|These comments are direct quotations from the Hansard
Factual Errors in Report
Mr. Garry Breitkreuz (Yorkton—Melville,
CPC): Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of privilege. On October 31,
2003, the minister of justice tabled his department's performance report
for the period ending March 31, 2003.
There are a number of factual errors in the section of the minister's
report on the Canadian firearms program. These errors have misled the
House and impeded my ability to function as a member of Parliament.
This is the first opportunity I have to bring this matter to the attention
of the Speaker as Parliament has not been sitting since November 7, 2003.
While some of the so-called facts in the minister's report may be
debatable, the errors I will itemize for the Speaker today are not. I will
be providing the Speaker with copies of our supporting documentation.
On May 16, 2003, in response to Order Paper Question No. 194, the
government stated that the Department of Foreign Affairs and International
Trade had spent $45,000 since May 2001 on the firearms program. The
minister's performance report erroneously reported that the Department of
Foreign Affairs had spent nothing. The Speaker will know that foreign
affairs issues import and export permits for hundreds of thousands of
firearms annually. I do not think anyone in government believes that this
is done for nothing or for a mere $45,000. That is the first example of an
In response to the same Order Paper Question No. 194 on May 16, Treasury
Board stated, “The 2002-03 Departmental Performance report for the
Department of Justice will report Firearms Program expenditures
accordingly”. The justice minister's performance report provided no such
costs for Treasury Board.
I followed up Treasury Board's broken promise to Parliament with an Access
to Information Act request. On December 31, 2003, Treasury Board had the
nerve to say that it had no records of what it had spent during its eight
years of aiding and abetting the billion dollar boondoggle. Now members
cannot even believe the government's response to our Order Paper
The first paragraph of the minister's performance report on the Canadian
firearms program states:
The attention to the Program sparked by the December 2002 Auditor
General's Report emphasized concern about both costs and reporting, while
confirming that the program continues to be supported by the majority of
If the Speaker reviews chapter 10 of the Auditor General's December 2002
report to Parliament, he will find no such statement confirming that the
program continues to be supported by the majority of Canadians. That is an
The first paragraph also states:
In addition, initiatives were undertaken to address the complexities of
the compliance requirements and ensure successful completion of firearms
registration by the deadline of December 31, 2002.
This statement is misleading because it leaves the false impression that
the firearms registration phase of the program was actually successfully
How could firearms registration be successfully completed, as the minister
states in his performance report, when on October 23, 2003, William V.
Baker, Commissioner of Firearms, testifying before the Standing Committee
on Justice and Human Rights, stated, “We've had over 1 million long guns
registered since January 1, the original deadline”.
Further statistics and information obtained by my office through the
Access to Information Act, prove that the gun registration is still far
from completed. However, none of this information was provided in either
the departmental estimates or the minister's performance report on the
For example, the total number of valid firearms license holders that still
have not registered a gun is 414,283. How can it be said it is completed
when there are that many gun owners who have not even registered a
The total number of gun owners that still have to re-register or dispose
of their handguns is 318,846.
The government estimates of the total number of firearms that still have
to be registered is 1.1 million. The total number of hand guns that still
have to be re-registered is 625,829.
The CFC also admitted that it did not collect statistics on the 288,000
guns brought into Canada by foreign visitors. Non-compliance is now so bad
that the CFC has developed a national compliance strategy and program. If
the government hides these important facts from Parliament, it should make
everyone wonder what else it is hiding.
In the fourth paragraph of the report it states, “The Minister of
Justice accepted the Auditor General's recommendation to improve reporting
The truth is the government still refuses to provide the major additional
costs recommended by the Auditor General in paragraph 10.29 of the Auditor
General's December 2002 report to Parliament. The Speaker can find this
fact in the government's response to Order Paper Question No. 202 in
Hansard for May 26, 2003.
We have also identified a number of other departments that have incurred
direct and indirect costs implementing the Firearms Act and regulations
that were not included in the minister's performance report as recommended
in the Auditor General's report.
I could go on, Mr. Speaker, and I have documented many other examples of
factual errors. I have given you five in the minister's report to
Parliament that are enough to prove our case.
