeting No. 28). Thereafter, the Standing
Committee adopted a motion to recall some of the witnesses to explain the
discrepancies (Minutes of Proceedings, May 9, 2007, Meeting
No. 56). On June 6, 2007, two of the witnesses appeared before the
Committee, made opening statements and answered questions (Minutes of
Proceedings and Evidence, Meeting No. 64).
In 2003, the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates
concluded that the former Privacy Commissioner, George Radwanski, had
deliberately misled the Committee in his testimony and should be found in
contempt of the House. See the Committee’s Fourth Report, presented to the
House on June 13, 2003 (Journals, p. 934); its Fifth
Report, presented to House on June 27, 2003 (Journals,
September 15, 2003, p. 959); and its Ninth Report, presented on
November 4, 2003 (Journals, p. 1225). In 2008, the
Standing Committee on Public Accounts determined that Deputy RCMP Commissioner
Barbara George had knowingly misled the Committee in her testimony before the
Committee and recommended that she be found in contempt of the House. See the
Third Report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, presented to the
House on February 12, 2008 (Journals, p. 423).
The House found the former Privacy Commissioner, George Radwanski, to be in
contempt of the House in 2003 for deliberate misleading testimony before the
Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. However, given that
Mr. Radwanski apologized to the House in writing, no sanctions were applied (Debates,
November 4, 2003, pp. 9150‑1; November 5, 2003,
pp. 9192‑3; November 6, 2003, pp. 9229‑31,
9237). In 2008, the House found Deputy RCMP Commissioner Barbara George in
contempt for providing false and misleading testimony to the Public Accounts
Committee but did not order any further action “as this finding of contempt is,
in and of itself, a very serious sanction” (Debates, April 10, 2006,
Parliament of Canada Act, R.S. 1985, c. P‑1, s. 12;
Criminal Code, R.S. 1985, c. C‑46, ss. 132 and 136.
See also the Fourteenth Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House
Affairs, presented to the House and concurred in on November 18, 2004
(Journals, pp. 232‑3), par. 15 and 16. See also the
testimony of representatives of the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary
Counsel before the Standing Committee on Public Accounts on February 7, 2007
(Evidence, Meeting No. 37). Legal Counsel explained that five
criteria must be met before a charge of perjury can be made: a false statement
has to have been made; the statement must have been made under oath or solemn
affirmation; the testimony had to be given before an authorized person (i.e.,
the committee and committee chair); the witness must have knowingly made the
false statement; and there must have been intent to mislead the person or body
to whom the testimony was given. Given that neither a parliamentary committee
nor Parliament itself is a prosecutorial body, the matter would have to be
handed over to the appropriate provincial Attorney General to decide whether or
not to prosecute. To date, no witness has ever been charged with perjury for
lying to a committee. For further information, see the section in this chapter
entitled “The Right to Administer Oaths to Witnesses”.
Griffith and Ryle, 2nd ed., p. 132. See, for example, Debates,
March 11, 2008, pp. 3972‑4. In 2008,
the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner was requested to determine
whether Robert Thibault (West Nova) had breached his obligations under the Conflict
of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons by participating in a
review by the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics
into the Mulroney Airbus Settlement given that the former Prime Minister had
initiated legal proceedings against the Member for libellous comments made
during a CTV television show. (The Code requires Members to disclose any
private interest they may have in a matter before the House or a committee and
to refrain from participating in debate or voting on the matter (see ss. 8, 12
and 13).) In her report to the House, the Conflict of Interest Commissioner
found that a lawsuit constituted a liability and thus a private interest for
purposes of the Code. She determined that Mr. Thibault had consequently
breached sections 8, 12 and 13 of the Code, although it was deemed an
error of judgement made in good faith (Report of the Conflict of Interest and
Ethics Commissioner entitled “The Thibault Inquiry”, dated May 7, 2008
(Journals, p. 783)). Subsequently, Derek Lee (Scarborough– Rouge River) raised a question of privilege to question the validity of
the Code being interpreted in such a way as to limit Members’ freedom of speech
and right to vote in the House and in committee. In particular, Mr. Lee
took issue with the Commissioner’s contention that being a defendant in a libel
suit was tantamount to having a private interest in the matter (Debates,
May 26, 2008, pp. 6006‑10).
