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House of Commons Procedure and Practice

Second Edition, 2009

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22. Public Petitions

Photo of a low relief Architectural Sculpture entitled “Dominion Memorial” from the Heritage Collection in the Hall of Honour.

Figure 22.1  Petitions Presented to the House of Commons Since 1917

Historical Perspective


Current Guidelines for Petitions


*    Form


Figure 22.2  Form of a Petition


Written, Typewritten or Printed on Paper of Usual Size

Alterations or Interlineations

Attachments, Appendices or Lengthy Extracts

Subject Matter Indicated on Every Sheet

Language, Wording and Style

*    Content

Matters Under the Authority of the House or the Federal Government

Requesting Expenditure of Public Funds

Signatures and Addresses

Committee Selection


Presentation of Petitions


*    Presentation During Routine Proceedings

*    Presentation by Filing with the Clerk of the House

*    Following Presentation

*    Copies of Petitions


Government Response to Petitions


All authorities agree that the right of petitioning parliament for redress of grievances is acknowledged as a fundamental principle of the constitution. It has been uninterruptedly exercised from very early times and has had a profound effect in determining the main forms of parliamentary procedure.

Speaker Gaspard Fauteux

(Debates, June 18, 1947, pp. 4278‑9)

Simply defined, a petition is a formal request to an authority for redress of a grievance. Public petitions, addressed to the House of Commons and presented to the House by its Members, constitute one of the most direct means of communication between the people and Parliament. Certainly, it is among the most ancient; the act of petitioning has been described as “the oldest of Parliamentary forms, the fertile seed of all proceedings of the House of Commons”.[1]

Petitions today may be described as a vehicle for political input, a way of attempting to influence policy‑making and legislation and also, judging by their continued popularity, a valued means of bringing public concerns to the attention of Parliament. Petitions also have their place among the tools which Members and Ministers can use to formulate public policy and to carry out their representative duties. In the early 1980s, after many years during which the presentation of petitions appeared to have fallen out of favour, a resurgence of interest occurred, which continues without abatement.[2] This is illustrated by Figure 22.1, which indicates the number of petitions presented during each session from the Seventh Session of the Twelfth Parliament (1917) to the First Session of the Fortieth Parliament (2008).

Figure 22.1 Petitions Presented to the House of Commons Since 1917


Figure 22.1 Petitions Presented to the House of Commons Since 1917

This chapter will concern itself with public petitions, the current rules regarding their form, content and presentation, government responses to petitions, and the role and responsibilities of the Clerk of Petitions. Petitions for private bills are dealt with in Chapter 23, “Private Bills Practice”.

[1] Redlich, J., The Procedure of the House of Commons: A Study of its History and Present Form, Vol. II, translated by A.E. Steinthal, New York: AMS Press, 1969 (reprint of 1908 ed.), p. 239.

[2] This may be attributed in part to the fact that the rules permit Members to initiate petitions, solicit signatures and make an oral presentation in the House; and in part to Members’ awareness that presenting large numbers of petitions serves not only to raise issues of public concern, but also to use time and so delay the business of the House (see note 7). The British House of Commons and the Australian House of Representatives have also experienced a similar renewal of interest in petitioning. See House of Representatives Practice, 5th ed., edited by I.C. Harris, Canberra: Department of the House of Representatives, 2005, pp. 612, 831‑3; May, T.E., Erskine May’s Treatise on The Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament, 21st ed., edited by C.J. Boulton, London: Butterworths, 1989, p. 761, note 3; May, 22nd ed., edited by Sir D. Limon and W.R. McKay, 1997, p. 816, note 2.

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While the right of the citizen to petition Parliament for redress of grievance is frequently referred to as fundamental, or as a fundamental constitutional principle,[3] the written Constitution is in fact silent on the matter. The recognition of this right is, however, well entrenched, based as it is on centuries‑old tradition and established precedent.

Petitioning the Crown (and later Parliament) for redress of a grievance originated in the time of the thirteenth‑century monarch Edward I. Petitioners had recourse to the Crown’s prerogative power, which was above the common law. Petitions granted to individuals and communities were in the nature of private laws; those granted to the nation as a whole made public laws.

In medieval times, before Parliament had assumed its present constitution and when its judicial and legislative functions were as yet undefined, Receivers and Triers of petitions appointed by the Crown travelled the country to hear the complaints of the people. Certain matters would be referred to local courts by the Triers, but others would be found appropriate for consideration by the High Court of Parliament.

As Parliament evolved from a primarily judicial to a predominantly legislative body with its judicial functions taken over by the courts, the character of petitions changed. By the end of the fourteenth century, legislative remedy was sought by individuals and corporations who petitioned Parliament or the House of Commons. At the same time, petitions from the Commons to the Crown—these being of a general nature and expressing national grievances—became frequent. The English Parliament’s first legislative acts occurred with the Commons petitioning the King for certain amendments to the law. This was the precursor to legislation by bill, as later the Commons assumed the task of drafting the desired statute which could then be accepted or rejected—but never amended—by the Crown. The seventeenth century saw the development of what may be considered the “modern” form of petition: addressed to Parliament, drawn up in a prescribed manner, usually dealing with public grievances.[4]

In Canada, provisions for petitions (long a feature of the pre‑Confederation legislative assemblies) have always been part of the written rules of the House.[5] The rules adopted in 1867 were somewhat expanded in 1910, and operated without substantial modification for some 76 years.[6] However, starting in the immediate post‑Confederation period, an extensive body of practice began to build, resulting in a collection of form and content requirements which were not codified in the Standing Orders but which had to be met in order for a petition to be received by the House.

