Actually, it’s not that obscure …

… and it’s no more of a throwback to 18th-century Britain than any other parliamentary privilege enjoyed by Canadian MPs:

Verner invokes obscure parliamentary privilege

Heritage Minister Josée Verner is invoking obscure 18th-century British parliamentary privilege in a bid to avoid testifying in a case that has pitted her husband and his Quebec City advertising company against a minority shareholder. […]

Verner has been subpoenaed by Bleau’s lawyer Michel Bernier to testify on June 5.

But on May 14. lawyer Pierre Rivard filed a request on behalf of Verner, seeking to quash the subpoena on the basis of British parliamentary privilege.

“As a member of the House of Commons, the (requester) benefits from a constitutional privilege exempting them from the obligation of appearing,” wrote Rivard in his application. “The 1867 Constitution Act integrated into the Canadian constitution the privileges that the Parliament of the United Kingdom enjoyed at the time.”

As such, Verner is exempt from having to testify while Parliament is sitting as well as for 40 days beforehand and 40 days afterward, Rivard argues.

Given her newfound appreciation for the necessity to protect members from being hauled into court to testify in civil matters, it would be interesting to find out what Verner
thinks about the idea of a member being sued — or threatened with suit
— by a fellow MP, or a ministerial staffer — or even the prime minister. In fact, Harper’s lawsuit – although it is against the Liberal Party, and not Dion personally – could pry open a whole new barrel of constitutional monkeys, since presumably, he would have to testify — he brought the case in the first place, and he’s the one claiming to have been damaged by the alleged allegations. It’s his litigation party; he can’t very well cry parliamentary privilege to get out of it, even if his minister can beg off.

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