In ruling the matter prima facie, Speaker Milliken stated: “… when the
mere filing of a libel suit against a member, whatever the ultimate disposition
of the suit may be, has the effect of placing restrictions on the ability of
that member to speak and to vote in the House and in committee, it appears
reasonable to conclude that the privileges of all members are immediately
placed in jeopardy” (Debates, June 17, 2008, pp. 7072‑3). The House adopted a motion to refer
the subject matter of the ruling to the Standing Committee on Procedure and
House Affairs for consideration (Journals, June 17, 2008,
pp. 1003, 1006). The Thirty‑Ninth Parliament (2006-08) was
dissolved before the Committee could present a report to the House on the
matter. (On June 5, 2008 (Journals, pp. 918‑21),
the House amended section 3(3) of the Conflict of Interest Code to
clarify that a Member is not considered to be furthering his or her own private
interests if the matter in question “consists of being a party to a legal
action relating to actions of the Member as a Member of Parliament” (s. 3(b.1).)
For further information on the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the
House of Commons, see Chapter 4, “The House of Commons and Its Members”.
Maingot, 2nd ed., pp. 39, 41, 44‑6, 90‑4.
This was one of the main issues in the famous case of Stockdale v. Hansard.
See May, 23rd ed., pp. 98‑101, 184‑7; Maingot,
2nd ed., pp. 63‑75. Maingot (2nd ed., p. 9)
notes that a Member cannot claim parliamentary privilege for the content of a
householder because it is not a publication ordered by the House to be printed.
See also Speaker Parent’s ruling on November 16, 1999 (Debates,
pp. 1287‑8). A bulk mailing sent out by a Member containing material
critical of the Senate became the subject of a civil suit launched against the
Member by a Senator. The Member claimed that his privilege of freedom of speech
had been breached by the lawsuit. The Speaker ruled that since the matter
involved information contained in a document not considered to be a proceeding
in Parliament, the Member’s privileges had not been breached.
Maingot, 2nd ed., pp. 82‑94.
Pankiw, 2006 FC 1544, par. 92, 95 and 113. See also the sections in
this chapter entitled “Privilege Challenged in the Courts” and “The Right to
Debates, May 5, 1987, pp. 5765‑6. Specifically, during
debate as well as during Question Period and other House proceedings, Members
are bound by the Standing Orders and practices of the House with respect to the
content of speeches and remarks. For example, Standing Order 18 prohibits
the use of disrespectful or offensive language in debate. Moreover, personal
attacks, insults, obscene language or words that question a Member’s integrity,
honesty or character are not permitted. It is unparliamentary to state that a
Member has deliberately misled the House. As Speaker Milliken observed in 2002:
“If we do not preserve the tradition of accepting the word of a fellow member,
which is a fundamental principle of our parliamentary system, then freedom of
speech, both inside and outside the House, is imperilled” (Debates,
April 16, 2002, p. 10462). However, if a Member who feels that
his or her reputation has been maligned by the comments of another Member
raises a question of privilege, the Speaker must determine if such remarks
“constitute such a grave attack as to impede the hon. member … in the
performance of his duties” (Debates, May 28, 2008, p. 6171).
Debates, September 30, 1994, p. 6371.
Debates, May 26, 1987, p. 6375. See also Debates,
June 7, 2005, pp. 6738‑9.
Debates, December 3, 1991, pp. 5679‑82, in particular p. 5681.
Debates, April 2, 2003, p. 5040.
For a complete discussion of the sub judice convention, see Chapter 13,
“Rules of Order and Decorum”.
First Report of the Special Committee on the Rights and Immunities of Members, presented
to the House on April 29, 1977 (Journals, pp. 720‑9),
and Minutes of Proceedings and Evidence, April 4, 1977, Issue
No. 1, Appendix “C”, “The Sub Judice Convention in the
Canadian House of Commons”, pp. 1A: 11‑2. See also Laundy, P., “The
Sub Judice Convention in the Canadian House of Commons”, The
Parliamentarian, Vol. 57, No. 3, July 1976, pp. 211‑4.
The practice has been codified in other jurisdictions either by the adoption of
Standing Orders (Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, India (Lok Sabha), New Zealand) or by way of resolution (United Kingdom (House of Commons)). See also May,
23rd ed., pp. 387, 436‑8.
See Speaker Parent’s comments in Debates, April 6, 1995,
Journals, April 29, 1977, pp. 720‑9.