In the early and mid‑1980s, the resurgence in the use of petitions led to a situation in which the presentation of petitions occupied large amounts of the time of the House, sometimes to the exclusion of other business.[7] As well, the Chair was at times called upon to intervene or rule on matters relating to the admissibility of petitions and the manner of their presentation.[8] As a consequence, the Special Committee on the Reform of the House of Commons (the McGrath Committee) made several recommendations intended to clarify the rules relating to petitions, to promote increased uniformity in their presentation, to ensure their admissibility as to content and to provide guidelines as to form and the petitioners’ signatures.[9] In 1986, the House adopted amendments to the Standing Orders based on these recommendations.[10]

The most significant of the changes adopted in 1986 was the requirement for certification of petitions by the Clerk of Petitions prior to their presentation in the House.[11] Also included were a number of requirements, some previously uncodified but well established by precedent and practice, to be met in order for petitions to be certified correct as to their form and content (for example, petitions must contain a prayer requesting action, must be respectful in tone and must bear original signatures). Guidelines issued by the Speaker made reference to these and to other established practices concerning the presentation of petitions during Routine Proceedings.[12] A new rule provided for mandatory government replies to petitions.

Several changes were adopted in 1987, in particular a new requirement that signatories to petitions must include their addresses.[13] As well, the number and sequence of Routine Proceedings rubrics was revised so that “Presenting Petitions”, formerly the fifth of nine items, became the ninth of ten.[14] In 1991, a further amendment set a limit of 15 minutes on the time provided for the presentation of petitions during Routine Proceedings.[15] An amendment adopted in 1994 provided that the original petitions be transmitted to the Ministry (Privy Council Office) and that government responses to petitions may be tabled by depositing them with the Clerk of the House.[16]

In 2003, the House simplified requirements for petitions, including the prayer for relief. The House amended Standing Order 36 to ensure: 

*       that certification be granted to petitions even if they are addressed to the government or a Minister or a Member;

*       that the minimum number of 25 signatures with addresses be maintained, although wording would be added to deal with the situation of persons who do not have a fixed address;

*       that certification be granted even if the full prayer is not shown on every sheet, so long as the subject matter is indicated; and

*       that certification be granted even when petitions call for the expenditure of public funds.[17]

The most important change was that the Standing Orders would be amended, for a one‑year trial period, to stipulate that, where a government response to a petition was not tabled in the House of Commons within 45 days, the matter of the failure of the Ministry to respond would be referred to the appropriate standing committee.[18] The House deemed it appropriate to renew this provisional order in the days leading up to the 38th general election, before making it permanent on October 29, 2004.[19]

[3] See, for example, Speaker Lamoureux’s ruling, Journals, June 7, 1972, pp. 361‑2; Speaker Fraser’s ruling, Debates, June 30, 1987, pp. 7821‑2. All six editions of Beauchesne describe petitioning as a fundamental principle of the Constitution.

[4] May, 10th ed., edited by Sir R.F.D. Palgrave and A. Bonham‑Carter, William Clowes and Sons, Limited, 1893, pp. 493‑5; Wilding, N. and Laundy, P., An Encyclopaedia of Parliament, 4th ed., London: Cassell & Company Ltd., 1972, pp. 561‑3, 620‑1; May, 23rd ed., edited by Sir W. McKay, LexisNexis UK, 2004, p. 932; Redlich, Vol. I, pp. 6‑25.

[5] Certain constituent parts of what is now Standing Order 36 can be traced to Rules 73, 80 and 85 to 87 used in the United Province in 1841, 1853 and 1860 respectively; and to the 1825 Rule 43 of the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada (O’Brien, G., “Pre-Confederation Parliamentary Procedure: The Evolution of Legislative Practice in the Lower Houses of Central Canada, 1792‑1866”, Ph.D. thesis, Carleton University, 1988, p. 442).

[6] Journals, December 20, 1867, pp. 116‑7, 122; April 29, 1910, pp. 535‑6; March 22, 1927, p. 339. See also Permanent and Provisional Standing Orders of the House of Commons, September 9, 1985, Standing Order 73.

[7] On May 19, 1983, because of the number of petitions presented, the Routine Proceedings occupied the balance of time available for that day’s proceedings (Journals, pp. 5910‑1, Debates, pp. 25591‑612). On December 19, 1985, 365 petitions were presented (including 7 filed with the Clerk); this is thought to be the largest number of petitions presented during a single sitting of the House. The Routine Proceedings were not completed and again the House was not able to return to Orders of the Day (Journals, pp. 1444‑8, Debates, pp. 9631‑7). See also, for October 27 and 28, 1983, Journals, pp. 6356‑9, 6362‑7, Debates, pp. 28393‑415, 28456‑85.

[8] See, for example, Debates, April 6, 1982, p. 16198; Journals, October 5, 1983, pp. 6264‑5.

[9] See pp. 44‑5 of the Third Report of the Special Committee on Reform of the House of Commons, presented to the House on June 18, 1985 (Journals, p. 839).

[10] The motion encompassing the proposals was tabled on February 6, 1986 (Journals, p. 1665), and adopted as amended on February 13, 1986 (Journals, p. 1710).

[11] Formerly, petitions were presented, examined, certified, and then received by the House. Once the Clerk of Petitions reported, the Speaker ruled whether the petition could be received. See for example, Debates, June 9, 1947, p. 3912; June 18, 1947, pp. 4278-9.