On page 225 of Joseph Maingot's Parliamentary Privilege in Canada, he
describes contempt as an offence against the authority or dignity of the
On page 119 of Erskine May's 21st edition, it states:
The Commons may treat the making of a deliberately misleading statement as
The 22nd edition of Erskine May, on page 63, describes ministerial
responsibility and states:
--it is of paramount importance that ministers give accurate and truthful
information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the
earliest opportunity. Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be
expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister...
On February 2, 2002, the Speaker ruled a question of privilege to be prima
facie even though the minister of justice who made misleading statements
in the House said that he had no intention of misleading the House. The
Speaker felt that it was in the best interests of the House to have a
committee look into the matter.
To perform the fundamental functions, the House has always insisted on
accurate and truthful information. That is why the making of erroneous and
misleading statements in the House may be treated as contempt.
On October 31, 2003, the justice minister tabled a report that was
factually wrong in a number of ways and clearly misled the House. I have
here a much longer list and evidence of how the report was factually wrong
and I can give this to the Speaker as he wishes. This continual cover up
and contempt of Parliament has to stop. We are getting fed up.
I am prepared to move the appropriate motion should the Speaker rule that
the matter is a prima facie case of privilege.
Hon. Roger Gallaway (Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the
Government in the House of Commons, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I listened
with great interest to the question of privilege raised by my friend
opposite. He has referred to a great number of reports, questions and
documents, obviously none of which I have had the opportunity to peruse.
However the fundamentals of his reasons, as I understand them, for
believing that his privileges have in some way been offended or broken
rest on Order Paper Question No. 194 which was raised at some point in the
I refer to Marleau and Montpetit, 2000 edition, page 443 where the general
principle is laid out that there are no provisions in the rules for the
Speaker to review government responses to questions. In fact, in the last
10 years at least, on various occasions members have raised questions of
privilege on the premise that the information given in an answer to a
question on the Order Paper was in some way inaccurate. In those cases
they asked for a finding of a prima facie case of privilege.
I point out that in footnote 204 on page 443 it refers to a number of
cases in the past 10 years where that was raised. In fact, in all cases
the Speaker has ruled that it is not the role of the Chair to determine
whether or not the contents of documents tabled in the House are accurate,
nor to assess the likelihood of any hon. member knowing whether the facts
contained in a document are correct.
In other words, in the response to a question on the Order Paper, it is
not a question of privilege to go behind those responses to ask or to
suggest that this is in some way a question of privilege.
The second part of the question of privilege raised by my friend opposite,
as I understand it, deals with a report that was tabled in the House. He
is saying that there are some inaccuracies in that report. Certainly
inaccuracies in reports are matters which are always debatable and open to
question, and that is essentially what my friend opposite is raising.
The most serious part of this is that he is suggesting that there is some
contempt in this bundle of documents which have been referred to by the
member opposite. He is saying that some of the contents of these are
deliberately misleading statements, that in some way a minister has
knowingly misled the House.
Once again I will say that I have not had the opportunity to review all of
the matters raised by the member opposite but we do know that there is no
breach of privilege with respect to the answer to Question No. 194, as
raised by the member opposite. That is an established parliamentary ruling
for which there are many precedents.
We also know that to find contempt requires a considerable onus on the
person alleging that to establish that someone knowingly inserted false
information into a report and, in doing so, attempted to mislead the House
and the members of it. I would suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, that that in
no way has been established. Again I would say that he disagrees with
certain statements made in a large body of documents that he has referred
to over a long period of time, but the veracity of that is debatable.
Having said that, I would suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, that there is no,
on the face of it, prima facie case.
I have appreciated the intervention made by the member opposite but in
this case I cannot agree that this is a prima facie case of privilege.
The Speaker: I thank the parliamentary secretary and the hon.
member for Yorkton--Melville for raising these matters and offering their
advice to the Chair in this regard.
I will have an opportunity now to review the materials that were referred
to by the hon. member for Yorkton--Melville in his original submission and
then, having seen those materials, I will run over the arguments advanced
by the hon. parliamentary secretary to the government House leader and
come back to the House with a decision in due course. I thank them again
for their interventions.