Read the NDP point of privilege

NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen lays out his case for a prima facie breach of privilege after Conservative MP Brad Butt retracts his claim to have personally witnessed individuals collecting discarded voter ID cards from apartment lobbies.

Tory MP Brad Butt under fire for of having 'deliberately misled the House'

NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen laid out his case for a prima facie breach of privilege by Conservative MP Brad Butt in the House of Commons. (Canadian Press)

Question of Privilege re: the member for Mississauga—Streetsville (Brad Butt)

Purposely misleading the House

Mr. Speaker, I rise today on a question of privilege pursuant to Section 48 (1) of the Standing Orders. It has been demonstrated that the member for Mississauga—Streetsville has deliberately misled the House. Given the seriousness of the matter it is my duty as a Member of Parliament to bring the matter to the attention of the Chair and to the House.

Members of the House are well aware of the rights and immunities afforded to Parliamentarians so that they may carry out their duties as Members of Parliament. However, for the sake of clarity let me remind my colleagues that on page 75 in Erskine May’s Treatise on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament, parliamentary privilege is defined as:

... the sum of the peculiar rights enjoyed by each House collectively … and by Members of each House individually, without which they could not discharge their functions.

What I believe we are looking at here is a contempt of Parliament; one that is an offence against the authority and dignity of the House, one that chips away at the foundation of our parliamentary democracy and the requisite for healthy debate.

Mr. Speaker, let me take a moment to provide the House with an account of what has taken place. In hearing my remarks I will ask you to find that the grounds exists that this is a primafacie contempt of Parliament at which point I will be prepared to move a motion to have the matter referred to the appropriate Committee for further study.

Yesterday morning the member for Mississauga—Streetsville rose in the House and said the following:

“Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order with respect to debate that took place on February 6 in this House regarding the fair elections act. I made a statement in the House during the debate that is not accurate, and I just want to reflect the fact that I have not personally witnessed individuals retrieving voter notification cards from the garbage cans or from the mailbox areas of apartment buildings. I have not personally witnessed that activity and want the record to properly show that.”

Let’s take a look at what it was that the member for Mississauga—Streetsville said in debate on February 6th while the House was debating the government’s unfair elections act at second reading under time allocation. It seems pretty clear-cut to me that the member was providing misleading statements in the House given what he told the House yesterday. In a question to the Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification, he said:

“Mr. Speaker, I want to talk a bit about this vouching system again. […] On mail delivery day when the voter cards are delivered to community mailboxes in apartment buildings, many of them are discarded in the garbage can or the blue box. 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. Does the minister not believe this kind of thing will get cleaned up properly with this bill?”

Later in the day, he rose to mislead the House again during the questions and comments portion of his speech on the bill. He said:

“Earlier this afternoon I asked the Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification a question. I think my friend from York South—Weston will appreciate this because, just like the riding I represent, there are a lot of apartment buildings in his riding. I will relate to him something I have actually seen. On the mail delivery day when voter cards are put in mailboxes, residents come home, pick them out of their boxes, and throw them in the garbage can. I have seen campaign workers follow, pick up a dozen of them afterward, and walk out. Why are they doing that? They are doing it so they can hand those cards to other people, who will then be vouched for at a voting booth and vote illegally. That is going to stop.

Les députés doivent avoir confiance qu'ils ont les informations nécessaires pour remplir pleinement leurs fonctions de représentants des électeurs. Le gouvernement s'est empressé d’adopter C-23 dans la Chambre en deuxième lecture en utilisant une attribution de temps et est actuellement en train d'accélérer l’étude en comité sans avoir entendu les Canadiens intéressés et la société civile d'un océan à l'autre.

To think that it is somehow acceptable for members of the government benches to be able to come into this House and make up stories as justification for the supposed merits of this awful bill is totally ludicrous and should not be allowed to simply pass by having the member rise more than two weeks after-the-fact during Private Members Business hour and reveal to the House that it was all untrue.

