The Chair: I would like to call the meeting to order. We have today some representations with regard to standing order 123 and I am pleased to see Mr Jackson is going to be with us today. The timing today is 10:30 this morning until approximately noon hour, perhaps a little bit less, and then this afternoon from 2 o'clock until 3:30. Is there any other business before we hear from witnesses?
Mr Sorbara: Mr Chairman, inasmuch as this is our first section 123 hearing and inasmuch as this matter comes to us from a member of the Legislature who is not really a member of this committee but is sitting in today, I think probably it would be appropriate to have a few opening remarks from our colleague Cam Jackson, the member for Burlington South.
Mr Jackson: I do not wish to speak directly to the bill, but to the process of standing order 123 committees and what is proper and precedent. Mr Chairman, I would first of all hope to recognize that the clock is not running, because I am bringing up a matter of business for the committee and not a matter with respect to the agenda. Have you instructed the clock to begin?
Mr Jackson: If I may, I would like to say that it is with very deep regret that I must bring to the committee's attention a concern that I have. I will be presenting a motion in a moment requesting that you as Chair ask the Speaker of the House to investigate that the activities of this committee have been impinged on and tampered with by what we believe to be the Attorney General's office.
I wish to raise this issue for the simple reason that since prior to Christmas we have known that this committee was hoping to conduct a standing order 123 examination of victims' rights for this province. It has come to my attention that a conference on victims' rights has been scheduled to correspond with this week and that most of the deputants who were specifically requested by committee members were unable to attend this public hearing before all parties of the Legislature, in favour of private, closed-door meetings with the government.
I want to be very careful. I do not wish to suggest that this is something that the Premier or his government is doing, but rather something which the Attorney General's office is doing. Having said that, I wish to bring to the Chair's attention that this is a serious matter, in my view, because it is one method by which the process of a standing order 123 committee review can be undermined or short-circuited by the government. To the extent that it occurs, it should be brought to the Speaker's attention, because my rights as a legislator, and quite frankly the rights of this committee, have been offended.
There has been a partial precedent for this, but it was not as serious, in my view. It occurred with this committee, the standing committee on administration of justice, last year -- and I was subbed in to that committee -- and it was during the alternative dispute resolution review. At that time, the Attorney General of the day called a press conference and made substantive announcements of initiatives for ADR while we were in the middle of public hearings. There was a major hue and cry made by the opposition parties, and I want to bring to the Chair's attention that the permanent members on that committee representing the New Democrats in opposition at the time were Mr Hampton, the current Attorney General, and Mr Kormos, the current Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations. The person subbed to the committee was Mr Farnan, who is the current Minister of Correctional Services and Solicitor General. They raised a considerable stink. I do not wish to raise a considerable stink. One member of the committee walked away from the committee hearings in disgust because of this blatant attempt to short-circuit the process.
I believe what we are now witnessing -- and if the Chair is not aware of it, the Attorney General has called for a press conference today while we are in session, specifically calling for a series of people to answer questions to the media. These individuals have been asked to come to this committee to present their case to us and they have indicated that they would be unwilling or unable to do so. We now know that it is because the Attorney General is having a press conference at 3:30 today to have all of them present their case on behalf of the government.
I suggest to you, Mr Chairman, that this is a very serious matter. It strikes at the issue of our parliamentary procedures. As you know, in a majority government situation, the opposition has very few rights to defend the parliamentary process. This committee, a standing order 123 committee, is one of the few options. Victims' rights in this province were approved in principle in the House and thrown to the standing committee of the House --
Mr Jackson: I will simply read -- no. Briefly, it is a news release communiqué dated 26 February 1991. It was received in my office at 4 o'clock yesterday. It is a media advisory: "Attorney General Howard Hampton and members of the Advisory Board on Victims' Issues will be available to meet with the media on Thursday, February 28th between 3:30 and 4:00 pm at the Chestnut Park Hotel, 27th floor, Axminster Room."
It goes on to suggest that the individuals who were invited to this committee -- Carol Cameron, Barbara Turnbull, Mary Lou Fassel, Pat Marshall, John Bates, Judy Wolfe, and there are more -- are not able to attend the committee hearings this week because they have been in this hotel behind closed doors with the minister for the last two days.
