Order, please. I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on March 10, 2011, by the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development concerning an alleged sit-in at his Parliament Hill office.
I wish to thank the minister for having raised this matter and the members for Churchill and Yukon for their comments.
In raising this question of privilege, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development explained that on Wednesday, March 9, 2011, the member for Churchill arrived at his office, uninvited and accompanied by a group of the Sayisi Dene and media representatives, pressing his staff for an immediate meeting despite his absence. In his view, this constituted a protest and a sit-in. Characterizing the incident as a serious breach of trust and a serious matter from a security standpoint, the minister expressed concern that his employees were made uncomfortable and prevented from doing their work.
The member for Churchill countered that the visit was simply an attempt to obtain a meeting with the minister and not an orchestrated event with the intention of obstructing the work of the minister's office.
As all hon. members will recall, House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, at page 108 states:
Speakers have consistently upheld the right of the House to the services of its members free from intimidation, obstruction and interference.
It also notes, on the same page, that:
Over the years, members have regularly brought to the attention of the House instances which they believed were attempts to obstruct, impede, interfere, intimidate or molest them, their staffs or individuals who had some business with them or the House.
In the case before us, the Chair is being asked to determine whether the unauthorized presence in the minister's office of the member for Churchill, a delegation of the Sayisi Dene and the media was tantamount to intimidation or obstruction of the minister's staff. To assist me, I reviewed the report on this matter prepared by House of Commons security, who attended the scene after being called upon for assistance by the minister's staff. It is clear to the Chair from the submissions, as well as the security report, that those occupying the minister's office were uninvited and did not have proper authorization to be there. As well, the Chair believes that the minister's staff was indeed uncomfortable, though they appeared to have handled the situation with aplomb and good grace.
I am troubled that the member for Churchill, without prior warning, took it upon herself to lead a group to another member's office. That media representatives were part of this group makes the situation that much more unfortunate. No matter how well intentioned the member for Churchill was, or how amicable the outcome of this particular incident, it was an unauthorized presence in a minister's office that left ministerial staff uncomfortable enough to warrant the assistance of security. It is a credit to the minister's staff, and it must be said to the unexpected visitors as well, that this incident did not escalate further and that the tone of the exchange was respectful.
It is well understood that members need access to ministers to fulfill their parliamentary functions but it is equally true that there are various well-known, entirely acceptable avenues available to secure such access. Members are expected to avail themselves of these mutually agreed upon opportunities rather than resorting to other unorthodox means that may place colleagues in untenable situations. Because of the actions of the member for Churchill, for almost an hour, her guests occupied the office of the minister without a previously arranged appointment. This is a clear abuse of the usual practices that all members are expected to follow. The Chair is disappointed that the member for Churchill showed a complete disregard for the common courtesies that are to be observed between members. In this case, the situation was well managed, but we may not always be so lucky.
It does not require a great deal of imagination to foresee the kind of circus atmosphere that could result if all members took it upon themselves to escort constituents, delegations or other citizens—however worthy their cause or objective—to whichever other member's office they chose.
That being said, in this particular case, in large part due to the calm, measured approach taken by the minister's staff in handling the situation, there is little evidence to suggest that the staff of the minister were obstructed in the fulfillment of their duties. The minister himself was careful not to overstate the impact of the incident on his staff. In view of the very high threshold required in adjudicating such situations, in this circumstance the Chair cannot find that a prima facie question of privilege has arisen in this matter.
The Chair expects that all members will heed the lesson of this incident in an effort to maintain the integrity of the precinct as a work environment where all members feel secure and respected.
I ask for the active collaboration of all members in this and I thank all members for their attention.