Senate finds possible privilege breach over Mountie's testimony

In a landmark ruling, Senate Speaker Noel Kinsella finds an alleged attempt by RCMP to discourage a B.C. Mountie from testifying at a committee could constitute a breach of parliamentary privilege. Kady O'Malley has more.

In a landmark ruling, Senate Speaker Noel Kinsella concluded that, at least at first glance, an alleged attempt by the RCMP to discourage a BC Mountie from travelling to Ottawa to testify about harassment within the police force before a Senate committee could constitute a breach of parliamentary privilege.

Earlier this week, CBC British Columba reported that, just days before his scheduled appearance, an RCMP health official informed Corporal Roland Beaulieu that if he felt "physically and cognitively able to participate in these hearings," he would be considered ready to return to "administrative duties" at his unit immediately.

The agency also issued a new directive forbidding Mounties on sick leave from travelling to Ottawa, "or anywhere else outside their jurisdiction" without written approval from both RCMP medical staff and management.

That sparked Liberal Senate Leader James Cowan to rise in the Red Chamber yesterday afternoon to make the case that the move to prevent Beaulieu from testifying could constitute a double-barreled breach of privilege, violating, as it did, both "the right of witnesses to appear before Parliament unobstructed and the right of parliamentarians to hear from witnesses."

As it turned out, the speaker agreed - as did the Chamber, which unanimously supported a motion to refer the matter to the Senate privilege committee for further study.

Given that such matters take precedent over virtually all other parliamentary business, that investigation could get underway as early as next week, and will almost certainly result in a second invitation being extended to Beaulieu, as well as other senior RCMP officials, not all of whom, it's worth noting, may be quite so eager to appear.

Here's the full ruling, as delivered in the Senate chamber earlier today:

Yesterday, Senator Cowan raised a question of privilege about media reports suggesting that a witness invited to appear before the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence during its study of Bill C-42 had not done so because of pressures exerted on him by his employer. The bill had been reported earlier in the sitting, without amendment but with observations. As the Leader of the Opposition explained, Corporal Roland Beaulieu, a member of the RCMP currently on medical leave, had been invited to appear before the committee on Monday, May 6. Senator Cowan indicated that last week Corporal Beaulieu had been informed that if he came to Ottawa to testify his medical leave would be terminated. As a result he did not attend. A number of other honourable senators then participated in consideration of the question of privilege. After these interventions, the chair committed to ruling today.
The ruling is, therefore, that there is a prima facie case of privilege. [...]