[12] On February 26, 1986, the Speaker wrote to all Members, drawing their attention to the changes in the Standing Orders concerning petitions and explaining the process by which petitions would henceforth be certified. The coming into force of the new rules left some Members holding uncertifiable petitions which would have been acceptable under the old rules (Debates, March 5, 1986, p. 11208). This difficulty was circumvented by the adoption of a Special Order allowing Members a limited period of time in which to file these petitions with the Clerk of the House (Journals, April 22, 1986, pp. 2048‑9).

[13] Journals, June 3, 1987, pp. 1016, 1026.

[14] Journals, June 3, 1987, pp. 1016‑8.

[15] Journals, April 11, 1991, pp. 2905, 2908‑9. This was one of an extensive package of amendments to the Standing Orders put forward by the government with a view to “modernizing” the rules and improving Parliament as a forum for debate (Debates, April 8, 1991, p. 19133). No particular reason was given for this change; however it is worth noting that the presentation of quantities of petitions had in the past resulted in disruption to the agenda of the House (see note 7); the institution of a time limit eliminated the risk of any recurrence of this.

[16] See the Twenty‑Seventh Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, presented to the House on June 8, 1994 (Journals, p. 545), and concurred in on June 10, 1994 (Journals, p. 563).

[17] See the First Report of the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons, par. 16, presented to the House on June 1, 2001 (Journals, p. 465), and concurred in on October 4, 2001 (Journals, pp. 691-3), in accordance with an Order made October 3, 2001 (Journals, p. 685). See also the Fourth Report of the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons, par. 37 to 39, presented to the House on June 12, 2003 (Journals, p. 915), and concurred in on September 18, 2003 (Journals, p. 995). The Committee was reconstituted early in the Second Session of the Thirty-Seventh Parliament (Journals, November 28, 2002, p. 236).

[18] See the Fourth Report of the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons, par. 40, presented to the House on June 12, 2003 (Journals, p. 915), and concurred in on September 18, 2003 (Journals, p. 995).

[19] The Twenty-Third Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, presented to the House and concurred in on April 26, 2004 (Journals, pp. 311-2), recommended that Standing Order 36(8)(b) remain in effect for the duration of the Thirty-Seventh Parliament and during the first 60 sitting days of the Thirty-Eighth Parliament. The Committee’s Eleventh Report, presented to the House and concurred in on October 29, 2004 (Journals, pp. 170-1), recommended that Standing Order 36(8)(b) be made permanent.

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Petitions have always been subject to verification by an official of the House of Commons. Amendments to the rules, adopted in 1910, made the first mention of the Clerk of Petitions as the person charged with this responsibility.[20] Until 1986, such verification took place after Members had presented their petitions; the Standing Orders now require petitions to be certified correct as to form and content by the Clerk of Petitions prior to being presented to the House.[21] Petitions not meeting the form and content requirements cannot be certified and only certified petitions can be presented to the House.[22]

Those engaged in drafting petitions may consult the Clerk of Petitions to ensure that the proposed text is in keeping with the rules and practices of the House. Once a petition has been signed and is ready to be certified, it is sent by a Member to the Clerk of Petitions, accompanied by a written request for certification. The Clerk of Petitions examines each petition received, including its signatures, to ensure that the form and content meet the requirements. If the petition is in order, a certificate signed by the Clerk of Petitions is attached and the petition is returned to the Member for presentation to the House. If the petition cannot be certified, it is returned to the Member with an explanatory note.

Any forgery or fraud in the preparation of petitions or signatures, or any complicity in or knowledge thereof may be dealt with as a breach of privilege.[23]

*   Form

A petition typically begins with a superscription identifying it as a petition and indicating that it is addressed to the House of Commons, the government, a Minister or a Member. This is followed by a statement identifying the petitioners; the petitioners then draw the attention of the addressee to a statement of grievance, which is generally set out in paragraph form. The final and essential part of the petition is a request, called a “prayer”, in which the petitioners specify the action they wish to see taken in response to their grievance. Then follow the signatures and addresses of the petitioners. The recommended form of petition is reproduced as Figure 22.2.


Until 2003, all petitions were to be addressed to the House of Commons or to the House of Commons in Parliament assembled. Since 2003, certification has also been granted to petitions addressed to the Government of Canada as a whole, a particular Minister of the Crown or a Member of Parliament.[24]

Figure 22.2 Form of a Petition


An image showing the format to be followed for the first and subsequent pages of a typical petition.


Petitions, to be certified for presentation to the House, must contain a prayer: that is, a clear, proper and respectful request that the House, the government, a Minister or a Member take, or refrain from taking, some sort of action, called the “remedy”, in response to an alleged grievance. Petitions without prayers—that is, documents consisting solely of statements of opinion or statements of grievance—cannot be accepted as petitions.[25] The action sought may also call for the expenditure of public funds.[26] A petition pertaining to a matter that falls outside the jurisdiction of the House or of the federal government—a matter under the jurisdiction of a provincial or municipal government, for example—cannot be certified for presentation to the House.[27] A petition requesting two (or more) actions may still be certified if one of the requests for intervention is not within the jurisdiction of the House or of the federal government.[28]

Written, Typewritten or Printed on Paper of Usual Size

To be certified, petitions must be written, typewritten or printed on paper of usual size.[29] The requirement for petitions to be written or printed has been part of the written rules since Confederation.[30] Electronic petitions cannot be certified.[31] Petitions with photocopied text are acceptable. Paper of “usual size” is interpreted nowadays to mean 21.5 cm x 28 cm (8.5 x 11 inches) or 21.5 cm x 35.5 cm (8.5 x 14 inches) sheets. Petitions produced on materials other than paper do not meet this requirement; likewise petitions of a non‑standard size will not be certified.[32]

Alterations or Interlineations

To be certified, a petition must be free of alterations or interlineations in its text:[33] that is, the text of a petition may not be altered by erasing words, crossing out words, or adding words or commentary.