See, for example, Speaker Milliken’s ruling of April 20, 2005 (Debates,
pp. 5334‑5). Speaker Milliken had been asked to apply the sub
judice convention to comments regarding an investigation in which charges
had not yet been laid. In the absence of clear guidelines, the Speaker
refrained from applying the convention.
Standing Orders 10 and 11. For further information, see Chapter 7, “The
Speaker and Other Presiding Officers of the House”, Chapter 12, “Process of
Debate”, and Chapter 13, “Rules of Order and Decorum”.
Journals, April 12, 1892, pp. 234‑5. For further information,
see the section in this chapter entitled “Expulsion”.
Journals, December 14, 1978, p. 254.
Counsel argued that the privilege of freedom of speech was not intended to
apply to witnesses before a parliamentary committee, only to parliamentarians
as protection from civil or criminal proceedings based on statements made during
Third Report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, presented to the
House on November 5, 2004 (Journals, p. 202) and
concurred in on November 15, 2004 (Journals, pp. 212‑4).
Journals, November 18, 2004, pp. 232‑3.
Fourteenth Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs,
presented to the House on November 18, 2004 (Journals,
pp. 232‑3), par. 14. Upon learning that the House would not
waive its privilege, Commissioner Gomery ruled that the evidence of the
witnesses before a parliamentary committee could not be used to undermine their
credibility before the Commission of Inquiry: “In my view it is important that
this Commission should not be seen to encroach in any way upon the privileges
and immunities of the Parliament of Canada, and should respect the promises and
undertakings it made” (Gomery, Vol. 1, p. 627). This decision was upheld
by the Federal Court (Gagliano, 2006 FC 720).
Twentieth Report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, presented to the
House on June 15, 2007 (Journals, p. 1543),
Recommendations 1 and 2.
Journals, June 15, 2007, p. 1543.
May, 23rd ed., p. 77; House of Representatives Practice, 5th ed.,
pp. 718‑9; McGee, 3rd ed., pp. 612‑3. See also Joint Committee on Parliamentary
Privilege (United Kingdom), Report, March 30, 1999,
May, 23rd ed., pp. 119‑27; Bourinot,
4th ed., pp. 42‑7; Maingot, 2nd ed., pp. 151‑8.
For its origins and history in the United Kingdom and Canada, see May, 1st ed., pp. 86‑7, and Maingot, 2nd ed.,
Maingot, 2nd ed., pp. 234‑5.
Maingot, 2nd ed., p. 155. Should the police arrest a Member
outside the House on some criminal matter, the House of Commons is not entitled
to intervene. On February 16, 1965, G.J. McIlraith (President of the Privy Council) raised a question of privilege concerning the effects on the
privileges of the House of the arrest of Gilles Grégoire (Lapointe) by the
RCMP outside the Parliament Buildings on two warrants for traffic offences. The
Speaker ruled the matter prima facie, and it was subsequently referred
to the Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections. On March 19, 1965,
the Committee presented its Fourth Report which found that the privilege of
freedom from arrest of the Member had not been infringed and that the actions
of the RCMP did not constitute a breach of parliamentary privilege (Journals,
February 16, 1965, pp. 1035‑6; March 19, 1965,
Quoted in Report from the Select Committee on Parliamentary Privilege
(United Kingdom), December 1, 1967, p. 1.
Report from the Select Committee on Parliamentary Privilege (United
Kingdom), December 1, 1967, p. xvi, par. 47.
Maingot, 2nd ed., p. 156. In Canada, the administration of
justice is a provincial responsibility. The Crown Attorney for the particular
judicial district where the offence occurred would prosecute any breach of the Criminal
Code (Maingot, 2nd ed., p. 171).
Maingot, 2nd ed., pp. 157‑8. Bourinot,
4th ed., p. 44, notes that while the House will not normally
interfere if a Member is committed for contempt, it does reserve the right to
inquire into the nature of the offence and protect Members in proper cases.
Maingot, 2nd ed., p. 158.
Bourinot, 4th ed., pp. 46‑7. Bourinot also notes,
based on English practice, that failure to inform the Speaker has not been
viewed as a matter of privilege (p. 47).
Maingot, 2nd ed., p. 155. If the period between dissolution
(or prorogation) and the commencement of the next session exceeds 80 days,
there would be an interim period where this immunity would not be available to
Maingot, 2nd ed., p. 160.
