NDP MP Yvon Godin says RCMP blocked him from Parliament Hill

The House procedure committee will investigate a possible breach of parliamentary privilege after an NDP MP was briefly blocked from making his way to the Commons Chamber for a vote by RCMP and Ottawa police overseeing security for the visit of the German president.

House committee to investigate, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson could be called to testify

German President Joachim Gauck, right, speaks with Noel Kinsella , Speaker of the Senate, as he tours the Senate chamber during a visit to Parliament Hill Thursday. An NDP MP says police briefly prevented him from getting to the House of Commons for a vote due to preparations for Gauck's visit. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The House procedure committee will investigate after an NDP MP complained he was briefly blocked from making his way to the Commons for a vote Thursday by RCMP and Ottawa police overseeing security for the visit of the German president.   

Rising on a point of privilege in the House, New Democrat MP Yvon Godin said he was walking from his office to Centre Block for a late morning vote, when he was stopped by an RCMP officer who said to him, in English, "You're not going through."

"I told the RCMP officer that I was a Member of Parliament," Godin told the House.

NDP MP Yvon Godin complained his parliamentary privileges were breached after he was stopped by RCMP and Ottawa police on Parliament Hill. (The Canadian Press file photo)

"He said, and these are the exact words he used: 'I don't care.' After that, I said 'We're having a vote in the House of Commons.'  He answered, 'I don't care.'  I told him that we had privilege and that I had the right to go to the House of Commons during votes. He said, 'I don't care. I am under strict orders and nobody is going through.'"

At the same time, Godin recalled, "the officer from the Ottawa Police Department said, 'You guys, get on the sidewalk.'"

"I have a lot of respect for the officer, but at that time I understood that he did not know his job, that he did not know his responsibility or that this House of Commons is for the Members of Parliament to be able to come in and do their work," he noted.

"Maybe they do not understand how important this place of work is."

'A serious matter'

Although he ultimately managed to make it to the House in time for the vote, Godin said that he still felt that his privilege had been breached, which is why he has proposed that it be referred to committee for further study.

"This morning, just because there was a visit to a foreign country in Parliament, it has prevented us from coming to Parliament," he said.

The conversion of the House of Commons as a photo backdrop for political purposes, interfering with the work of this place is, frankly, offensive- Elizabeth May, Green Party MP

"I have great respect for the security guards in the House of Commons and to the RCMP … but there is someone at the controls who did not do his job. We'll get to the bottom of things, and clarify this once and for all." 

As it turned out, Speaker Andrew Scheer agreed. 

"The denial of access by members to the precinct is a serious matter, particularly on a day when votes are taking place," Scheer noted in a brief ruling delivered after question period. 

"Given the information shared with the House by the numerous members who have made interventions, I am satisfied that there are sufficient grounds for finding a prima facie matter of privilege in this case."

Employment Minister Jason Kenney, who was one of the first MPs to rise in support of Godin's motion to send the matter to committee, recalled a similar experience during a past U.S. presidential visit, during which he had been blocked from the building by Ottawa police.

"It's not a new problem — it's something that has happened before, and it is totally appalling," he said.

"This goes against the laws of this Parliament, and because of my own experience, I take what the honourable member said very seriously."

Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski echoed Kenney's concerns.

He reminded his colleagues that he had been on the committee when it looked into a similar privilege claim in 2012, when several MPs were denied access to Centre Block during a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"At that time, procedures and House affairs called three witnesses," he noted.

Among those witnesses were the assistant commissioner of the RCMP, who, Lukiwski noted, had apologized for the incident, and had promised that the police force would improve their training procedures to prevent such situations from arising in future.

"We thought at that point in time the situation would get better because the RCMP had committed to doing those enhancements to ensure that this type of incident did not occur again." Lukiwski recalled.

'That should never, ever happen'

"Obviously, something fell through the cracks because it occurred today, and it should not have. At no time should there ever be any situation where a member of Parliament, regardless of which party they belong to, is denied access to their place of work. That should never, ever happen."

He suggested that this time, the committee might consider calling RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, "to try to get his assurances that this type of situation will never occur again."

Meanwhile, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May argued that the very act of using the House of Commons as "the official greeting place for visiting heads of state" is, itself, "a perversion of our Constitution."

"The place for visiting heads of state is Rideau Hall," she noted.

"The conversion of the House of Commons as a photo backdrop for political purposes, interfering with the work of this place is, frankly, offensive. I hope that perhaps this unfortunate incident will draw attention to the fact that red carpets, flags and in some cases tanks, on the front of Parliament Hill to greet visiting dignitaries is an inappropriate use of Parliament."

Now that the matter has been referred to committee, the investigation will likely get underway before Thanksgiving.

A spokesman for the RCMP told CBC News that the National Division is aware of the incident, and is looking into it.