The Chair: If we could ensure that a copy of that gets circulated. There are a couple of issues here. One, of course, is the rescheduling. I believe that the clerk can speak to the rescheduling and why that occurred. Ms Turnbull is scheduled to appear before us on 25 March, according to this tentative agenda. I do not know -- it has not been brought to my attention -- that she is no longer willing to attend, but certainly the clerk could clarify that. So there are a couple of issues. I believe that the rescheduling has been addressed before, and certainly the priority of Bill 17, which has been before this committee and whose clause-by-clause is still not finished, does take precedence over a 123 motion, as you know.
So there are a couple of items. One is the degree to which this committee's procedures were directly interfered with, and that is something which I think the clerk could address in terms of the scheduling issues. Perhaps we could deal with that one first. Clerk?
Mr Jackson: I understand all of that, and since I am the only new member to the committee at the moment, she is restating something simply for my benefit. I am aware of the jockeying. Our problem is not that Bill 17 went late. Our problem is that we had known for several months that we were going to conduct these hearings during this week and that the ministry proceeded to call a conference involving all the known deputants whom we had said we wanted to contact and invited them away from this function to another function. That was my point. I am not disputing that they are willing to come back at some future date. We only have 12 precious hours and the most substantive people we need to examine are holed up in a hotel room in downtown Toronto with the Attorney General. That is my point.
We should not be proceeding if in fact we are going to be talking to people who are not necessarily as appropriate to our agenda as would be the people who, the Attorney General agrees with us, should be discussed.
The Chair: I appreciate that the major part of your concern is that there has been an indirect attempt -- not a direct contact with the committee or a direct attempt to subvert the committee's proceedings -- to do so by the Attorney General.
Clerk of the Committee: I have just been asked to explain the scheduling, to tell you factually exactly what happened. We were originally scheduled, before December, to do the standing order 123 during the week of 25 February. When I was asked to reschedule last week, our office found it difficult to schedule for Wednesday and Thursday of this week because everybody we contacted had a prior commitment, which is the reason why we are continuing over on the 19th and 20th.
Mr Sorbara: I think the clerk explains quite accurately the scheduling dilemmas that we have had in respect of the 123 hearings that we had decided to undertake in, I guess it was, December. But the allegation, as I understand it, from Mr Jackson is somewhat different. The allegation is that at least the Attorney General, and perhaps the Attorney General and his ministry, in the face of potential embarrassment on the question of victims' rights hearings before this committee, proceeded to organize their own convention, their own conference, their own private hearings, so that at the very time when this committee was to hear matters which would raise concerns among members of the public about victims of crime and victims' rights, the government, in its wisdom -- or, I should probably say more correctly, lack of wisdom -- decided to pre-empt that process, at least in a public relations fashion, by organizing its own roadshow.
When I see that the government is having a conference or hearings or consultations with groups and then puts out a news release saying, "We'll be available to tell you about what we've done over the past couple of days," that is clearly a roadshow. You do not have to be a minister very long to understand that is what you do when you want to have a roadshow and get a little profile. So I think Mr Jackson raises an important point.
As I understood his motion -- I think it was in the form of a motion -- he suggests that this matter be investigated by the Speaker to see if his rights as an MPP and this committee's privileges as a committee have been violated.
Mr Sorbara: I am not finished. I would like to know that as well. I think it would be crucial to know when the Ministry of the Attorney General and the Attorney General agreed or started to organize their consultation with victims of crime on the question of victims' rights. If the organization of that took place at any time after this committee resolved to have these hearings at this time, it is shocking.
I do not personally believe, by the way, that the Attorney General would be so capricious as to organize the timing of his hearings so that the very people we wanted to hear from would not be available to come. That would be even more shocking. But to organize it so that the government would have a proactive, positive message to put out just when this committee was perhaps putting out, as a result of what it heard, a negative message would be politics of the worst sort. So the question that we really have to find out, and I think is the heart and soul of Mr Jackson's motion, is for the Speaker to undertake that investigation on our behalf, investigate the Ministry of the Attorney General and report to us as urgently as possible as to what the hell is going on here.
I want to tell you, Mr Chairman, that this is the first I have heard that this conference was going on with these individuals. There is no doubt in my mind that the Ministry of the Attorney General knew two and a half minutes after we passed our 123 motion that these committee hearings would be going on. There is no doubt in my mind that they could have at any point advised you as Chairman, the clerk, their members, their whip or any member of this committee that our choice of time was inappropriate because of what they were already planning to do. But here we are. We are sitting here about to begin these hearings and for the first time I am hearing that not only are these important witnesses not available, but they are meeting in Toronto with the Attorney General. Whom is he trying to kid? What is going on?