Maingot, 2nd ed., p. 159. In the United Kingdom, the Criminal
Justice Act, 2003 repealed the provisions found in the Juries Act, 1974
which exempted Members of Parliament and House Officers from jury service (May,
23rd ed., p. 125).
Jury selection is a matter of provincial jurisdiction. While exemption from
jury duty is claimed as a right by the House of Commons, provincial jury
legislation usually includes Members of Parliament as one of the exempt
categories. In some provincial statutes, the staff of Members of the
Legislative Assembly and officers of the Assembly may be exempted from jury
duty. See, for example, The Jury Act, S.N.B. 1980,
c. J‑3.1, s. 3 (New Brunswick); Jurors Act, R.S.Q.,
c. J‑2, s. 5 (Quebec); The Jury Act, 1998, S.S.
1998, c. J‑4.2, s. 6 (Saskatchewan).
Maingot, 2nd ed., p. 160.
May, 23rd ed., p. 125; Bourinot, 4th ed.,
pp. 45‑6; Maingot, 2nd ed., pp. 158‑9. For a
discussion of the issue, see Debates, November 25, 1998,
Maingot, 2nd ed., p. 158.
Maingot, 2nd ed., p. 159.
Maingot, 2nd ed., p. 159. Maingot also notes that while
the service of a subpoena would not normally be raised in the House, the
counsel who authorized the service should be advised by the Member or by the general
legal counsel of the House of Commons of the lawful claim of this privilege. In
the United Kingdom, in certain cases when this has been raised by the Member
concerned, the British Speaker has communicated with the court drawing
attention to the privilege and asking that the Member be excused (May, 23rd ed.,
May, 23rd ed., p. 125.
Debates, May 19, 1989, pp. 1952‑3. See also Kilgour,
D. and Bowdich, J., “A serious question of immunity”, The Parliamentarian,
Vol. LXX, No. 4, October 1989, pp. 233‑5.
Maingot, 2nd ed., p. 155.
Debates, May 19, 1989, p. 1953.
Ainsworth Lumber Co. v. Canada (A.G.) and Paul Martin, 2003 BCCA 239.
Gillet c. Arthur, 2006 QCCS 3953; Arthur c. Gillet, 2007 QCCA 470.
Telezone Inc. v. Canada (Attorney General), (2004), 69 O.R. (3d) 161.
A former candidate for the nomination to represent a political party in an
election brought an action against the party leader, a Member of the House, for
matters relating to the nomination. The candidate sought to examine the Member
prior to the trial. See Riddell v. Right Point et al.,  O.J. 3943 (Quicklaw)
(Ontario Superior Court Master).
Maingot, 2nd ed., p. 160.
Maingot, 2nd ed., pp. 230‑1.
See Chapter 4, “The House of Commons and Its Members”. For further
information on bribery and the acceptance of fees by Members, see Maingot,
2nd ed., pp. 59‑61, 250‑1.
Maingot, 2nd ed., p. 15. See also May, 23rd ed.,
On September 19, 1973, Otto Jelinek (High Park–Humber Valley) raised a
question of privilege claiming that an employee of the Canadian Broadcasting
Corporation, in telephone conversations with the Member, had advised Mr.
Jelinek to stop asking questions about television coverage of the Olympic Games
during Question Period or else it would be alleged that the Member had a
contract with the CTV network and was in a conflict of interest. Mr. Jelinek
claimed that these calls were an attempt to intimidate him. As the Member did
not know the name of the caller, no specific charge could be made and therefore
there was no prima facie question of privilege (Debates,
September 19, 1973, p. 6709).
Debates, May 1, 1986, p. 12847. On April 29, 1986, Sheila
Copps (Hamilton East) rose on a question of privilege, arguing that her
privileges had been adversely affected in that the office of the Deputy Prime
Minister (Erik Nielsen) had improperly monitored communications between Members
and the Assistant Deputy Registrar General with the intention of interfering
with the exercise of their duties and attempting to intimidate them. This
focused on Members’ inquiries of the Assistant Deputy Registrar General about
compliance with conflict of interest guidelines (Debates, April 29,
1986, p. 12756; April 30, 1986, p. 12791). In his ruling, the
Speaker felt that the fact that the Deputy Prime Minister had inquired whether
Members had been in communication with the Assistant Deputy Registrar General
did not seem to constitute an interception of those communications.