Attachments, Appendices or Lengthy Extracts

In accordance with a practice established in 1876, a petition is not in order if it has letters, affidavits, or other documents appended or attached to it.[34] Material such as maps, pictures, news articles, explanatory or supporting statements attached or appended to petitions will render them unacceptable for certification and presentation to the House.[35] The proscription on attachments and appendices includes extraneous matter written, photocopied or affixed on the petition itself.[36] Petitions incorporating lengthy extracts from other documents or publications have also been deemed irregular.[37] A return address, however, may appear on the petition without constituting an obstacle to its certification. A petition printed on the back of another document (such as on the back of a Member’s householder or ten percenter) cannot be certified.[38]

Subject Matter Indicated on Every Sheet

When a petition consists of more than one sheet of signatures and addresses, each succeeding page is to contain an indication of the subject matter of the petition[39] so that petitioners are made fully aware of the nature of the document they are supporting. This is generally achieved by including the text of the prayer or a summary of the prayer at the top of each additional page, as shown in Figure 22.2.

Language, Wording and Style

Petitions may be written in either of the official languages.[40] They should be respectful and temperate in tone, and there should be no disrespect to the Sovereign or offensive imputation on the character or conduct of Parliament, the courts or any other constituted authority.[41] For many years, it was customary for petitions to be written in a formal style of expression, opening with the words

To the Honourable the House of Commons in Parliament assembled. The Petition of the undersigned … who now avail themselves of their ancient and undoubted right thus to present a grievance common to your Petitioners in the certain assurance that your honourable House will therefore provide a remedy, humbly sheweth

and closing with the words “and your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray”. A special committee recommended in 1985 that this traditional language, which it saw as archaic, no longer be used.[42] While petitions couched in the formal style continue to be presented, petitions employing more contemporary wording are equally acceptable to the House, as long as the import is the same. For example, in Figure 22.2, the opening and closing formulae quoted above do not appear, and the petitioners “request” that Parliament respond to their grievance rather than “humbly pray and call upon Parliament” to do so.

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*   Content

Matters Under the Authority of the House or the Federal Government

It has been said that the prayer of a petition must request action which is within the powers of the House or the federal government to take. Therefore, it follows that the petition as a whole must set forth a case where the House, the government, a Minister or a Member has the authority to intervene.[43] Matters of provincial or municipal responsibility or those which properly belong before a court of law or tribunal may not be made the subject of a petition to be presented to the House of Commons. Over the years, the House has chosen to delegate certain matters to the courts and other administrative and regulatory bodies. Petitions dealing with matters which the House has delegated to another body have not always been found acceptable.[44]

By virtue of parliamentary privilege, the House has the inherent right to decide matters affecting its own membership. The power of the House to expel one of its Members derives from its traditional authority to determine whether Members are qualified to sit. Therefore, petitions requesting the expulsion of a Member of Parliament have been considered unacceptable.[45]

Requesting Expenditure of Public Funds

Historically, petitions making direct requests for the expenditure of public funds which have not received the recommendation of the Crown (royal recommendation) have not been allowed to be received by the House.[46] At issue is the fundamental principle of the Crown’s initiative in respect of the expenditure of public money.[47] Many rulings from the Chair have upheld the practice of disallowing petitions involving the expenditure of public revenue[48] while at the same time seeking to preserve, without setting undue limitation on, the time‑honoured right of the citizen to petition the House for redress of a grievance. In 1869, when a petition was called into question because it appeared to request a grant of public funds not recommended by the Crown, the Speaker defined it as a request for legislation rather than money, thus creating a distinction between direct requests, which could not be accepted, and indirect requests (later described as requests for legislation or for “such measures as the House may think expedient to take”), which could be accepted.[49] In 1987, the Speaker upheld the decision of the Clerk of Petitions to reject a petition calling upon Parliament to provide federal funding to the provinces and territories for non‑profit child care, but went on to make the following observation:

The right to petition Parliament is fundamental to our parliamentary system, and it is not unreasonable to assume that the remedy, in many a situation, could only be found through the expenditure of public funds. A petitioner is entitled to petition for relief in a burdensome situation, so that a mere change in wording could well render a petition in order which might otherwise be out of order. A petition praying for the enactment of a measure which would provide the relief being sought might avoid the restriction imposed by our practice.[50]

In September 2003, the Standing Orders were amended to allow certification even when petitions call for the expenditure of public funds.[51]

Signatures and Addresses

From 1867 until 1986, it was possible for a lone individual to petition the House. The amendments to the Standing Orders adopted in 1986 introduced a new requirement that a petition, to be certified, would have to contain at least 25 signatures.[52] In 1987, a further amendment added the requirement for addresses as well as signatures.[53] Since 2003, signatures must be accompanied by the petitioners’ addresses, when they have a fixed place of residence.[54] Petitioners must not sign for anyone else. If a petitioner cannot sign because of illness or a disability, this must be noted on the petition and the note signed by a witness. There is no minimum age requirement for anyone signing a petition. One person cannot sign for an assembly. Written addresses may be in the form of complete home addresses, or simply the names of the petitioners’ municipality and province of residence, or province and postal code.

