Question of Privilege

Speaker’s Ruling Reserved

June 11, 2019


The Hon. the Speaker
[20:02]

Honourable senators, resuming consideration of the question of privilege. Senator Ngo.

Hon. Thanh Hai Ngo
[20:02]

Thank you, Your Honour. I rise today in support of Senator Patterson’s question of privilege.

As a member of the Aboriginal Peoples Committee, I believe that this morning’s meeting constitutes a serious breach of his privilege as well as the rest of the Conservative senators at the committee.

As Senator Patterson mentioned, section 12-20(4) of the Rules of the Senate reads:

No Senate committee shall adopt procedures inconsistent with the Rules or practices of the Senate.

As it was imposed on all present this morning, limiting debate to five minutes per amendment in such an arbitrary fashion, is a serious violation of the Rules of the Senate and inconsistent with the best traditions of the upper chamber.

Time allocation of a committee procedure is outlined in rule 7 of the Senate rules, where it states that time allocation is always a decision of the Senate, not a decision of the committee itself.

Your Honour, I sadly witnessed the chair and other senators use “time allocation” to cut off Senator Patterson and restrict his right to debate as he sought to make meaningful contribution to a private member’s bill. That did not happen once, Your Honour, but as Senator Patterson highlighted, the interruptions and breach of his privileges took place on several separate occasions amidst Senator Patterson’s demands.

Senators need to understand that if we allow this breach to stand, it risks being repeated by other committees. The violation of the privileges of one senator can quickly become the violation of the privileges of others if left unchecked.

Your Honour, as you know, for this to be considered a breach of privilege, it must meet four basic conditions. I believe that the proceedings that took place this morning at the Aboriginal Peoples Committee meets each of those conditions.

First, as Senator Tannas explained, it must be raised at the earliest opportunity. This, right now, is the earliest opportunity, and it was explained earlier today in this chamber why it is difficult to provide written notice for the breach of privilege.

Second, a question of privilege demands that the matter directly concerns the privilege of a senator. This morning at the committee, Senator Patterson’s right to debate amendments and ask questions of the witnesses and ask for clarifications was denied. The committee chair repeatedly shut down the debate on the amendments. This is unprecedented in my experience in this chamber and, unfortunately, only limited the time for all Conservative senators to speak to the amendments to just five minutes, contrary to what Senator Sinclair mentioned.

Third, that the matter is raised to seek a genuine remedy that is in the power of the Senate to provide. I stand prepared to support Senator Tannas’s motion to send Bill C-262 back to the committee to allow Senator Patterson and the rest of the committee to rightfully allow its members the opportunity to fully debate the bill and receive answers to questions from Justice officials.

Finally, that the matter be raised to correct a grave and serious breach. The denial of Senator Patterson’s ability to debate was a blatant obstruction of his ability to perform his parliamentary duty as a Senate committee member. As senators, one of our primary functions is to debate legislation, not to silence each other.

Your Honour, I may be naive, but I do not believe this breach has ever happened in Canada before, at least not during my time in the Senate of Canada.

Senate committees are supposed to be proud hallmarks of our work in this Parliament exactly because each member has the flexibility to examine legislation and complex issues of national importance without restraint or fear of being muzzled. That’s why we are called the chamber of sober second thought.

In all my years, I thought that such arbitrary control and bullying of a committee member to stifle his freedom of expression would only take place in countries with communist dictatorships.

What kind of message does that send if we do not speak out against the clear muzzling of a parliamentarian without appropriate remediation?

Your Honour, I believe the question of privilege is deserving of your ruling and hope, with great respect, that you will judge the matter as quickly as possible. Thank you.

Hon. Pierrette Ringuette
[20:07]

I am not a member of the committee, but I feel that I have a duty to rise when I hear the word “Kremlin” or “communist censorship,” which is absolutely inappropriate in regard to the parliamentary process in Canada.

I would also like to talk about the elements of the said privileges that were breached this morning. Many senators have indicated that they faced time allocation, limiting debate in the Senate. The Rules of the Senate provide for each and every one of us a time allocation when we speak, whether we speak on a bill, a motion or on an inquiry. So this notion indicating that the majority at a committee decides for the progress of the study of a bill that there will be a certain time afforded for any amendment — however many amendments come forth — is, from my perspective, very proper in order to do the work that we do.

Going back to the issue of time allocation, if we look at the Rules of the Senate, Your Honour, I think that you are the only one, when we’re debating, to issue time limits, whether on a question of privilege or a point of order. That is your prerogative.