In a question of privilege raised on May 14, 1986 with respect to a
proposed inquiry into conflict of interest allegations against a former
Minister, Herb Gray (Windsor West) accused Deputy Prime Minister Erik Nielsen of
attempting, through his comments, to intimidate Members in the exercise of
their duties (Debates, pp. 13270‑3). The Chair could not find
an expressed intention to be a breach unless it were of itself a threat. No
threat, real or implied, that Members be called to account for anything they
said in the House had been made (Debates, May 16, 1986,
Debates, November 16, 1999, p. 1288.
For examples of rulings on matters where Members alleged they had been
obstructed or threatened but which were found not to have occurred during a
parliamentary proceeding, see Debates, May 15, 1978,
p. 5411; November 2, 1978, p. 730; February 12, 2003,
pp. 3470‑1; June 8, 2005, pp. 6826‑8. In the
2003 example, Jim Pankiw (Saskatoon–Humboldt) alleged that a senior public
servant had obstructed him from carrying out an inquiry into a topic of
interest by advising government employees not to respond to an e-mail message
sent by Mr. Pankiw to employees throughout various government departments.
In his ruling, Speaker Milliken noted that an inquiry undertaken on a Member’s
own initiative should not be mistaken with an inquiry undertaken by the House
or a committee and therefore was not a parliamentary proceeding covered by
Debates, November 2, 1978, pp. 729‑31. The Standing
Committee on Procedure and House Affairs asserted in a 2005 report that “[t]he
bar to establish a breach of privilege is necessarily a high one, and, in the
case of an individual Member, it must be closely related to his or her
parliamentary duties” (Forty‑Fourth Report of the Standing Committee on
Procedure and House Affairs, presented to the House on June 22, 2005
(Journals, p. 958)).
Maingot notes that assaults on Members which occur outside the precinct
and which are unrelated to the Member’s parliamentary duties do not amount to
contempt. The same assault occurring within the precinct, yet unrelated to a
proceeding in Parliament, might, however, constitute contempt of the House (2nd ed.,
pp. 165‑6, 256).
During a demonstration on Parliament Hill, which included taxi drivers
protesting the Goods and Services Tax, several Members entered taxi cabs and
asked to be driven to the main entrance of the Centre Block. However, their way
was barred by a roadblock of RCMP cars. Some of the Members proceeded on foot,
while others eventually reached the Centre Block by taxi after the roadblock
was lifted. In his question of privilege, Herb Gray (Windsor West) submitted
that the actions of the RCMP constituted a breach of Members’ privileges since
they were denied access to the House of Commons. The Speaker ruled immediately,
finding that a prima facie matter of privilege existed, and the matter was
referred to the Standing Committee on Elections, Privileges, Procedure and
Private Members’ Business. The Committee never reported on the matter (Journals,
October 30, 1989, p. 773, Debates, pp. 5298‑302).
Journals, February 17, 1999, p. 1517, Debates, pp. 12011‑2.
Debates, February 17, 1999, pp. 12009‑12;
February 18, 1999, p. 12134; Journals, February 18, 1999,
p. 1525. In its Sixty-Sixth Report, presented to the House on
April 14, 1999 (Journals, p. 1714), the Standing
Committee on Procedure and House Affairs concluded that there had been no
deliberate intention to contravene parliamentary privilege, that “any contempt
of Parliament that occurred was technical and unintended”, and that there was
no need for sanctions (par. 23). No further action was taken on the Report.
Debates, December 1, 2004, pp. 2134‑7. The
Committee concluded that Members’ privileges had been breached and recommended
that the Sergeant-at-Arms and the RCMP provide written reports to the House
outlining how such a situation would be avoided in the future. See the
Twenty-First Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs,
presented to the House on January 31, 2005 (Journals,
p. 366) and concurred in on May 17, 2005 (Journals,
See, for example, Debates, March 24,
1994, pp. 2705‑6; October 30, 2007, pp. 578‑9;
February 4, 2008, pp. 2539‑40.
Debates, May 5, 1987, p. 5766. Otto Jelinek (Minister of State
for Fitness and Amateur Sport) had raised a question of privilege regarding
oral questions asked about an alleged conflict of interest involving him.