Petitions must contain original signatures written directly on the document and not pasted on or otherwise transferred to it.[55] In 1872, a petition received by telegraph was ruled out of order because it contained no original signatures;[56] in 1986, the Speaker ruled that for the same reason, photocopied signatures were unacceptable.[57] Some signatures and addresses must appear on the first sheet with the text of the prayer. Signatures and addresses may appear on the reverse of the petition. A Member may sign a petition, but should ask another Member to present it.[58] However, the signatures of Members inscribed on petitions are not counted toward the required 25 signatures and addresses.[59]

Petitions signed exclusively by non‑resident aliens have traditionally been found unacceptable.[60] However, in 1984 a petition signed by Canadian citizens as well as by foreigners was received with the unanimous consent of the House;[61] in a similar situation arising in 1990, the Speaker ruled that the right of Canadians to petition their House of Commons would be better served if such petitions, provided they were otherwise in order, could be presented notwithstanding the presence of “the occasional signature of a non‑Canadian not resident in Canada”.[62] The signatures of non-residents are not counted toward the required 25 signatures and addresses.

Committee Selection

The Standing Orders require that the government reply to a petition within 45 calendar days. If a petition remains without a response at the expiration of this time, a standing committee of the House is required to look into the reason. A certified petition returned to a Member will be accompanied by a form, to be signed by the Member, on which the Member must indicate the committee to which the matter of the failure of the Ministry to respond to the petition within 45 days will be referred if applicable. This form must accompany the certified petition when the petition is presented to the House.

[20] Journals, April 29, 1910, pp. 535‑6, Debates, cols. 8365‑7. See also Rules of the House of Commons of Canada, 1910, Rule 75.

[21] Standing Order 36(1).

[22] On rare occasions, petitions failing to satisfy form and content requirements (and thus not certified) have been presented with the unanimous consent of the House (Journals, February 18, 1987, p. 503, Debates, p. 3568; Journals, June 12, 2003, p. 918, Debates, pp. 7222-3; Journals, November 2, 2007, p. 137, Debates, p. 753). On June 12, 2003, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons rose to speak on this issue, noting that the petitions in question seemed to comply with the new criteria set out in the Fourth Report of the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons, presented to the House earlier in the sitting (Journals, p. 915). That report was concurred in on September 18, 2003 (Journals, p. 995). In an unusual proceeding in 1992, unanimous consent was given for an uncertified petition to be “received” by the House—although the Standing Orders no longer provide for petitions to be received—and referred to a standing committee for consideration (Journals, November 18, 1992, p. 2070).

[23] Bourinot, Sir J.G., Parliamentary Procedure and Practice in the Dominion of Canada, 4th ed., edited by T.B. Flint, Toronto: Canada Law Book Company, 1916, p. 237. While doubts have been expressed from time to time concerning the authenticity of signatures (see, for example, Debates, May 21, 1885, pp. 2023‑9; October 28, 1983, pp. 28475‑9), no breach of privilege alleging fraud or forgery in the preparation of petitions has yet been found.

[24] Standing Order 36(2)(a).

[25] Journals, March 22, 1876, p. 180; Debates, April 23, 1879, pp. 1453‑4.

[26] Standing Order 36(2)(b).

[27] On one occasion pre‑dating the requirement for certification, a Member presented a petition concerning safety at a certain street intersection in her constituency. The Speaker suggested that such petitions be directed to the competent municipal authority. The Clerk of Petitions later reported that this petition had failed to meet the requirements as to form (Debates, June 11, 1985, p. 5648; Journals, June 12, 1985, p. 796).

[28] May, 23rd ed., p. 936.

[29] Standing Order 36(2)(c).

[30] See Rule 86, adopted on December 20, 1867 (Journals, p. 122).

[31] Debates, May 29, 2000, pp. 7152-3. In September 2003, the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons recommended that a system for electronic petitions be developed and asked the Clerk to develop options and a proposal for electronic petitions, for submission to and approval by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. See the Fourth Report of the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons, par. 41 and 42, presented to the House on June 12, 2003 (Journals, p. 915), and concurred in on September 18, 2003 (Journals, p. 995). In February 2005, the Clerk, accompanied by other House officials, appeared before the Committee to present the key issues involved in using the Parliament of Canada Web site for this purpose, including the authenticity of signatures, the uniformity of the rules and practices that apply to paper petitions as well as to electronic petitions, the level of interactivity with and participation by citizens, the culture of petitions, and the cost and infrastructure. See Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, Evidence, February 3, 2005, Meeting No. 18, pp. 1‑13. See also the Twenty-Sixth Report of the Committee, presented to the House and concurred in on February 9, 2005 (Journals, pp. 407‑8), in which the Committee mentioned that Members still had questions and concerns, and that it would report to the House on electronic petitions at a future date. No report has been tabled since then.

[32] Prior to the adoption of this rule, petitions of unusual style were presented from time to time and judged by the Clerk of Petitions to be in accordance with the prevailing requirements as to form. See, for example, Debates, December 10, 1974, p. 2099; Journals, December 11, 1974, p. 187; Debates, April 6, 1982, p. 16196; Journals, April 7, 1982, p. 4698‑A.

[33] Standing Order 36(2)(d).

[34] Debates, March 28, 1876, pp. 867‑8; February 23, 1978, p. 3200.

[35] On one occasion, a Member received unanimous consent to present a white ribbon with his petition (Journals, November 26, 2004, p. 265, Debates, p. 1978).