I haven’t heard that, in this committee, time allocation was provided. It was due process: five minutes for every amendment to be debated. I find that it is probably proper.

In regards to the matter of privilege as senators, we have the privilege to debate. We also have a limitation of time, whenever we’re in the situation.

I also heard two different people, Senators Patterson and Tannas, saying that they both have a motion for a remedy. As far as I’m concerned, only Senator Patterson, who raised a question of privilege, would have that ability to say that he has a certain motion.

In regards to the motion in question that Senator Patterson has raised in regards to a genuine remedy to the question of privilege that he is seeking, the bill has been reported in this chamber. It will be moving to third reading. Any senator in this chamber will have the opportunity to put forth amendments, subamendments and so forth, and will have to go by the time and debating rules in our rules. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no remedy required, because we will have another phase of discussion in regards to this bill at third reading, at which point any senator can put forward an amendment.

With regards to the questions of privilege, I see that the matter indicated as a breach of a member’s privilege has, really, no foundation. I also see that with regard to the remedy, the remedy is already going to come up in the next few days, hopefully, in that any senator will be able to put forth amendments and subamendments with a proper discussion of the issue.

Your Honour, I hope that this question of privilege will not be accorded to the member.

Hon. David Tkachuk
[20:13]

I won’t be too long, Your Honour.

I want to rise to support the question of privilege raised by Senator Patterson in relation to events that transpired today. I have to tell you, Your Honour, that in all my years in the Senate I have never witnessed any action that so compromises the privileges of all senators. Although what transpired today was directed at Senator Patterson, this could happen to any of us.

Your Honour, rules have been established by our institution to protect the minority. That’s why we have them — because the other side has the majority and, therefore, can abuse that majority, and then we will have tyranny. That’s why we have rules. That’s why we have the ability to delay and further debate. We believe we have a right to participate in this process. It does not belong to just a majority.

Time allocation of a committee procedure is outlined in chapter 7 of our rules. I won’t go through 12-20(4), about which you’ve already heard a lot, but time allocation is always a decision of the Senate, not of the committee itself. Therefore, the committee has no authority to impose timelines on debate at any time, let alone in the middle of a senator’s remarks.

Just to give you some context, Your Honour, because this is important: Senator Patterson moved an amendment. He spoke to that amendment. Others on the other side thought he spoke too long, so they cut him off. This is what happened here.

The point is that, this time, there was no motion to allocate time. This was part of the procedure. A question was called by a member on the other side, Senator Sinclair, I think, and the vote was taken. No other senator on our side was allowed to speak at all — at all. It wasn’t time allocation; it was the truncation of the debate by the chair. Time allocation, call the vote, vote is done and no other senator was allowed to speak. I was not allowed to speak.

As a matter of fact, Your Honour, I had to rudely interrupt the proceedings, which I did not want to do, and I took no pleasure in. I did so because I was not allowed to participate in the debate. All I wanted to do was read into the record a letter that was sent by the Premier of Alberta to the Prime Minister of Canada regarding this bill. I was denied the right to do it. I was denied the right to do it.

As a matter of fact, a senator said I should be removed from the meeting. “The Senate doesn’t belong to one person. It belongs to all Canadians.” That’s what I said at that meeting. I think this was a grave mistake.

The motion that was passed by the majority was to limit debate to five minutes for all of us — 20 seconds each. No member was allowed to speak on serious amendments for more than 20 seconds. The chair brought in officials and would not allow us to address them — not once, by any member of the committee on any clause or on any amendment. First, she says they are there to answer questions, and then she allows no questions to them by any member of the committee. That is a grave and serious breach of Senate rules and practices.

Such a breach obstructs not only my ability to discharge my duties but all of our abilities. Some day it’s going to happen to you, and you’ll remember this meeting. If you don’t protect it now, there will be a majority that will take advantage of all of you, and you know that. You know that from all the time any of you have spent in public life. You know that if you let it go once, you let it go again, it will be here forever, and we’ll be darn well sorry for it.

If there’s one thing we should protect it’s the right of all of us to say our piece. If it’s inconvenient to the majority, so be it. That’s the process. We’re supposed to be inconvenient to the majority. You’re not supposed to run all over us. You have no right to run all over us, at least not in this country — not in this country and not in this institution.

I wish to support Senator Patterson’s motion. I hope, Your Honour, you protect our right to participate, because that’s what I think you are honour-bound to do. I submit that the motion of Senator Patterson on the question of privilege must be sustained.