Speaker Fraser ruled that the Minister’s capacity to function as a Minister and
a Member was not impaired (Debates, April 14, 1987, pp. 5124‑34;
May 5, 1987, pp. 5765‑6).
Journals, April 18, 2005, pp.
642, 645, Debates, pp. 5214‑5. The matter was referred
to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which reported that
the Member’s privileges had been infringed, although inadvertently, by the
mailing (Thirty‑Eighth Report of the
Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, presented to the House on
May 11, 2005 (Journals, p. 738)). The Committee recommended that the Speaker issue a press
release in the communities involved, apologizing for the mistake and providing assurances
that it would not happen again. The Report was not concurred in.
Debates, November 3, 2005, pp. 9489‑90. The House
defeated the motion to refer the matter to committee (Journals,
November 15, 2005, pp. 1273‑4).
Debates, October 6, 2005, pp. 8473‑4, in particular
p. 8474. The matter was referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure
and House Affairs. In its report to the House, the Committee stated: “Members
of Parliament are public figures, and their reputations and integrity are among
their most valuable assets. We are all cognizant of the public cynicism that
exists regarding our political system. When the Conflict of Interest Code
for Members of the House of Commons was being developed, considerable
concern was expressed that unfounded allegations could be made and that these
could irredeemably damage Members. That is why protections were built into the
Code. It is also why inquiries are to be conducted in private” (Fifty‑First
Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, presented on
November 18, 2005 (Journals, pp. 1289‑90), par. 34).
The Committee found the Ethics Commissioner to be in contempt of the House but,
because his actions were neither deliberate nor intentional, no sanctions were
Debates, May 6, 1985, p. 4439. On April 25, 1985, Andrew
Witer (Parkdale–High Park) rose on a question of privilege relating to an
advertisement which appeared in a Toronto‑based Ukrainian‑language
newspaper. The ad in question identified Jesse Flis, the incumbent’s predecessor,
as the Member for Parkdale–High Park, listing the address and phone number of
Mr. Flis’ former constituency office (Debates, pp. 4111‑3).
In his ruling, the Speaker noted that, based on the evidence available, a prima
facie case of privilege must be found. The matter was referred to the
Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections (Journals, May
6, 1985, p. 570). On May 30, 1985, the Committee presented its
report which found that the advertisement had been published in error and that
there had been no intention on the part of any of the parties involved to
misrepresent Mr. Flis as the sitting Member of Parliament. It concluded that no
further action was necessary (Journals, May 30, 1985, pp. 676‑7).
Debates, November 22, 2004, pp. 1657‑8;
November 23, 2004, pp. 1733‑4. Serge Marcil, a former
Member of Parliament for the riding of Beauharnois—Salaberry, was identified in
the booklet as the sitting Member, although he had been defeated in the 2004
general election. The Committee concluded that the advertisement had been added
to the booklet when Mr. Marcil was still a Member, and that the failure to
remove it had been an “involuntary error”, and not a breach of the privileges
of the House (Twenty‑Eighth Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure
and House Affairs, presented to the House and concurred in on
February 23, 2005 (Journals, pp. 471‑2)).
Debates, February 20, 1984, p. 1560. On February 6, 1984,
Albert Cooper (Peace River) raised a question of privilege arising out of a
telephone conversation between a member of his staff and an official in the
office of the President of Canada Post Corporation. Mr. Cooper, Opposition
critic for Canada Post, alleged that the official had been abusive. The
official had complained that Mr. Cooper’s office had not cleared questions
asked by the Member in the House with the President’s office and warned that if
this were not done in the future, Mr. Cooper could expect little cooperation
from Canada Post. Mr. Cooper argued that this was an attempt to inhibit his
freedom of speech, influence his actions in the House and hamper him in his
role as spokesman for the Official Opposition. On February 9, 1984, the
Minister of Labour (André Ouellet), who was also responsible for Canada
Post, reported to the House that he had spoken to the official involved who
denied making any such threats. The Minister also challenged the validity of
Mr. Cooper’s question of privilege since it was based on a conversation between
his assistant and the officer at Canada Post and did not directly involve the
Member. On February 20, 1984, the Speaker ruled that a prima facie
question of privilege had been established. The motion to refer the matter to
the Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections was negatived on a recorded
division. See Debates, February 6, 1984, pp. 1101‑6;
February 9, 1984, pp. 1234‑5; February 14, 1984,
pp. 1382‑4; Journals, February 20, 1984, pp. 188‑9,
Debates, pp. 1559‑61.