[36] May, 23rd ed., pp. 934-5.

[37] Bourinot, 4th ed., p. 235.

[38] The Board of Internal Economy defines a householder as “printed material used by Members to communicate their activities to their constituents”, and a ten percenter as “printed or photocopied material with the name of the Member reproduced in a quantity not exceeding 10 percent of the total number of households in a Member’s constituency”.

[39] Standing Order 36(2)(e).

[40] Bourinot, 4th ed., p. 235. See also the Official Languages Act, R.S. 1985, c. 31 (4th Supp.), s. 22. Petitions written in a language other than English or French may be accepted provided that the text of the petition is also available in one of the two official languages.

[41] Bourinot, 4th ed., p. 231. See, for example, Journals, March 30, 1905, p. 234; April 5, 1909, p. 234.

[42] See p. 45 of the Third Report of the Special Committee on Reform of the House of Commons, presented to the House on June 18, 1985 (Journals, p. 839). The modern wording was not, however, proposed until several years later by the Clerk of Petitions with the approval of the Clerk of the House.

[43] Journals, February 16, 1956, p. 163; June 7, 1972, pp. 361‑2.

[44] For example, petitions questioning the return of a Member were not received because the House had vested in the courts the responsibility for matters relating to the election of Members (Journals, April 20, 1874, p. 82; February 15, 1881, pp. 199‑200). On the other hand, petitions concerning the Canadian Radio‑television and Telecommunications Commission, the independent agency regulating the broadcasting system, have at different times been rejected (Journals, June 7, 1972, pp. 361‑2; October 24, 1973, pp. 591‑2) and accepted (Debates, April 30, 1984, p. 3235; Journals, May 1, 1984, p. 400).

[45] See Maingot, J.P.J., Parliamentary Privilege in Canada, 2nd ed., Montreal: House of Commons and McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1997, pp. 47, 188, 247; May, 23rd ed., p. 146; Harvey v. New Brunswick (Attorney General), [1996] 2 S.C.R. 876; Canada (House of Commons) v. Vaid, [2005] 1 S.C.R. 667. See also Chapter 4, “The House of Commons and Its Members”.

[46] Journals, May 7, 1868, p. 297. For historical background on the principles underlying this long‑standing convention, see Redlich, Vol. III, pp. 119‑24.

[47] See section 54 of the Constitution Act, 1867 (R.S. 1985, Appendix II, No. 5), which states that the House shall not adopt or pass any vote, resolution, address or bill for the appropriation of any part of the public revenue that has not been first recommended to the House by a message from the Governor General, that is, by a royal recommendation.

[48] For example, see Journals, February 5, 1912, p. 181; August 24, 1946, p. 767. A petition praying for an increase to the old age pension was allowed because the Royal Recommendation had been granted to a bill having the same purpose (Journals, May 19, 1947, p. 423).

[49] Journals, April 20, 1869, pp. 22‑3.

[50] Debates, June 30, 1987, p. 7821.

[51] Standing Order 36(2)(b).

[52] Journals, February 13, 1986, p. 1710.

[53] Journals, June 3, 1987, pp. 1016, 1026.

[54] Standing Order 36(2)(g).

[55] Standing Order 36(2)(f).

[56] Journals, May 3, 1872, p. 80.

[57] Debates, January 24, 1986, p. 10143.

[58] May, 23rd ed., p. 938.

[59] Standing Order 36(2)(g).

[60] See, for example, Journals, October 5, 1983, pp. 6264‑5.

[61] Debates, November 20, 1984, pp. 412‑3.

[62] Debates, December 19, 1990, pp. 16963‑4.

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As outsiders are not permitted to address the House directly, petitions must be presented by Members. Therefore, groups and individuals with petitions for the House must enlist the aid of Members to have their petitions certified and presented. Members are not bound to present petitions and cannot be compelled to do so;[63] nevertheless, it is evident that many Members consider it a duty to present to the House petitions brought forward by citizens.[64] The Member, whose role it is to make the presentation on behalf of the petitioners, is not required to be in agreement with the content of any petition he or she may choose to present, and no such inference is to be drawn.[65]

Once they have been certified by the Clerk of Petitions, petitions are ready for presentation to the House and are returned to the Members who submitted them. A certified petition is not to be altered or tampered with in any way; nor is the certificate to be removed. No rule or practice specifies a time period during which a petition must be presented following its certification; nor must a petition necessarily be presented by the Member who had it certified.[66] The Speaker has observed that various reasons might prevent a Member from presenting a certified petition expeditiously, but has also found merit in the view that petitions ought to be presented promptly after certification so that petitioners may have confidence that petitions brought to the House are answered as quickly as possible.[67]

Petitions are presented by Members, including Ministers.[68] The Speaker traditionally does not present petitions, but instead asks the assistance of another Member to do so. This practice originated in the British House of Commons of the late eighteenth century, a time when petitions were routinely debated. Presenting petitions would have led to the Speaker participating in the proceedings of the House, which would have been at odds with the essential neutrality of the Chair.[69] In choosing to present a petition, a Member must be satisfied of its fitness and regularity, for it is a long‑standing rule of the House that the Member is answerable for any improprieties and impertinences therein.[70] In addition, the Member presenting a petition must endorse it (i.e., sign the back of the petition, or the back of the first page).[71]

Certified petitions may be presented in two ways: orally during Routine Proceedings[72] or by filing them with the Clerk of the House during any sitting of the House.[73] In practice, the majority of petitions are presented during Routine Proceedings.[74]

*   Presentation During Routine Proceedings

Certified petitions are presented daily during Routine Proceedings, under the rubric “Presenting Petitions”. A maximum of 15 minutes is provided for the presentation of petitions.[75] To be recognized, Members must be in their assigned places.[76] Members with more than one petition to present on a given day are advised to present them all when given the floor, as individual Members are recognized by the Chair only once during “Presenting Petitions”.[77] The Chair has on occasion limited the number of petitions presented at one time by a single Member to five.[78] This allows more Members to be recognized within the 15‑minute time limitation.