My dilemma, as an inexperienced member of this committee, is; where do we go from here? I put it to the clerk whether or not this motion is in order and whether or not we can actually call upon the Speaker to do this investigation for us. Finally, how do we go about getting the authoritative information we need about the organization of this conference to come to some sort of conclusions about who is doing it to whom in regard to victims' rights? I am appalled.
Mr Morrow: I will agree with Mr Jackson and Mr Sorbara that this was brought to our attention this morning. No, we did not know about it before that. The Attorney General's ministry, from our understanding, had done its best to work around this. The evaluation of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board does work independently of the Ministry of the Attorney General. They organized this on their own initiative. There was no intention to short-circuit the process or to subvert committee proceedings. The news release I did not know about and I do not think any of my colleagues knew about it.
Clerk of the Committee: Mr Sorbara asked in terms of procedurally what this committee can do. I guess procedurally there would be a number of options. Points of privilege cannot be determined in committee. Although this is not at this point a point of privilege, this committee may adopt a report to the House and report to the House. Of course, on any majority motion the committee may request me, as the clerk, to write a letter to the Speaker. This committee also has the power to send for persons and documents. So if there is specific information that this committee would like me to get, if there is a majority vote from members of this committee, those letters would go out to the appropriate people at the direction of the committee.
The Chair: I appreciate the difficulty that this kind of discussion would entail were it to be taking part of the standing order 123 time, but I wonder if it might not be possible to introduce a motion to adjourn this discussion so that we can hear from the witnesses and resume without taking away from your very important time. I am just making that as a suggestion.
The Chair: Mr Jackson moves that this committee request the Speaker to investigate the circumstances around the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board conference and its corresponding scheduling inappropriately against the committee's stated agenda, and specifically investigate the timing on which this conference was arranged.
Mr Jackson: I wish to speak briefly to the motion. I am trying very carefully not to get angry about victims' rights. I really want to put it in perspective, especially for those members of this committee who have not been on committees before, or are new to the processes. This is a parliamentary procedural issue only. The fact is that this is one of the few opportunities any MPP has to air an issue of concern.
When the NDP was concerned about food banks, we proceeded in a non-partisan fashion to deal with them, and the fact now is that this process, which is new, only a year old, may lend itself to this kind of abuse. It is a matter of our rights and should be brought to the Speaker's attention immediately. l am not finished, Mr Chairman.
Mr Jackson: Yes, and that is why I only wish to speak to it. Normally, the Chair would recognize one speaker for each party and then we would call the vote, which is what I am suggesting. I am almost finished my remarks.
Mr Jackson: I was advised by a confidential phone call about a month ago, from a ministry official who indicated that there would be some effort to try and focus attention away from this committee. I have had that conversation with a member of one of the ministry staff who called me on a confidential basis.
When I heard that, I said, "It is pretty hard to interfere with the public hearing." I now see the process by which the interference occurs and I am deeply offended and the victims' rights agenda has been adversely affected by it. I do not wish to call an end to these hearings, although in the past that has been the reaction of some members. I will respect that those who were able to come did come, but this is an offence against the process and therefore I would like the motion passed.
Mr Sorbara: These allegations get more and more serious. If my friend Mr Jackson is right that he received an anonymous tip from the Ministry of the Attorney General that there was going to be some effort to somehow overcome the impact of these hearings, that is an incredibly serious allegation. In my view, although I am not a parliamentary expert, that is a true violation of the privileges of a member of the Legislature who brings forward a motion under a standing order for the very purpose of bringing things to the attention of the government.
My friends Mr Jackson and Mr Morrow are wrong if this news release communique from the Ministry of the Attorney General is right. This is not a conference being organized by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, which is separate or at some arms length from the Ministry of the Attorney General, although it reports to the Attorney General. If this news release is right, the advisory board, an advisory board to the Ministry of the Attorney General and to the Attorney General himself, will be completing a two-day conference focusing on victims' issues, not the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. This is an advisory board to the minister himself.