Journals, December 4, 1992, p. 2284. Don Boudria (Glengarry–Prescott–Russell)
contended that witnesses before committees enjoy the same privileges as Members
of the House and are accorded the temporary protection of the House. In the
Member’s opinion, if such threats were to go unchallenged, it would imply that
witnesses before committees could not testify without the threat of being sued
or intimidated (Debates, December 4, 1992, pp. 14629‑31).
Sixty‑Fifth Report of the Standing Committee on House Management, presented
to the House on February 18, 1993 (Journals, p. 2528) and
Minutes of Proceedings and Evidence, February 18, 1993, Issue
No. 46, p. 9. The Committee was unable to find sufficient evidence to
support the allegation of the intimidation and to justify a finding of
contempt. The Report was concurred in on February 25, 1993 (Journals,
p. 2568). See also Debates, December 7, 2006,
May 10, 2007, p. 9288 where Speaker Milliken advised the
House that he would consider a question of privilege respecting the
intimidation of a witness only after the committee report on the matter had
been presented to the House. See also the section in this chapter entitled
“Freedom of Speech”.
On November 3, 1978, Allan Lawrence (Northumberland–Durham) charged that
he had been deliberately misled by a former Solicitor General. Acting on behalf
of a constituent who suspected that his mail had been tampered with, Mr.
Lawrence had written in 1973 to the then Solicitor General who assured him that
as a matter of policy the RCMP did not intercept the private mail of anyone.
However, on November 1, 1978, in testimony before the McDonald Commission
(a royal commission created by the federal government in 1977 to look into the
illegal activities of the RCMP, and headed by Justice David McDonald of the
Supreme Court of Alberta), the former RCMP commissioner stated that they did
indeed intercept mail on a very restricted basis and that the practice was not
one which had been concealed from Ministers. Mr. Lawrence claimed that this
statement clearly conflicted with the information he had received from the
Solicitor General some years earlier (Debates, November 3, 1978,
pp. 777‑92; November 8, 1978, p. 924;
November 9, 1978, pp. 964‑6). On December 6, Speaker
Jerome dealt with a number of points raised in the presentations on the
question of privilege and ruled the matter prima facie. Mr. Lawrence
then moved that the matter be referred to the Standing Committee on Privileges
and Elections for investigation and report. The motion was negatived on a
recorded division (Journals, November 9, 1978, pp. 125‑9;
December 6, 1978, pp. 221‑4; December 7, 1978,
pp. 228‑9). See also Speaker Milliken’s ruling on February 25,
2004 (Debates, p. 1047) where he was unable to find a prima
facie breach of privilege concerning misleading statements in the 1999‑2000
Report on Plans and Priorities of the Department of Public Works and Government
Services. The Speaker found no evidence to indicate that departmental officials
had deliberately intended to deceive and obstruct Members. He noted, however,
that if the Standing Committee on Public Accounts were to present the House
with such evidence, it could constitute grounds for raising a question of
Journals, March 21, 1978, p. 520. On February 22,
1978, John Rodriguez (Nickel Belt) rose on a question of privilege to
complain of possible surveillance activities undertaken against him (Debates,
February 22, 1978, p. 3129). The matter was raised again on
March 1 when Mr. Rodriguez argued that a bugging operation had taken
place and that it was a breach of privilege since it called into question the
privacy of communications between a Member and his constituents (Debates,
March 1, 1978, pp. 3348‑9). See also Debates, March 2,
1978, pp. 3384‑5; March 8, 1978, pp. 3571‑6;
March 9, 1978, pp. 3607‑9; March 16, 1978, pp. 3831‑2.
On March 21, after the Speaker found the question of privilege prima
facie, Mr. Rodriguez moved his motion, which was negatived on a recorded
division (Journals, March 21, 1978, pp. 520‑2, 525‑6).
See also Chapter 7, “The Speaker and Other Presiding Officers of the
Debates, December 22, 1976, p. 2241.