The Hon. the Speaker
[20:18]

Honourable senators, there are still a few senators who wish to speak to this, but I would ask senators to refrain from being repetitive in points of issue that have already been raised and to keep your comments as brief as possible.

Hon. Patti LaBoucane-Benson
[20:18]

Like Senator Christmas, I would like to give some context as to why limits were imposed for each amendment at committee today. A review of the video will demonstrate that the atmosphere quickly became contentious, primarily because there was a concerted lack of disrespect for our chairperson, our okimaw esquao, Senator Dyck. In particular, you will see that one member constantly attempted to interrupt, speak without raising his hand, read new evidence into the record during clause-by-clause out of turn, all the while speaking on top of the chair as she was doing her job. At times, his behaviour was bullying. He was raising his voice and yelling at her, badgering her and shouting at the chair while she was doing her job to maintain the order of the meeting.

At one point, this member accused Indigenous senators, saying, “It is all self-interest stuff. This has nothing to do with anything.” What he inferred was that the work he and his colleagues were doing was in the interest of Canadians, but when Indigenous senators were doing our work, it is for our own personal interest.

I realize that this is a point of order. I should have brought it up at committee, and I did not have time. I would have asked him for an apology and a retraction of that statement.

Overall, Your Honour, we probably would not have had to allocate time for the debate if all the members of the committee had been respectful to the chair and her duty to ensure the good order of the meeting.

Further, the fact that we had a recorded vote for every clause, every amendment and on more than one motion for adjournment of the meeting, time and time again, a great deal of time was taken. Therefore, we had to limit the debate. Perhaps if we had focused only on the amendments and not all of the disruptions, debate would not have been limited to five minutes per amendment. Thank you.

Hon. Donald Neil Plett
[20:20]

I wasn’t going to get up and speak on this, and I’m not getting up because I am in any way offended by what somebody has said, as the senator previous just did. If I were, I would be offended by comments such as, “Obviously, the Conservative senators are working in tandem to enable genocide and this means to be the issue in the upcoming election,” which was retweeted by one of the senators who was called out a few days ago.

Surprisingly, nobody was offended by that tweet promoting genocide, enabling genocide. That’s okay. But when somebody uses the word “Kremlin,” then we are offended beyond belief and we need to have that reason to stand.

Your Honour, I simply want to go through a little bit of chronological order of how some things happened. I hope nobody will stand up on a point of order and say I’m not addressing this properly. I hope I’ll be able to get through this.

Senator Christmas said the reason we needed to impose time allocation, which is against the Rules of the Senate, but I guess it’s okay when certain committees and certain senators want to impose time allocation, then there are reasons we can find to oppose time allocation. And the reason we needed to impose time allocation is because Conservatives were trying to stall legislation from moving forward.

Your Honour, I’m reading the Notice of Meeting. The Notice of Meeting for this morning’s meeting is quite clear. It was sent Tuesday, June 11, 9 a.m.

Agenda

1. Bill C-91, An Act respecting Indigenous languages

Clause-by-clause consideration

2. Bill C-262, An Act to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Clause-by-clause consideration

Senator Sinclair said that we should have been ready; we should have had our amendments ready. We went to a meeting not knowing we were doing clause by clause on Bill C-262. Why would we have had one amendment ready on Bill C-262? We had no idea we were going to deal with Bill C-262. We were going there to do what the Notice of Meeting said.

Then, unceremoniously — and we were just told how things were done in an out-of order fashion, Your Honour — there was a vote taken to change the agenda and deal with private member’s legislation when we had an obligation to deal with Bill C-91.

A little bit about the timeline, Your Honour: This bill, Bill C-262, first reading in the House of Commons, April 21, 2016; December 5, 2017, second reading speeches began; February 7, 2018, referred to committee; May 9, 2018, committee reports to the house, 91 days. May 31, 2018, third reading.

This bill was in the House of Commons for 769 days. All of a sudden, when it’s over here, we get letters from ministers telling us we have to move this; now we’re in a hurry.

The bill was in the chamber for 371 days. On May 31, 2018, first reading. On October 23, 2018, Senator Sinclair adjourns the debate on Bill C-262. Colleagues, on October 23, 2018, Senator Sinclair adjourns the debate. Then it took him until November 29 before he spoke at second reading. That’s 37 days on a bill that he now is just bent over needing to rush through. Thirty-seven days, November 29.

