The House is now seized with what Brad Butt did not actually see

The Speaker finds a prima facie case of privilege

Justin Tang/CP

Justin Tang/CP

Shortly after Question Period this afternoon, Speaker Andrew Scheer ruled on the question of privilege related to Brad Butt’s mistaken statements about what he had seen. The Speaker effectively ruled (the text is below) that a prima facie case of privilege existed and invited the MP who raised the question, in this case NDP House leader Nathan Cullen, to move a motion calling for the matter to be referred to the Procedure and House Affairs committee. Mr. Cullen did so and the House has since been taken with debate of that motion—a debate that takes precedence over all other matters except routine proceedings, statements by members, Question Period and adjournment of the House.

This debate could, conceivably, stretch on for days—a question of privilege debate in 2005 covered four sitting days before the motion was voted down—although apparently the government will try to move closure tomorrow (this is a legitimate option spelled out in the guide to practice and procedure).

However and whenever debate concludes, the House will have to vote as to whether to refer the matter to committee for further study.

The key precedent for the ruling on Mr. Butt is the ruling made on February 1, 2002 in regards to statements made by Defence Minister Art Eggleton.

Here then is the text of Speaker Scheer’s ruling.

I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on February 25, 2014, by the House leader of the official opposition regarding statements made in the House by the member for Mississauga-Streetsville.

Je remercie l’honorable leader à la Chambre de l’Opposition officielle d’avoir soulevé cette question, ainsi que l’honorable leader du gouvernement à la Chambre des communes, l’honorable député de Winnipeg-Nord et l’honorable député de Kingston et les Îles de leurs interventions.

J’aimerais également prendre acte des déclarations faites par le député de Mississauga-Streetsville.

In raising this matter, the hon. House leader of the official opposition claimed that the hon. member for Mississauga-Streetsville had deliberately misled the House on February 6, 2014, during debate on Bill C-23, the fair elections act, when he stated that he had witnessed evidence of voter fraud first-hand. He further argued the matter was not resolved by the statements made by the member for Mississauga-Streetsville on February 24 and 25, where he admitted that, contrary to his original claim, he had not actually witnessed what he had originally claimed to have witnessed.

In his view, this was not a simple case of someone misspeaking. He argued, rather, that it was a case where the member deliberately chose to take something he not to be true and presented as eyewitness evidence–something so egregious that it constituted contempt.

The hon. Leader of the Government in the House of Commons noted that the member for Mississauga-Streetsville had fulfilled his obligation to correct the record so that no inaccuracies persisted.

He suggested that, in and of itself, this should be sufficient to, “rebut any concern that there has been a contempt”.

Cet incident met en évidence l’importance primordiale que revêtent l’exactitude et la vérité dans nos délibérations. Tous les députés sont investis à titre individuel et collectif de la responsabilité de choisir le mot avec le plus grand soin et de ne jamais oublier les conséquences graves qui peuvent découler d’un oubli à l’égard de cette responsabilité.

Lorsqu’il a demandé à la présidence de conclure qu’il y avait de prime abord matière à question de privilège en l’espèce, l’honorable leader à la Chambre de l’Opposition officielle a cité la décision que j’ai rendue le 7 mai 2012 dans laquelle, à la page 7650 des débats, je rappelais à la Chambre que pour conclure qu’un député avait délibérément induit la Chambre en erreur, trois éléments devaient être prouvés: 

1. It must be proven that the statement was misleading;

2. It must be established that the member making the statement knew at the time that the statement was incorrect;

3. That in making in the statement, the member intended to mislead the house.

Arguing all three of these conditions had been met, he concluded that a breach of privilege had occurred.

It was with these criterion in mind that I undertook a thorough review of all relevant statements made in the House on this matter, focusing, particularly, of course, on the statements made by the hon. for Mississauga-Streetsville.

Originally, on February 6, he stated:

I have actually witnessed other people picking up the voter cards, going to the campaign office of whatever candidate they support and handing out these voter cards to other individuals, who then walk into voting stations with friends who vouch for them with no ID.

Later that day, he added, “I will relate something I have actually seen”.

It was only on February 24 that he rose to state:

On February 6, I made a statement that is not accurate. I just want to reflect the fact that I have not personally witnessed fraudulent activity and want the record to properly show that.

On February 25, he returned to the House, characterized his February 6 statement as, “an error on my part” and apologized “to all Canadians and all members of the House, adding that, “it was never my intention in any way to mislead the House”.

The Chair takes due note that the member for Mississauga-Streetsville has admitted that his February 6 statement was not true and that he has apologized for his mistake.

Comme l’a signalé l’honorable leader du gouvernement à la Chambre des communes, nous admettons tous la pratique, de longue date dans cette enceinte, qui consiste à accorder le bénéfice du doute aux députés lorsque l’exactitude de leurs déclarations est remise en question. Il arrive souvent que des questions de privilège, soulevées relativement à un incident de ce genre, soient considérées comme étant des désaccords sur les faits plutôt que des questions de privilège, fondées de prime abord en raison principalement du seuil élevé de preuves exigées par la Chambre.

Le Président Perron a déclaré ce qui suit à la page 9 247 des débats du 19 octobre 2000:

Only on the strongest and clearest evidence can the House or the Speaker take steps to deal with cases of attempts to mislead members.

From what the member for Mississauga-Streetsville and other members have revealed, it is quite clear that the House has been provided with two narratives that are contradictory statements. At the same time, the member for Mississauga-Streetsville stated that he had no intention of misleading the House.

Le Président Milliken a dû examiner une question analogue en février 2002, lorsque le ministre de la Défense nationale de l’époque, Art Eggleton, avait fourni des renseignements contradictoires à la Chambre. Dans sa décision sur une question de privilège soulevée relativement à cette contradiction rendue le 1er février à la page 8581 des débats, le Président Milliken a déclaré, et je cite:

Je suis prêt, comme je me dois de l’être, à accepter l’affirmation du ministre portant qu’il n’avait pas l’intention d’induire la Chambre en erreur.

In keeping with that precedent, I am prepared to accord the same courtesy to the member for Mississauga-Streetsville. At the same time, the fact remains that the House continues to be seized of completely contradictory statements. This is a difficult position in which to leave members who must be able to depend on the integrity of the information with which they are provided to perform their parliamentary duties.

Accordingly, in keeping with the precedent cited earlier, in which Speaker Milliken indicated that the matter merited “…further consideration by an appropriate committee, if only to clear the air”, I am prepared in this case, for the same reason, to allow the matter to be put to the House. I therefore invite the hon. House Leader of the Official Opposition to move the traditional motion at this time.

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