On March 16, 1993, Gilles Bernier (Beauce) raised a question of privilege
regarding comments made by Benoît Tremblay (Rosemont) and reported in a
newspaper, which cast doubts on the integrity and impartiality of Assistant
Deputy Chairman of Committees of the Whole Charles DeBlois (Debates,
March 16, 1993, p. 17027). The Speaker ruled that the matter was a prima
facie case of privilege and the matter was referred to the Standing
Committee on House Management (Journals, March 23, 1993, p. 2688,
Debates, pp. 17403‑5). On March 25, 1993, Mr. Tremblay
rose in the House and withdrew the offending comments (Debates, March 25, 1993,
p. 17537). No further action was taken and the Committee did not report on
 Peter MacKay (Pictou–Antigonish–Guysborough)
moved a motion that the matter be referred to the Standing Committee on
Procedure and House Affairs. Debate on the motion ensued, continued the next
day, and the motion was adopted with an amendment on a recorded division (Journals,
March 9, 1998, p. 540, Debates, pp. 4560‑75; Journals,
March 10, 1998, pp. 548, 550‑2, Debates, pp. 4592‑8,
4666‑8). On April 27, 1998, the Committee presented its Twenty‑Ninth
Report, which was concurred in by the House on May 5, 1998 (Journals,
April 27, 1998, p. 706; April 29, 1998, p. 722;
May 5, 1998, pp. 744‑5). On page 5 of its Report, the Committee
noted that the Members involved were adamant that they had not intended to
intimidate or threaten the Speaker in any way or show disrespect for the House
or the Speaker. It concluded that the statements attributed to the Members
“were not intended to be contemptuous of the House of Commons or the Speaker”.
 Debates, July 15, 1980,
pp. 2914‑5. On July 3, 1980, Bill Domm (Peterborough) rose on a
question of privilege to protest that not only had the Department of the
Secretary of State been ordered not to send him a list of the new Canadian
citizens in his constituency, but he had also been deliberately misled by
officials and personally supplied with false documents (Debates,
July 3, 1980, pp. 2540‑6; July 14, 1980, pp. 2855‑7).
In finding that there was no prima facie question of privilege, the
Speaker noted that the documents submitted by the Member did not clearly
indicate inaccuracies. Furthermore, even if they had been shown to be
incorrect, falsified or altered, which they had not, there was no indication
that the intent had been to deceive the House.
Debates, May 15, 1985, p. 4769. See also Debates,
October 9, 1997, pp. 687‑9; May
3, 2006, pp. 844‑5.
Debates, June 8, 2005, pp. 6826‑8. Don Boudria
(Glengarry–Prescott–Russell) also alleged that an external organization had
registered Internet domain names of certain Members without authorization, thus
creating confusion about the ownership of the Web sites (Debates,
May 31, 2005, pp. 6415‑8; June 2, 2005,
pp. 6564‑7). In his ruling, Speaker Milliken stated that it was
incumbent upon Members to register their own domain names, and that no Members
had been prevented from performing their parliamentary functions as a result of
the Web sites. See also Debates, March 29, 2007, pp. 8134‑5; May 2, 2007, pp. 8967‑8.
On October 26, 1987, John Nunziata (York South–Weston) rose on a question
of privilege regarding the alleged interception by the Correctional Service of
Canada of a telephone conversation between the Member’s office and an inmate of
Joyceville Penitentiary who was also a constituent. Mr. Nunziata alleged
that the inmate had been transferred to the maximum security penitentiary at
Millhaven and put in segregation as a result of the conversation. The Member
contended that his privileges as a Member had been breached with regard to his
ability to deal with constituents “in an unfettered fashion” and his privileges
as an Opposition critic for the Solicitor General had been breached with regard
to access to inmates and conducting conversations with them in private. The
Member also contended that, although he did not speak personally with the
inmate, his privileges as a Member must also extend to any staff working on his
behalf (Debates, October 26, 1987, pp. 10385‑7;
October 27, 1987, pp. 10447‑9). In ruling on the matter on
November 17, 1987, the Speaker indicated that he was unable to find
anything which would extend parliamentary privilege to the actions of the staff
of a Member. Indeed, the Speaker contended, even with the direct involvement of
the Member, he could not find that a prima facie case of privilege
existed. With regards to the Member’s status as an Opposition critic to the
Solicitor General, the Speaker stated that, although the position may bring
extra responsibilities, it does not afford any special privileges above those
of any other Member (Debates, November 17, 1987, pp. 10887‑9).