So a meeting of the advisory board is called at the instance of the minister. These advisory boards are straightforward. They are there to help the minister and, through the minister, the ministry and the government formulate policy in respect of issues relating to victims' rights.
The Chair: Excuse me, Mr Sorbara. I believe that the clerk has already spoken with the witnesses who are before us. I have expressed my concern about that and they have agreed to attend the beginning of the 123 hearings.
Mr Morrow: In my opinion, yes, l do agree there has been a parallel problem that obviously should and will be looked into. I have asked before the divisional vote that this be stood down so that we could do that and have enough time to look into it. Just for that reason, I believe the government needs more time than 20 minutes. Thank you very much.
Mr Sorbara: Might I just suggest, to help us out here, if you guys are not prepared to vote in favour of this, vote against it and you will have another very similar motion before the committee as soon as we finish that vote, and if you need more time, then I am sure that --
Mr Morrow: Mr Chair, just one second, please. With the indulgence of everybody again, I have just had some other information brought to mind. It is our understanding that, yes, there has been a problem. We have asked for it to be stood down, but I will be standing, and I hope my colleagues will be standing, in support of Mr Jackson's motion.
Clerk of the Committee: Mr Jackson moves that the committee requests the Speaker to investigate circumstances around the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board conference and its corresponding scheduling inappropriately against the committee's stated agenda, and specifically investigate the timing around which this conference was arranged.
Mr Jackson: Since that is part of the Attorney General's office, I would rather the motion read, "the Attorney General's office and their specific," if we wish. But I would rather it be, "the Attorney General's office convening meetings."
Mr Jackson: Except that the press release I read into the record says the Advisory Board on Victims' Issues, and its membership is listed as the people who were supposed to be here, but they are at that conference. It includes members of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. It is under the bailiwick of the Attorney General's office, so I want the motion to read, "the Attorney General's conference, convened by the Attorney General," etc.
Mr Sorbara: Mr Chair, on a point of order: I would like to do a couple of things. I would like to move a motion collateral to the motion we have just passed, and give my friend Mr Jackson an opportunity as well. Having looked at the actual words of the motion that we have just passed, I move some amending words, if that is appropriate and permissible by the clerk. I can find that out, but my motion --
Mr Sorbara: Okay. I would move a motion relating to privilege at the moment, and I think perhaps Mr Jackson may want to move a motion as well, a new motion which will have the effect of clarifying. My motion is quite simple: that the motion we have just considered concerning the convening of a conference dealing with victims' rights be considered by the Speaker as a breach of the privileges of the members of this committee.
Clerk of the Committee: I would just like to clarify for the committee that if somebody is bringing to the committee's attention a breach of privilege, this committee cannot deal with a breach of privilege, but we can report the breach of privilege to the House and let the House deal with the breach of privilege. So that is, if my understanding is correct, what Mr Sorbara is asking, that we report to the House a breach of the committee's privilege.
Mr Sorbara: Yes. I will then rephrase or try and clarify my motion simply by saying that, in respect of the matters brought to the committee's attention today by Mr Jackson, this committee report to the House matters that it considers to be a breach of the privileges of the members of this committee and asks the House to consider that matter in that context.
Mr Jackson: A friendly suggestion: to expand that motion to include, in terms of our activities, by linking it to standing order 123, an examination of victims' rights. I want it to be clear and it would be helpful that the breach is a function of the issue that we are investigating, not that this committee and its conduct generally has been breached over a variety of issues. The incident is specific to our work in this area and it might be helpful to --
Mr Sorbara: I will just have the assistance of the clerk of the committee because this should be very specific and it will be helpful. I move that this committee report to the House the breach of the privileges of the committee and its members inasmuch as the Attorney General has apparently scheduled a two-day conference on the issue of victims' rights and has done so to coincide with the deliberations of this committee under standing order 123 on the very same issue, and in doing so has denied or attempted to deny this committee the opportunity to hear from witnesses competent to testify on matters relating to victims' rights. Does that help you out, Cam?
Mr Sorbara: I hope that my friends in the government party can continue to accept what we are doing here. This, again, will not bring the government down but simply puts the latter motion in the context in which it really should be, within the context of a consideration of our privileges as committee members. I think Mr Jackson's motion is appropriate. Reporting to the Speaker allows the Speaker to do the investigation and then putting it within the context of privilege gives the Speaker an opportunity to report to the House within a specific set of guidelines dealing with privilege.