Colleagues, we all know that on December 15 we rose and then we were gone until the middle of February. Then Senator Sinclair and I sat just behind here and reached a gentlemen’s agreement that the bill would go to committee on May 16. It was an agreement that we shook hands on. Senator Sinclair says we didn’t have an agreement on ministers appearing, but he did admit to me that, “Yes, it was a condition of your moving the bill forward.” I said we shook hands on what my conditions were. That’s not an agreement?

We had an agreement. We are still waiting for ministers to appear, but we kept our end of the bargain and we were there at the previous three meetings.

Today we went to a meeting dealing with a different bill, and then this happens. When somebody says five minutes is adequate, colleagues, every senator who has spoken here on this issue has been more than five minutes. And all of sudden five minutes is adequate for Senator Patterson to raise concerns about the Indigenous people of his region? And not only is he limited to five minutes, but everybody is limited to five minutes. They can’t ask questions. They can’t say they’re going to support the bill. They cannot say they’re going to oppose the bill. They have no time because Senator Patterson has abused his time and spoken for five minutes on a matter that is very important to him.

Then we’re told that we are stalling things. Senator Sinclair had every opportunity to have this read at second reading on October 24. He waited until November 29. It wasn’t that important.

Your Honour, I don’t know whether that has any impact on your decision, but we were not there to be obstructionist today. We were there to deal with government legislation, as we are duty bound to do. We were there in our full complement of senators to deal with this. The fact of the matter is we were then told to deal with something that we had no right to deal with, because we had not only one, we had two pieces of government legislation before us that needed to be dealt with. But the committee chair, the sponsor of the bill and seven other senators overruled us on each and every issue.

Yes, they were recorded votes. The reason they were recorded votes is because our colleagues continually asked for a recorded vote.

Your Honour, I’m sorry for taking more than the two minutes that I promised you I would take, but I would like you to take those comments under consideration.

Hon. Mary Jane McCallum
[20:29]

In my speech on February 19, 2019, I spoke about the ongoing harassment on the Senate floor and in committee. I said:

I am concerned, colleagues, because within my comparably short time here, I have witnessed a number of instances of what I would classify as personal harassment on this very Senate floor. The harassment I speak of is bullying in its most basic form. Although some may not view these as terribly serious offences, it is nevertheless personally damaging to the victim. We have to address issues and problems that arise swiftly and at their source. They do not have to be illegal for us to be prompted to actively promote change and betterment.

Since that speech, I have seen the cumulative effects of this bullying. I have seen senators, including a chair, being cut off, interrupted and ridiculed numerous times with witnesses and staff present. On another occasion, I apologized to Indigenous witnesses, two chiefs and a female leader, who were kept waiting for 15 minutes while a senator spoke about an issue that could have waited. Sometimes when I look at the behaviour as an Indigenous person, it seems to border on racism and discrimination.

Indigenous peoples in Canada have waited their lifetimes to realize human rights that have been taken away from them. This issue is largely tied to land and resource extraction. As Indigenous people, we need to protect our health, land, bodies and right to self-determination as Indigenous peoples, and that’s why this bill is so important to us.

A senator said, “I felt like I was in the Kremlin.” Well, senator, I have lived in the Kremlin —

The Hon. the Speaker
[20:31]

Excuse me, Senator McCallum. The points you are raising are extremely important, and at some point, of course, if you wish to raise a point of order or point of privilege on those, you’re more than welcome to do that.

However, the debate right now is on the question of privilege that Senator Patterson has raised. If you have comments with respect to that, one way or the other, we would be more than happy to entertain them. I know there will be a point of order raised soon if you don’t speak to the question of privilege that was raised earlier.

Senator McCallum
[20:32]

Because of the cumulative action, what is it that you expect us to do? I can’t continue to be quiet and continue to be harassed. We want human rights, dignity and respect in our own country.

I supported Senators Sinclair and Dyck, as I felt I had no recourse to bring this to the attention of the Senate and to Canada. Thank you.

Hon. Sandra M. Lovelace Nicholas
[20:32]

I don’t think you were in that room, but the senator was bombarded by people who haven’t shown up to one meeting. Then she was disrupted, names were called, no respect. She was being bullied. I say she was bullied as an Indigenous person. What kind of message are we sending to our Indigenous people? We are sending them negative feelings. Don’t you think it’s about time we respect Indigenous laws?

The Hon. the Speaker
[20:33]

Honourable senators, I would like to take a moment to thank all senators for their input into this very important question. I will take the matter under advisement.