These comments are direct quotations from the Hansard documents.

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 error.

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 questions.

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 Canadians.

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 incorrect statement.

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 completed.

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 firearms program.

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 firearm?

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 to Parliament”.

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 House.

On page 119 of Erskine May's 21st edition, it states:

The Commons may treat the making of a deliberately misleading statement as a contempt.

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 past.

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.