I want to be quite frank with you. This looks like something that might come close to a breach of privilege, although in my five and a half years in Parliament we have not seen too many instances. I cannot recall one where the Speaker has actually said, "Yes, the members' privileges have been violated." I am not trying to put one over on you; I am just trying to expand what we did last time and make sure that we do this thing in a way that has the question thoroughly examined by the time we get back to the House. So I hope that my colleagues will continue to do what they did last time and support the motion.
Mr Mills: Like my colleague Mr Morrow, I would like to also point out that this board is acting on its own and it may be coincidental; it may look rather odd that both of these things come together. I still am of the opinion that the board acted independently and it is perhaps unfortunate or regrettable that these two things have come together. The thing that bothers me about this that has not been addressed and that has some tremendous effect on my support and the way I would vote is this mystery person at the AG's office who let Cam know that this was going to happen. I am afraid that I cannot act on an allegation that says, "Well, this is what happened."
Mr Mills: I read that. I am not talking about the press release; I am talking about the board. I am always very leery of these mystery people and these brown envelopes that deliver all this kind of information. So I am not going to support it, based upon that.
The Chair: Before Mr Sorbara speaks, I would like to draw the committee's attention to the difficulty that Hansard has when there are many conversations, all of which are important. I want to ensure that committee members here should be recorded. However, it is impossible for Hansard to record them when they appear extemporaneously and without being recognized by the Chair. Mr Sorbara?
Mr Sorbara: I just wanted to say to Mr Mills, and particularly to Mr Morrow, that nothing would please me more, to tell you the truth, than to find out after the investigations have been done that some time back in October the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board organized a two-day conference to examine the question of victims' rights thoroughly. I am sure it has conferences on a regular basis and that this was a terribly unfortunate coincidence. I really would prefer that to be the result and I want to tell you that if that is the result, I would not be one bit surprised, because these things do happen.
But unfortunately, the evidence before us, and in particular two pieces of evidence, the testimony of our colleague on this committee, Mr Jackson, to the effect that there was going to be some interference, or some competition, to be more accurate, with this committee's standing order 123 deliberations, and the fact that a news release issued a couple of days ago comes out of the Ministry of the Attorney General, not the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board and does not refer to a two-day conference of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board but a two-day conference of the advisory board on victims' rights.
It may well be that someone picked up the wrong stationery. Those kinds of things do happen around here unfortunately. And it may be that the call that Mr Jackson got was just a call from some angry bureaucrat who was trying simply to get the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board conference moved to a different day because it interfered with his or her schedule and he thought he could just stir up a little trouble by creating a little bit of political heat for his or her ministry. These things do happen around here; they happen far too often. But I think it would be a healthy thing for our committee to get to the bottom of this and to have the necessary information so that the record could be clear.
Mr Sorbara: We did pass that motion, but if we passed the next motion, that would give the Speaker additional authority to do the necessary investigations. My expectation is that when we reconvene in the House, or a couple of days thereafter, the Speaker is going to stand up and report to the House on this breach of privilege if we pass this second motion. He will say, in short, to the House it was a regrettable error. There was no attempt to pervert or compete with the work of the committee on the administration of justice and, having done a thorough investigation, he is satisfied that the privileges of the members of this committee have not been breached. But I encourage you, having taken the first step, to make sure that the opportunity is complete and allow us to frame this thing within the context of privilege so that we can really get to the bottom of it and get a response as soon as possible.
Mr Poirier: Gord and friends: 26 February. And the advisory board is always advisory to the minister. If this is dated 26 February, from my knowledge and experience, having been a parliamentary assistant a number of times, this has been prepared for some time back, to issue this. An advisory board to the minister would not have a conference without the minister knowing. I would find that very hard to believe. It is not as independent as you described it, with all due respect, Gord.
If it was the other board, well, fair enough, maybe it did. But this is an advisory board to the minister. The fact is, I want to invite the newer members on the committee to consider that we are asking the Speaker to look into this. We are not condemning anybody. We are asking the Speaker to look into this. On this letterhead and this date this advisory board to the minister at the same time as us. With some of the evidence that Mr Jackson has brought forward, I would invite the newer members to join us, to ask the Speaker in a non-partisan way to look into this, because you may require that type of resolution in the future and you will understand why it is important, when there is a question that members' privileges may -- and I underline the word "may" -- have been allowed. It is important for all members of the House to have the Speaker look into it and to determine the nature of the objection.
