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 A guide for witnesses appearing before Senate Committees


The Role of Senate Committees

Order of Reference

Before the Meeting

Clerk of the Committee

An Invitation to Appear before a Committee

Briefs and Presentations

The Day of the Meeting

Facilities for the Disabled

Role of the Chairperson

Presentation of Your Brief

Parliamentary Privilege

After the Meeting

Editorial Corrections by Witnesses

Complimentary Copy of the Proceedings of the Committee


Suggestions for Witnesses appearing before a Committee



The Role of Senate Committees

A committee performs work referred to it by the Senate through an order of reference. Committees study proposed legislation or bills, government expenditures (the estimates), and conduct special studies. When a committee has completed its work, or a part thereof, it presents its findings, recommendations or decisions in the form of a report to the Senate.

Committee work is important because it gives senators an opportunity to examine in detail the subject under review. This examination process usually includes hearings, which allow senators to question groups and individuals on their views. Senate committee reports have been generally well received throughout the years and at times have influenced public policy development in Canada.

There are two types of select committees: standing committees permanently established by the Senate Rules and special committees appointed to study a specific order of reference. Select committees can establish subcommittees as necessary. In addition, the Senate and the House of Commons can create standing joint committees or special joint committees.

The average Senate committee ranges in size from 12 to 15 members. Committee membership generally reflects the standings of the political parties in the Senate itself.


Order of Reference

An order of reference is the parliamentary term for a task delegated to a committee by the Senate. A committee's order of reference may be as all-encompassing as: (i) a major investigation into a broad policy issue; (ii) the detailed study of proposed legislation after second reading; or, (iii) the study of a specific subject matter such as the pre-study of a bill. The committee is bound by the terms of its order of reference, which sets the mandate of the committee and, in the case of special studies, the date it must report back to the Senate. A committee can have more than one order of reference at a time.

When a standing committee receives an order of reference, it is authorized under Rule 90 of the Senate Rules to invite persons to submit briefs or to testify before it. This rule also applies when the Senate permits a standing committee to travel for the purpose of holding hearings outside Ottawa. In the case of special committees, their orders of reference must provide the authority to obtain briefs and hear witnesses.


The Clerk of the Committee

The clerk of the committee is responsible for providing procedural advice and performing administrative duties for the committee. The clerk takes directions from the chairperson and the other members of the committee.

The clerk is a permanent employee of the Senate and is strictly non-partisan. He or she is knowledgeable in the procedure and administrative policies and is the person to whom you should direct any questions.

An Invitation to Appear before a Committee

Committees regularly invite private individuals, experts, groups and organizations, lobbyists, public servants and ministers of the Crown to appear before them in order to receive information relevant to the study currently under consideration. Individuals or groups interested in a study being carried out by a committee may make a request to appear before that committee.

Committees select witnesses based largely on two criteria: the knowledge or interest of the witnesses and the amount of time available for the committee to conduct its work. Often, committees are unable to hear the testimony of all those who wish to

appear. Nonetheless, committees will receive written briefs from any and all interested parties.

Once the committee decides who will be invited to give evidence, the clerk will contact them, giving the date, time and place of the meeting.

Briefs and Presentations

When transmitting the committee's invitation to a witness, the clerk will specify whether or not the committee expects to receive a written brief.

The Preparation of Briefs


(a) Briefs may be submitted in either English or French.

(b) When a brief is submitted in one official language only, it should be sent to the clerk at least one week in advance, when circumstances permit, to allow for translation. Briefs are distributed to committee members in both official languages.

Witnesses from federal government departments and agencies are required to submit their briefs in both official languages.


(a) The brief should be succinct, generally not exceeding 10 pages.

(b) The brief should provide factual information to substantiate the views expressed.

(c) Any recommendations should be as specific as possible, particularly when proposing amendments to legislation.


(a) In addition to the hard copy, it is useful to provide a diskette to the clerk. Microsoft Word or ASCII formats are preferred.

(b) The name and address of the person, association or organization submitting the brief must be clearly indicated.

(c) Recommendations should be summarized at the end.

(d) Numbered endnotes are preferred to footnotes.

(e) Logos, graphs, tables and diagrams should be in black ink as other colours may not photocopy well.

(f) Any separate photographs accompanying the submission should be in black and white and on glossy paper.