No debate is permitted during the presentation of petitions.[79] Any comment on the merits of a petition—even a Member’s personal agreement or disagreement with the petitioners—has been deemed to constitute a form of debate and is therefore out of order.[80] Members are permitted a brief factual statement, in the course of which they may allude to the petition being duly certified, to its source, to the subject matter of the petition and its prayer, and the number of signatures it carries.[81] In any event, petitions are not to be read in their entirety and Members presenting them should avoid straying into debate or argument.[82] In view of the limited time available and of the number of Members with petitions to present on any given day, the Chair is generally quick to intervene when Members appear to be making speeches, indulging in debate, or launching on the lengthy reading of the full text of a petition.

*   Presentation by Filing with the Clerk of the House

Since 1910, Members have had the option of presenting petitions at any time during a sitting of the House, by filing them with the Clerk of the House.[83] The Member may approach the Table, or may hand the certified and endorsed (with a signature on the back of the petition or on the back of the first page) petition to a page, with instructions to deliver it to the Table where it is received by the Clerk or by a Table Officer on behalf of the Clerk.

*   Following Presentation

When petitions are presented during Routine Proceedings, the Members’ remarks are recorded, transcribed and published in the Debates for that day. An entry is also made in the Journals, the official record of House proceedings. The petitions are listed as having been certified correct and presented pursuant to the Standing Orders. Petitions filed with the Clerk are not mentioned in the Debates, but they are listed in the Journals. Certified petitions once presented to the House (by either method) are forwarded to the Privy Council Office, which is responsible for their reception and processing. The petitions ultimately end up in the Library and Archives Canada collection.

Petitions have been presented which were later found to be uncertified; in such cases, while the Debates contain the transcription of the Members’ remarks, the petitions in question are not recorded in the Journals.[84] They are examined by the Clerk of Petitions; if in order, they are certified and then filed with the Clerk on the Member’s behalf; only then is the presentation noted in the Journals. If the petitions cannot be certified, they are returned to the Members. On one occasion, a Member who attempted to present an uncertified petition was called to order and admonished by the Chair.[85]

*   Copies of Petitions

Anyone who wishes to read or consult a petition after it has been presented may do so by making arrangements with one’s Member of Parliament. The Privy Council Office will produce a photocopy of a petition, including the signatures, for the Member who presented the same to the House of Commons, while it will produce a photocopy of a petition, excluding the signatures, for any other Member.

[63] Bourinot, 4th ed., p. 232.

[64] See, for example, the general discussion on petitions on February 13, 1990 (Debates, pp. 8233‑42). In presenting petitions, Members occasionally make reference to their “duty” in this regard (Debates, December 1, 1981, p. 13549; October 20, 1989, p. 4953; March 14, 1994, p. 2226).

[65] Debates, November 25, 1986, pp. 1501, 1505; February 25, 1994, pp. 1863‑4.

[66] See Debates, October 21, 1997, p. 878; June 12, 2003, pp. 7222-3 (petitions presented on behalf of a Member who had resigned).

[67] Debates, May 28, 1987, pp. 6500‑1; September 22, 1987, p. 9172; March 8, 1988, p. 13490.

[68] See, for example, Debates, December 12, 1991, p. 6176; Journals, March 24, 2005, p. 570; October 18, 2005, p. 1170; June 5, 2007, p. 1477; April 10, 2008, p. 693.

[69] Bourinot, 4th ed., p. 231. See also Debates, April 23, 1879, pp. 1453‑4; March 23, 1987, pp. 4433‑4. Other Presiding Officers have presented petitions. See, for example, Journals, October 26, 1994, p. 829 (Bob Kilger, Assistant Deputy Chairman of Committees of the Whole); June 19, 1995, p. 1784 (Shirley Maheu, Deputy Chairman of Committees of the Whole); February 9, 2005, p. 408 (Chuck Strahl, Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole).

[70] Standing Order 36(3). This has been part of the written rules since Confederation.

[71] Standing Order 36(4).

[72] Standing Order 36(6).

[73] Standing Order 36(5).

[74] Statistics compiled by the Clerk of Petitions indicate that 1,684 of 1,804 petitions presented in the First Session of the Thirty‑Ninth Parliament (2006-07) were presented orally during Routine Proceedings.

[75] Standing Order 36(6). Rarely is the entire 15 minutes taken up. See, for example, Debates, March 13, 1995, pp.10393‑6; December 12, 2002, p. 2599.

[76] Standing Order 36(6).

[77] Debates, October 28, 1983, p. 28457; June 11, 1985, p. 5649; November 7, 1986, pp. 1190‑1. Exceptionally, the Speaker recognized Alexa McDonough (Halifax) twice during Routine Proceedings on June 21, 2005 (Debates, pp. 7509-10), and Meili Faille (Vaudreuil–Soulanges) twice during Routine Proceedings on June 6, 2007 (Debates, pp. 10215‑6).

[78] Debates, November 51999, p. 1192.