Mr F. Wilson: This paper I have in front of me here says "News Release, Ministry of the Attorney General" dated, etc as my colleague has said. This is not an official document. This is not a legal official document and it never was intended to be. It is a PR document. These are, as you said Mr Sorbara, fraught with problems, with mistakes, with all kinds of things. They are never meant to be a basis for decision-making. There are enough lawyers in this room, I think, with a combined IQ exceeding 102 to know that you would never get anywhere in front of a court of law.
Mr F. Wilson: Therefore, to make an amendment or a change to a motion based on this document -- you just cannot do it. This is as good as a newspaper, which you would not also make your decision based on, simply that.
Mr Carr: The only point that I wanted to make on this is that we have a situation where the Attorney General was aware of a situation and obviously did not bring it to the attention of any of the members. I find that very -- maybe communication is bad, but unfortunately it looks very bad for this committee and I would encourage everyone to vote in favour of the motion.
Mr Winninger: I had no objection, of course, to Mr Jackson's motion, simply because he was asking the Speaker to exercise his discretion and rule on the appropriateness of the objection as to procedure.
I do, however, object to Mr Sorbara's motion, simply because Mr Sorbara's motion imputes some kind of motives to the Attorney General, who might deliberately be infringing on the rights of the members of this committee. That is why I find Mr Sorbara's motion objectionable and I cannot vote for it.
Mr Morrow: I too voted in favour of Mr Jackson's motion because it implies the Speaker is to make an investigation. This motion requesting an investigation says that the AG has done things improperly. It is based on innuendo and unsubstantiated rumour.
Mr Sorbara: Will it be too strong to say I am appalled at the nonsense I am hearing from the government members? It is outrageous that you say that. No one is imputing motives. We are asking that an investigation be done. If the investigation finds that the Attorney General had nothing to do with this, that is what the Speaker will say.
Your members for years and years raised these matters and put forward these motions as a matter of privilege, and if you will not do it here, by God, you are going to see it in the House day after day after day. What are you afraid of? This is not imputing anything to the Attorney General. No one suggested that this is a legal document. This is a news release advising the public that something is going to happen. That is all.
What we are saying through this motion is we want an investigation. We feel maybe, perhaps -- although we would doubt it, with pristine Howard Hampton now in office -- that they would ever do anything to compromise the rights and privileges of the members. But we have this little bit of evidence that creates a shadow of a doubt about the purity of the new government, so we want the Speaker to investigate under the category of privileges in the standing orders.
Come on, do not be afraid, gentlemen. Do not be afraid. You do not need to hide behind your majority. Howard Hampton did not do anything wrong. He was not trying to screw up the proceedings of this committee, he was just having a news conference and that is going to be the result. But, for God's sake, do not pervert the very investigation. Do you remember Richard Nixon? "There's no problem here." Watergate. "There's no problem at all. We're not covering up anything. We don't need to do any investigation. Hey, by the way, erase those tapes." They threw him out of office.
So what are you hiding? We are asking for an investigation to be done. The Speaker of this House, over the past 128 years in this House, has done hundreds and hundreds of investigations on the question of privilege, and in 99 cases out of 100 he stands up and says, "There has been no violation of the privileges of the members."
Mr Sorbara: My friend Mr Poirier says he has not heard one in seven years. So what are you hiding behind? Allow the motion to go through. Do not start covering up now. You have four and a half years before you get thrown out. What are you doing? What are you hiding? My God. We want this motion on privilege to carry, because we think --
I am not insinuating that you are covering up. I am saying that once you vote against this privilege motion, you are participating in a process that prevents us from doing the kind of investigation that needs to be done, and that, in my mind, comes within the category of coverup. Do not start now. It is too early. There will be things that are far more important to cover up as you make more mistakes during your one term in office. So I am recommending to you that you change your mind, support this motion. Let the Speaker do his work and simply bask in the glory when the Speaker stands up and reports to the House and says, "There has been no violation of the privileges of the members."
The Chair: Before Mr Jackson speaks, if the other members, several of whom have spoken without being recognized, wish to be recognized, all they have to do is elevate their hands and grab my attention. Mr Winninger has done that already. Mr Jackson is first, though.
