Mr. Frank Howard (Skeena):
Mr. Speaker, I should like to rise on a question of privilege that affects the House and all members. By way of a preliminary perhaps I ought to say that yesterday the hon. member for Broadview, the hon. member for Moose Jaw, the hon. member for Timiskaming and I took the occasion to visit Millhaven penitentiary, which has received some publicity lately. When we arrived we were received with cordiality and friendliness by the warden and deputy warden, who were in no way hesitant about our right to visit the institution during reasonable hours of the day. Actually, I understand that there are some internal memos within the department on the matter which indicate that Members of Parliament may receive courtesies and opportunities not available to anybody else.
It has been a longstanding British tradition going back to long before Canada was founded and it has been a Canadian tradition as well that Members of Parliament, as the elected representatives of the public, should have the right to have access to those areas where the public invests its money in order to determine matters involving administration and also to assist in developing public policy relating to penitentiaries as a result of their understanding of the situation concerning penitentiaries. Thus they can assist in developing public policy. Such visits in the past have certainly brought about a greater appreciation of the desire and need to make changes in the penitentiary system.
After about three and a half or four hours in the institution and at a time when we were speaking with one of the inmates in Millhaven, there was an interruption by the warden who carried with him the following
The minister has asked me through the Deputy Commissioner that the M.P.'s be asked to leave the institute right away. A legal opinion has been obtained that they have no statutory right to be in the institute. The minister's request is made because the whole matter is under review by a commission of inquiry and also because of a police investigation into a murder.
I assume that was the Solicitor General (Mr. Goyer). There was no indication that it was any other minister, and penitentiaries come under the jurisdiction of the Solicitor General.
The phrase in that message about a legal opinion having been obtained with regard to the statutory right of members to visit such institutions is in reality a subterfuge. In activities of this sort, and I hope the Solicitor General feels this way, we should not be concerned about legal opinions but about moral rights and obligations.
Subtopic: MR. HOWARD (SKEENA)-RIGHT OF MEMBERS TO VISIT PENITENTIARIES