In his ruling on Feb. 1, 2002 on a similar matter, Speaker Milliken, stated:

“...the authorities have been consistent about the need for clarity in our proceedings and about the need to ensure the integrity of the information provided by the government to the House.”

The authorities to which the Speaker was referring include but are not limited to the following:

House of Commons Procedure and Practice 2nd ed. which states on page 115:

“Misleading a Minister or a Member has also been considered a form of obstruction and thus a prima facie breach of privilege”

On page 63 of the 22nd edition of Erskine May states that:

“ is of paramount importance that ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity”.

Erskine May is even more precise when a member later admits that the statements they made were not true. At page 111 of May’s Parliamentary Practice, 22nd edition, it is stated that:

“The Commons may treat the making of a deliberately misleading statement as a contempt. In 1963 the House resolved that in making a personal statement which contained words which he later admitted not to be true, a former Member had been guilty of a grave contempt.”

Mr. Speaker, on May 7, 2012, and in a handful of rulings since, you have stated the following regarding the conditions that have emerged surrounding misleading statements in the House:

“It has become accepted practice in this House that the following elements have to be established when it is alleged that a member is in contempt for deliberately misleading the House:

• One, it must be proven that the statement was misleading;

• Two, it must be established that the member making the statement knew at the time that the statement was incorrect; and

• Three, that in making the statement, the member intended to mislead the House.”

This seems like a very straightforward case to me, Mr. Speaker, and I’m sure all members of this House would agree.

1. The first of these conditions has been met since the proof that the statement was misleading comes directly from the member himself when he admitted that what he said on February 6th was false.

2. The second of these conditions has been met since the statements in question have to do with what the member for Mississauga—Streetsville did or did not personally witness. On February 6th he told this House that he was relating something to the House that he had actually seen and then yesterday he told us that he had, in fact, not seen these things at all.

3. The third of these conditions has been met since there can be no other explanation as to why the member for Mississauga—Streetsville made the misleading statements that he did over two weeks ago other than that he deliberately intended to mislead the House. He clearly intended to mislead the House by fabricating a story and then tried to use it to justify why members should be voting in favour of the Conservative’s unfair elections act.

Les députés de cette Chambre se souviendront d’un cas en 2001-2002 où mon collègue d'Acadie—Bathurst, entres autres, avait soutenu que le sénateur Eggleton, qui était alors ministre de la Défense nationale, avait délibérément induit la Chambre en erreur pendant la période des questions en répondant à des questions sur sa connaissance du moment où des prisonniers capturés par les troupes canadiennes en Afghanistan avaient été transférés aux Américains.

Le Président Milliken avait alors statué qu’il y avait à première vue matière à privilège et avait renvoyé l'affaire au Comité permanent de la procédure et des affaires de la Chambre pour étude ultérieure. Après avoir entendu le témoignage de l'ancien greffier de la Chambre, Bill Corbett, sur la question, le comité avait indiqué dans son 50e rapport à la Chambre que:

“It is not uncommon for inaccurate statements to be made in the course of debate or Question Period in the House. The issue is whether the statements were made deliberately, with the intent of misleading the House or its Members. In the case where a Member later admits to having knowingly provided false information […] the issue of intent is clear.

We’ve gotten to the point in this Conservative government’s lifecycle where they are out of gas and spinning their wheels. With C-23, they are creating solutions to problems that don’t exist when the real problems with our electoral system are the ones being perpetrated by the Conservatives themselves. The member for Mississauga—Streetsville went so far as to make up a story to try and persuade members to vote a certain way on this flawed bill. Time and time again their lack of judgment and their dirty tricks are being exposed, but despite all of this, instead of changing their behaviour to fit the rules of the game they are changing the rules of the game in order to fit their bad behaviour.

In a ruling on October 19th 2000 regarding misleading statements made in the House, Speaker Parent stated that :

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

With the strongest and clearest of evidence at our disposal, I would urge you, Mr. Speaker, to find a prima facie case of contempt of Parliament has occurred at which point I will be prepared to move the appropriate motion to have this case referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for further study.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.