The Honourable Pierre Claude Nolin
43rd Speaker of the Senate (2014–2015)
Motion Concerning Parliamentary Security
Yesterday, immediately after Senator Carignan, the Leader of the Government in the Senate, moved his motion respecting security arrangements on Parliament Hill, Senator Cowan, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, raised a point of order. He was concerned that the motion attempts to delegate power to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in a way that is not permissible under the Parliament of Canada Act. He also argued that, if the motion is adopted, certain provisions in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act could actually have the effect of subjecting security in the parliamentary precinct to the control of the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.
Senator Carignan suggested that these concerns could be best dealt with through debate on the motion. He underscored that the motion specifically requires that any changes be made “while respecting the privileges, immunities and powers of the respective Houses.” A respect for the rights of Parliament is therefore integral to the motion. He argued that it would allow the Speakers, working with the RCMP, to decide the most appropriate way to coordinate security. This would provide essential protection to parliamentarians. Senator Carignan rejected the idea that the Senate was abdicating its responsibility in relation to security. The motion would allow the establishment of a new security arrangement, and the two Speakers would continue to have a central role. Senator Carignan stated that “[i]t will be up to the two Speakers, in their discussions with the RCMP and the new unified security force, to negotiate the different systems so that they are accountable and report to” the Speakers. Later he noted that the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration actually proposed a coordinated security system in the recent past. His arguments that the motion is in order were supported by Senator Martin when she intervened on the point of order and urged that debate be allowed to continue.
Senators Fraser, Ringuette, Cordy and Joyal also spoke, all questioning the propriety of the motion and supporting Senator Cowan’s concern. Senator Fraser found the motion to be unclear, presenting fundamental problems, including her understanding that it would hand control of security over to the RCMP. Senator Cordy argued that the motion is disrespectful towards the Internal Economy Committee, the Senate and Parliament. Senator Joyal, for his part, refrained from saying whether the goal of the motion was desirable. He was, however, concerned about the process being followed. He questioned whether a motion, as opposed to legislative amendments, was the appropriate vehicle for such changes.
In considering this issue, a brief review of the history of security in the parliamentary precinct may be helpful. The provision of security on Parliament Hill can be divided into two broad periods. Until 1920, a contingent of the Dominion Police – one of the federal police forces – provided security for Parliament and the government buildings that are now the East and West Blocks. When the Dominion Police was united with the Royal Northwest Mounted Police to form the RCMP the task of protecting federal property was, in most cases, assumed by the new federal police force. Parliamentarians, however, decided that they no longer wished an official police presence within the buildings, resulting in the establishment of separate security services for each house. This was not done by statute. Security arrangements in and around Parliament have therefore not been static, but have shifted and evolved over the years. The motion at issue proposes further adjustments in these structures. Details, we have been given to understand, would be worked out by the two Speakers.
Senator Cowan’s basic concern was that the motion would result in a delegation of authority falling outside the structure provided in the Parliament of Canada Act. Although the Speaker does not interpret matters of law, it would be helpful to put the relevant provisions on the record.
Section 19.3 of the act states that:
Subject to subsection 19.1(4), the [Internal Economy] Committee may act on all financial and administrative matters respecting
(a) the Senate, its premises, its services and its staff; and
(b) the members of the Senate.
Subsection 19.1(4) clarifies that:
In exercising its functions and powers under this Act, the Committee is subject to the rules, direction and control of the Senate.
The plain language of this provision makes clear that the Senate retains ultimate control over any powers exercised by the Internal Economy Committee. As such, the Senate itself remains master of its internal administration and its business. The Senate exercised this right in the past, by deciding to establish separate security services, and could do so again in the future if it so wished.
In terms of the strict mechanics of the motion, appropriate notice was given, and there is no obvious defect in its language or content, at least in terms of parliamentary practice as opposed to law, which is not within the Speaker’s jurisdiction. The motion proposes that the Senate invite the RCMP to take a lead in operational security throughout the precinct, with details of arrangements to be worked out through careful discussions and negotiations. None of this abrogates the basic privilege of parliamentarians to have free access to their offices, to committees and to the Senate. Such arrangements could even be altered in the future if the Senate so decided. So the Senate would ultimately retain the rights and privileges required for it to function independently.
Some senators expressed concerns that the motion was unclear or incomplete. To the extent this may be the case, the correct vehicle to refine its content is to explain problems during debate and to bring forward amendments to provide greater clarity. In terms of our Rules and procedure, there is no reason to block consideration of the motion. The ruling is therefore that the motion is in order and debate can continue.
Before continuing with the Orders of the Day, let me assure honourable senators that, if the motion passes, I will, in discussions and negotiations, take my role as custodian of the rights and privileges of the Senate and individual senators most seriously.