Mr Jackson: Several members of the government caucus have spoken to this issue, but unfortunately were not present -- I am not naming them -- when the substantive elements of the debate on this issue were made known. Therefore I feel it is important, almost imperative, that these matters be put on the record in their presence, because they correspond to their voting.
Several statements have been made about whether or not a bona fide case has been made for a breach of members' privileges, and I must say that that is solely the decision of the Speaker. That is why we have the Speaker and it is why we voted for the Speaker. It is because he is there to protect us in a non-partisan way.
But I wish to suggest to the committee that standing order 123 committees are unique. They are a very rare opportunity for backbench MPPs to bring forward an issue of vital concern to them or to their constituents. Therefore, it stands alone as one of the few opportunities that cannot be short-circuited or impeded. In private members' time this can be done. You can pass the vote, everybody looks good and then you throw it off to committee of the whole House and it dies a death.
Members would be aware that on two occasions I have brought forward a victims' bill of rights. The Liberals said they would support it, as did Howard Hampton, as he stood up in the House, but the government, controlling the agenda on the floor of the Legislature, put it to committee of the whole House. It died a natural death. This is the only opportunity for this issue to come forward.
So matters of privilege are rather unique when put in the context of any form of tampering that may have occurred with this committee. I have been very careful, and Hansard will confirm it. On Mr Mills's suggestion of allegations, I have been very careful to talk about the appearance of things that should be looked into. A bona fide charge has not been made.
The fact of the matter is that we are here by all-party agreement to examine the fact that Ontario is the only province in Canada that does not have a victims' bill of rights. If we listen to the citizens of this province, they tell us we need one. That is what we are here for. That is the only reason we are here. We, in a non-partisan fashion, will come together and we will give a report and we will advise the government of the day in a non-partisan fashion on what we think are in the best interests of victims of violent crimes in this province.
We have available to us the best witnesses on this subject who could come and speak to us, and we knew that last December when we chose the week of our deliberations and the people to invite. The clerk has reported she has experienced considerable difficulties with the scheduling and rescheduling of this committee's agenda, but it should be put on the record that there are several people whom we have requested as deputants who have not returned the calls and who, as we speak, are now in a hotel room in downtown Toronto.
My staff went to the hotel yesterday to have a look-see, as it were, the minute we got this press release. My staff walked into a room with almost 60 of the victims' rights activists, and all the best advice that this committee had asked for was assembled in that room. But more important, five ministries of your government were represented in that meeting and yet we have the Ministry of Correctional Services before us today. I am not going to slight the Ministry of Correctional Services; it is a great ministry.
Mr Jackson: But this is the first time that the minister himself has not attended a standing order 123 committee and spoken on behalf of the government to a committee. Nowhere do I see Mr Hampton, nor do I see his parliamentary assistant making a statement. It should be on the record and shared with other members that this is unique. In the six times that these committees have operated, this is the first time the government has chosen not to put on the record anything of importance to share with this committee.
I wanted to correct the record on these points because my concern is primarily that this committee cannot do justice to the job it has at hand. If that is the case, why are we sitting here, spending, I am told, somewhere between $8,000 and $10,000 of taxpayers' money, listening to those deputants we might have access to as opposed to the deputants this committee first wanted to speak to?
We might get hold of them two weeks from now or when the House is sitting but, quite frankly, with 12 limited hours, the system was designed and devised in order for the committee to come together in a non-partisan fashion. We have the right to request witnesses to come forward, and our right to request those witnesses to come forward when it was deemed appropriate has been impeded by what is evidenced by the press release. It is not hearsay. If you want to go down to the hotel and go to the 27th floor, you will walk in on a room with 50 or 60 people being convened by the Attorney General's office. I know most of these people in the room, and so do my staff, and we were able to recognize them.
I consider that a serious matter, and I am not here to throw books and to run out of the meeting as other opposition parties have done in the past when these things have come to light. I think it is a serious matter --
Mr Jackson: -- unnamed political parties -- when this has happened, the reason being that the democracy we have is very fragile. We will be one day in government and another day in opposition; and no one knows that better than the NDP, which when I first arrived was the third party.