Other requirements:

(a) If a witness requires audio-visual equipment, the clerk must be informed at least two working days before the meeting.

(b) If a witness does not submit a brief in advance, but wants to circulate one at the meeting, it is advisable to bring 25 English and 15 French copies.

(c) Unless a witness indicates otherwise, a brief will not be circulated outside of the committee until the date of the hearing.


Facilities for the Disabled

All parliamentary buildings have entrances adapted for the disabled; parking spots are also available. All committee rooms are fully accessible. Some washrooms can accommodate wheelchairs; these are located on the first floor in Centre Block, second floor in East Block and sixth floor in the Victoria Building. If a witness requires further information or additional facilities, the clerk should be consulted.

The Role of the Chairperson

The chairperson is a senator elected from among the members of the committee to preside over its meetings. The chairperson maintains order and decorum, recognizes members to speak, and rules on questions of procedure.

The chairperson is responsible for introducing the witness to the committee, and inviting the witness to make a statement and to respond to the questions that usually follow.

Presentation of your Brief

Upon arrival at the committee room, it is suggested that witnesses introduce themselves to the committee clerk. The clerk will explain the format and show the witnesses where they will sit while speaking to the committee.

At the outset of the meeting, the chairperson indicates the order in which witnesses will be heard and introduces the first witnesses to the committee. Presentations by witnesses usually last 10 to 15 minutes, followed by questions from the members of the committee (see Appendix A). The committee sets its own guidelines for questioning witnesses.

All witnesses have the right to address any committee in either official language. Simultaneous interpretation is provided at all public meetings.

Parliamentary Privilege

Witnesses appearing before a committee usually do so voluntarily. They willingly seek to present their views and the committee is grateful to receive them. Certainly, the cooperation of witnesses is a feature that makes the work of committees that much more informative and effective. Still, it should be noted that a committee hearing constitutes a proceeding of Parliament which means that the work of the committee, including receiving the evidence of

witnesses, is protected by privilege and immune to most subsequent court action.

Nothing said by a witness before a committee may be used in a court of law. Therefore a witness may not refuse to answer a question on the grounds of self-incrimination.


Editorial Corrections by Witnesses

Witnesses are permitted to make minor editorial corrections to the unrevised transcript of their testimony in order to better ensure the accuracy of the verbatim records.

(1) If you want to revise a copy of the transcript, please inform the clerk immediately after the meeting.

(2) All corrections must be received within 48 hours after the meeting by:

Assistant Editor, Senate Debates

The Senate

4th Floor, Victoria Building

140 Wellington Street

Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A4

Fax No. (613) 990-9348

Tel No. (613) 995-5805


Complimentary Copy of the Proceedings of the Committee

It is customary for the clerk of the committee to send witnesses a copy of the Proceedings of the committee containing their testimony, and a copy of the committee's report when it becomes available.

To obtain additional complimentary copies of committee reports contact:

Committees and Private Legislation

The Senate

Ottawa, Ontario, KlA OA4.

Tel. (613) 990-0088

Toll Free Tel. 1-800-267-7362

Fax Nos: (613) 995-0320, (613) 990-6666.

Committee Proceedings and Reports can be viewed on the Senate Web Site:

Subscriptions to the Proceedings may be obtained for a charge from:

The Canadian Government Publishing Centre

45 Sacre-Coeur Blvd.

Hull, P.Q. KlA 0S9

Tel. (819) 994-3475.

To obtain information about specific committee meetings, contact the appropriate committee clerk with the Senate Committees Directorate at the above address or phone number.



1. Prepare a brief, generally not exceeding 10 pages.

2. Submit your brief at least one week in advance of the meeting when circumstances permit, so that the brief can be translated and distributed to Senators for their consideration.

3. Include a diskette of your brief formatted in Microsoft or ASCII whenever possible.

4. Provide a written summary of your brief if it is lengthy (10 pages or longer).

5. Ensure that the views expressed in the brief are substantiated with factual information.

6. Keep oral presentations short (generally no longer than 15 minutes). A committee, at its discretion, may require shorter presentations.

7. Speak to the terms of reference. When possible, follow the committee's work on the subject. With regard to proposed legislation, attempt to address the questions raised during second reading debate in the Chamber.

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