Tuesday, March 6, 2012

HouseWatch - Pack your bags, Anonymous! You're coming to committee!

Hot off the House of Commons presses: Speaker Scheer concurs with Public Safety Minister Vic Toews that the A/anonymous Youtube videos constitute a prima facie breach of privilege, and invites him to move the appropriate motion to send the matter to Procedure and House Affairs for further consideration, which - due to some honourable members having voiced their dissent - will be put to a recorded division later today.

The full text of his ruling:

I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on February 27, 2012, by the Minister of Public Safety (Mr. Toews) regarding cyber campaigns following the introduction in the House by him of Bill C-30, An Act to enact the Investigating and Preventing Criminal Electronic Communications Act and to amend the Criminal Code and other Acts.

I would like to thank the Minister for having raised these matters, as well as the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons (Mr. Van Loan), the Minister of Foreign Affairs (Mr. Baird), the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons (Mr. Lukiwski), the House Leader of the Official Opposition (Mr. Comartin), the Member for Toronto Centre (Mr. Rae), the Member for Bas-Richelieu--Nicolet--B├ęcancour (Mr. Plamondon), the Member for Saanich--Gulf Islands (Ms. May) and the Member for Westmount--Ville-Marie (Mr. Garneau) for their interventions.

In raising his question of privilege, the Minister raised three issues, each of which he believed to be a contempt of the House. The first concerned the use of House resources for the so-called vikileaks30 account on Twitter, which he claimed was used to attack him personally, thereby degrading his reputation and obstructing him from carrying out his duties as a Member of Parliament.

The Interim Leader of the Liberal Party then rose to inform the House that he himself had intended to rise on a question of privilege, having been informed February 26 that it was an employee of the Liberal Research Bureau who had been responsible for the vikileaks30 site. The Interim Leader offered his unequivocal apology and that of the Liberal Party to the Minister. In view of this unconditional apology made personally by the Member and on behalf of his party as a whole, and in keeping with what has been done in similar circumstances in the past, I am prepared to consider this particular aspect of the question of privilege closed. I also wish to inform the House that the House of Commons Policy on Acceptable Use of Information Technology Resources was applied in this case, given that an unacceptable use of House IT resources occurred.

The Minister also raised the matter of an apparent campaign to inundate his office with calls, emails and faxes. This, he contended, hindered him and his staff from serving his constituents, and prevented constituents with legitimate needs from contacting their Member of Parliament in a timely fashion.

As the Member for Windsor--Tecumseh reminded the House, my predecessor Speaker Milliken was faced with a similar situation in 2005, in a matter raised by the former Member for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell. In his ruling on June 8, 2005, Speaker Milliken concluded that, while the Member had a legitimate grievance that the normal functioning of parliamentary offices had been affected, the Members involved and their constituents had still maintained the ability to communicate through several means. Thus, he could not find that it was a prima facie case of privilege as the Members were not impeded in their ability to perform their parliamentary duties.

Having reviewed the facts in the current case, I must draw the same conclusion on this second aspect of the question of privilege.

This brings us to the third, and what I consider to be the most troubling, issue raised in the question of privilege, that of the videos posted on the Web site, YouTube, by the so-called Anonymous on February 18, 22 and 25, 2012. These videos contained various allegations about the Minister`s private life, and made specific and disturbing threats. The Minister has stated that he accepts that coping with vigorous debate and sometimes overheated rhetoric are part of the job of a politician, but argued that these online attacks directed to both him and his family had crossed the line into threatening behaviour that was unacceptable. He contended that the threatened actions contained in these videos constituted a deliberate attempt to intimidate him with respect to proceedings in Parliament.

In House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, it states:

"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."

In spite of the able arguments advanced by the Member for Westmount - Ville-Marie, the Chair is in no doubt that the House has full jurisdiction to decide the matter. As is noted at page 108 of O'Brien and Bosc:

"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."

Those who enter political life fully expect to be held accountable for their actions -- to their constituents, and to those who are concerned with the issues and initiatives they may advocate. In a healthy democracy, vigorous debate on issues is encouraged. In fact, the rules and procedures of this House are drafted to allow for proponents and opponents to discuss in a respectful manner even the most difficult and sensitive of matters. However, when duly-elected Members are personally threatened for their work in parliament - whether introducing a bill, making a statement, or casting a vote, this House must take the matter very seriously.

As noted by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House, threats or attempts to influence a Member's actions are considered to be breaches of privilege.

I have carefully reviewed the online videos in which the language used does indeed constitute a direct threat to the Minister in particular, as well as all other Members. These threats demonstrate a flagrant disregard of our traditions and a subversive attack on the most fundamental privileges of this House. As your Speaker and the guardian of those privileges, I have concluded that this aspect - the videos posted on the Internet by Anonymous - therefore constitutes a prima facie question of privilege and I invite the Minister to move his motion.

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