Inside Politics

NDP MP claims failure to Charter-proof bills breaches privilege

As the Senate ponders whether to order the parliamentary budget office to cease and desist his efforts to seek clarity from the courts on the extent of his mandate, another ongoing federal court case has sparked a sweeping privilege claim from New Democrat MP Pat Martin. 

Yesterday afternoon, Martin made his case for what he described as an "unprecedented" potential breach of privilege. 

Citing as evidence the statement of claim filed by former senior Justice lawyer Edgar Schmidt in support of his assertion that, for nearly two decades, successive governments have flouted the statutory requirement that all proposed legislation be subject to a mandatory Charter check for possible constitutional inconsistencies, Martin warned his Commons colleagues that, if Schmidt's claims are accurate, not only has his privilege, and that of every other MP, been grievously violated, but the very authority and dignity of Parliament has been contemned. 

Regular readers will recall that this isn't the first time the Official Opposition has demonstrated its official opposition to the possible abrogation of the mandatory Charter-check rule. 

Last month, the party's justice critic, Francoise Boivin, tried to convince her committee colleagues to back a motion to investigate the matter, which went down to defeat when government MPs declined to support her efforts. 

(You can read my coverage of that debate here.) 

Interestingly, should he successfully persuade the speaker to concur with his assessment, Martin has indicated that he does not intend to simply move the traditional motion to refer the matter for Procedure and House Affairs for further study. 

Instead, he would propose that a special opposition-chaired committee be struck, and the department ordered to "release all materials related to these allegations of unethical and illegal conduct and misuse of authority," which would be examined by the newly created special committee as part of its efforts to determine whether the rights and privileges of Parliament had, in fact, been breached. 

Not surprisingly, the government's initial response to the complaint can best be summed up as a collective rolling at the eyes, a reaction articulated by House Leader Peter Van Loan in his initial intervention yesterday afternoon. 

Van Loan pointed out that Martin appears to have failed to meet the most basic requirement for moving a question of privilege -- namely, doing it at the earliest possible opportunity -- and citing the sub judice convention with regard to the ongoing court case referenced repeatedly by Martin to bolster his position that the speaker should dismiss the claim. 

When the House returns to the matter later today, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson will likely speak in his own defence, with Liberal justice critic Irwin Cotler -- who, it's worth noting, has raised concerns about this very same issue on more than one occasion in the past -- expected to lend his support to Martin's case. 

After that wraps up, it will be up to the speaker to weigh the arguments and hand down a ruling -- which, given the complexity of the question, could take a few weeks. 

 In the interim, you can peruse Martin's case in support of finding a prima facie breach of privilege right here:

Question of Privilege (Charter consistency of proposed bills) 

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