[79] Standing Order 36(7).

[80] Debates, April 27, 1994, p. 3576; June 22, 1995, p. 14413; November 4, 1996, pp. 6068‑9; March 22, 2000, p. 5008; October 25, 2002, p. 921; June 16, 2006, p. 2503. Members had been known to inform the House of their personal views as they presented petitions. See, for example, Debates, June 9, 1947, p. 3912; March 29, 1985, p. 3510; April 26, 1994, p. 3483; February 4, 2004, p. 113. In the latter case, the Deputy Speaker ruled that he would not tolerate Members making comments about their own petitions, or about their colleagues’ petitions.

[81] Debates, April 26, 1989, p. 975.

[82] See, for example, Debates, April 6, 1982, p. 16198; March 14, 1990, p. 9284; September 16, 1991, p. 2173; December 8, 1992, pp. 14806‑7; May 7, 1993, pp. 19111‑2; September 28, 1998, p. 8474; May 13, 2004, p. 3117.

[83] Standing Order 36(5).

[84] On May 22, 1992, two Members presented petitions which were not recorded in that day’s Journals (Journals, p. 1546, Debates, pp. 11088‑9).

[85] Debates, May 15, 1992, p. 10794.

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Since 1986, the Standing Orders have provided that the Ministry shall respond within 45 calendar days to every petition referred to it.[86] After certified petitions are presented to the House, they are deposited with the Clerk of Petitions. Under the authority of the Clerk of the House, the original petition is forwarded to the Privy Council Office,[87] which makes arrangements with the appropriate government departments and agencies for the preparation and collection of replies. Government responses to petitions are generally tabled in the House during Routine Proceedings, under the rubric “Tabling of Documents”, but may also be deposited with the Clerk.[88] Petitions receive individual responses. Any Member who has presented a petition is provided with a copy of the response at the time it is tabled. After being tabled in the House, government responses to petitions (unlike the petitions themselves) become sessional papers.[89]

The tabling of government responses to petitions is entered in the Journals. If the tabling is done during Routine Proceedings, the government spokesperson, usually the Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader, simply informs the House that responses to a certain number of petitions are being tabled; no reference is made to specific petitions or the content of the responses, and the intervention is transcribed in the Debates.

Until very recently, the Standing Orders provided no sanction to apply in the event the government failed to respond to petitions within the prescribed 45‑day time frame. Complaints have been raised about breaches of this rule.[90] In 1993, however, the Speaker found a prima facie question of privilege concerning the failure to table an Order in Council and in his ruling made reference to earlier complaints that responses to petitions, answers to written questions and responses to committee reports were not always tabled within the prescribed time limits.[91] The matter of timeliness was referred to the standing committee dealing with matters of privilege, which stated in a report to the House that “statutory and procedural time limits must be complied with … It may be that the time periods set out in the Standing Orders and certain statutes need to be reviewed … Until this is done, however, it is essential that the deadlines be respected”.[92]

In September 2003, the House made a significant change to Standing Order 36(8)(b), ensuring that the failure of the government to respond to a written question within the requested 45 days would automatically be referred to the appropriate standing committee, which must consider the lack of a government response within five sitting days.[93] The House was of the opinion that this procedure, like the change introduced in 2001 regarding written questions,[94] would have a salutary effect in that it would encourage Ministers and departments to comply with the timelines and requirements in the Standing Orders.[95]

While normally all proceedings would be terminated when Parliament is prorogued, the Speaker has ruled that government responses to petitions have the same status as Orders for Return (documents which the House has ordered to be produced and presented to the House).[96] Pursuant to the rules, such orders are considered to have been readopted at the start of a new session without a motion to that effect.[97] Thus, government responses to petitions, ordered in a previous session, must be tabled in the new session following a prorogation.[98] Standing Order 36(8)(b) no longer applies, however, to petitions from a previous session that remain unanswered in the new session.

[86] Standing Order 36(8).

[87] From 1986 to 1994, a copy of each petition was forwarded to the Privy Council Office. Since the Standing Order changes in 1994, the original petition is now transmitted to the Privy Council Office.

[88] See, for example, Journals, September 7, 2008, pp. 1037, 1046‑7 (depositing with the Clerk); June 19, 2008, p. 1023 (tabling during Routine Proceedings).

[89] A sessional paper is any document tabled (or deemed tabled) in the House during a given session and as such is available for public scrutiny.

[90] See, for example, Debates, February 8, 1993, pp. 15560‑2.

[91] Debates, April 19, 1993, pp. 18104‑6.

[92] See the One Hundred and First Report of the Standing Committee on House Management, deemed tabled on September 8, 1993 (Journals, p. 3338).

[93] See the Fourth Report of the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons, par. 40, presented to the House on June 12, 2003 (Journals, p. 915), and concurred in on September 18, 2003 (Journals, p. 995).

[94] See the First Report of the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons, par. 17 and 18, presented to the House on June 1, 2001 (Journals, p. 465), and concurred in on October 4, 2001 (Journals, pp. 691-3), in accordance with an Order made October 3, 2001 (Journals, p. 685).

[95] This procedure has had to be resorted to on a few occasions. See, for example, Journals, March 22, 2004, p. 183 (the first time this procedure was used).

[96] Debates, June 27, 1986, p. 14969.

[97] Standing Order 49.

[98] See, for example, Journals, October 17, 2007, pp. 8‑9, when responses to petitions presented in the First Session of the Thirty‑Ninth Parliament were tabled early in the Second Session.

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