The CBC has released some of the records requested by MPs looking into its refusal to hand over documents to Canada's information commissioner.
The broadcaster made the move, which it said in a statement is done under protest, as the NDP called on House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer to force the committee looking into the battle to halt its study.
The House ethics, privacy and access to information committee passed a motion ordering the CBC to hand over records that are currently the subject of a Federal Court of Appeal battle between the broadcaster and Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault.
On Monday, the CBC provided the committee with two sets of documents, one of them sealed, along with a legal opinion provided to the corporation that concluded it has strong grounds on which to challenge the legitimacy of the committee's request.
CBC president and CEO Hubert Lacroix, in a speech to the National Press Club in Ottawa on Monday, said the CBC sent the documents to the committee after "serious consideration," but decided to seal some of them. Lacroix said a letter sent to the committee clerk sets out the corporation's concerns over "constitutional questions and boundaries," and asks the MPs to read the legal opinion.
Earlier Monday, NDP Justice Department critic Joe Comartin argued the committee is overstepping its boundaries in demanding the CBC release documents while it is fighting a case before the Federal Court of Appeal.
'Overriding legal principle'
A motion by Dean Del Mastro, parliamentary secretary to the prime minister, sparked a study into the broadcaster's unwillingness to release records covered under federal access to information laws to competitor Quebecor, among other requestors.
The information commissioner is fighting in court for the ability to review the documents and determine whether the journalistic and programming exemptions cited are legitimate.
Del Mastro said Monday he's "satisfied that CBC's complied. That's great. Great for Parliament. Great for Canadians."
A legal opinion by parliamentary law clerk Rob Walsh, released over the weekend, explained that MPs have a tradition of avoiding talking about matters before the court so they don't seem to be interfering in cases.
The principle of separation of powers between the judicial and legislative branches of government is important, Walsh wrote.
"In my view, respect for the constitutional framework of our parliamentary system of government is part of the rule of law which is the overriding legal principle that makes a democratic system of government such as ours workable and credible," Walsh wrote.
Basing much of his argument on Walsh's letter, Comartin said he's asking Scheer to direct the committee to end its study or suspend the study until the courts have ruled on the issue. It's possible the case could go to the Supreme Court, meaning no resolution for months or even years.
Committee meetings cancelled
Committee Chair Jean Crowder, an NDP MP, cancelled all meetings until Scheer rules.
"The chair has cancelled the meeting scheduled for [Tuesday] and intends on convening a meeting only after the Speaker has ruled on the point of order raised this morning," Crowder wrote in a memo to committee members.
Lacroix is due to appear at the committee later this month.
Comartin's point of order asking the Speaker to halt the committee's study started a brief debate about the issue.
Accused by Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux of harbouring a secret agenda against the CBC, Conservative whip Gordon O'Connor said that isn't the case.
"We don't have any secret agenda for the CBC. I watch it quite often. I watch the hockey games and other people watch the hockey games too. So we have no hidden agenda, as suggested by a member of the third party," O'Connor said.
Scheer says it's a longstanding practice that the Speaker doesn't rule until a report is in front of the House, which happens once a committee is finished its study. But he says he will respond to the House "in due course."
This would be Scheer's first major ruling as Speaker. The Conservative MP from Regina was elected June 2 to replace Peter Milliken, who was the longest-serving Speaker in Canadian history.
Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore, whose portfolio includes the CBC, says Del Mastro is looking out for taxpayers.
"The CBC receives a lot of money from taxpayers and our government believes that the CBC, the Wheat Board and other organizations have to be accountable for the money they receive from taxpayers," Moore said.