So we are calling upon this motion to do what is contained in the other motion, but more appropriately worded in accordance with our House rules, and that is, we must report to the House in order to engage the Speaker. I did not come to this meeting with my motion all designed and plotted out. I came to this meeting to share with the committee my concern, to see if people shared that concern. I was pleased that Mr Morrow, Mr Mills and the Chairman confirmed for the record that they were totally unaware that this parallel activity was going on, and I put it in context that the implications are not so much that someone designed to do it but that we cannot proceed and do the best job we are capable of, based on the evidence that is before us.
I am prepared to proceed even though we are wasting our time. More important, we can move from this motion and proceed. But if we cannot agree that there has at least been a matter that should be examined and we should report this to the House, then there really is no need for us to proceed, because the people whom we should be talking to are down at a hotel, downtown Toronto, at the Chestnut Park Hotel, meeting with four or five different ministries of the current government.
I will serve notice: My next motion will probably be that we adjourn and go down and sit in on that. We will get more value for taxpayers' dollars and we will learn more as a committee if we just sit in the back of the room and listen to the discussion. We will. But we will be doing more justice to this issue than sitting here listening to one group talk to us when there is another group, a much better group quite frankly, assembled downtown speaking to the five ministries. And that is what should have been occurring here.
How it happened: We will get to that conclusion at some point. Who is responsible? We will get to that conclusion as well. But let's not lose sight of: Do we want to do a credible job? Because if we do, we cannot proceed with this arrangement that we have now. I for one believe I will get more information and be more helpful to the parliamentary process if I am in that hotel room where all the action is on this issue in this province. It certainly is not occurring at this table, and that is where the breach of our rights is.
I would have been happy if the minister had phoned this committee up through its Chairman and said: "I would like to invite the members of this committee to sit in on a portion of the conference." If the minister is not prepared to come and speak to this all-party committee, he should invite us to the luncheon where he is speaking to them and let us listen to his words on his government's commitment and his concern in this area. But to shut out three political parties from the process when we have clearly made known our interest in dealing with this issue in a non-partisan fashion, in my view, if it is a bad oversight, it is most probably a breach of our rights.
So I will leave it on that note. The Speaker is going to investigate this anyway. By reporting to the House we are only formalizing what we have already approved in the first motion, and if no one has explained that to you, I hope I have.
Mr Winninger: Mr Chair, I would forgo my earlier remarks and simply say that Mr Sorbara has had ample opportunity to respond to my objections to his motion. I for one found Mr Jackson's resolution to be in acceptable form and I would urge the committee to call the question. The issues have been defined, and I think we should move on.
Mr Sorbara: On a point of order, Mr Chairman: Before I propose that we adjourn for the noon hour and reconvene at 2 o'clock, I want to personally express my apologies to the witnesses who were to have testified before us this morning. They have taken time out from their responsibilities to come before us. They are not subpoenaed; they are here voluntarily.
I do want to say as well, though, on the same point, that there will be other motions brought forward to this committee by myself or perhaps Mr Jackson so that we can pass some sort of motion that allows us to get beyond the coverup and into what really happened. Those motions, I am telling my friend Mr Morrow, will deal with gathering information or some way or other to find out what happened here. So I just want to, in a sense, put those who are coming to testify to us this afternoon on some notice of what they are in for.
The Chair: Before adjournment I would, with the committee's indulgence, like to apologize to the witnesses for the delay and the inconvenience that they have suffered this morning. I believe that the clerk has spoken with you and you are willing or able to attend at a later point. Thank you very much for coming this morning.
Mr Jackson: On a point of order, Mr Chairman: I served notice in my summary comments that I would be tabling a motion. I move that this committee adjourn and reconvene as part of the Attorney General's conference so that we can benefit from the expertise of those witnesses who are presenting themselves to discuss our agenda item.
Mr Jackson: No, I was careful to say I served notice of my intention to have a motion, which preceded your recognizing Mr Sorbara. I am now addressing the Chair that I have served notice to you of my intention to serve a motion. I do not wish to imply that knowing that, you specifically recognized Mr Sorbara. I would recognize that more as an oversight.
Mr Jackson: Right now. We are voting on it now, that we would adjourn this portion of our hearings and that we would attend the conference for the balance of the afternoon so that we can benefit from the contribution of the Advisory Board on Victims' Issues and be present for the Attorney General's press conference at 3:30.
Mr Morrow: Obviously, Mr Jackson, if you feel that you have to go down there, that is your own belief. I would like to sit here and listen to the witnesses who have had to stay through this morning and obviously the witnesses who are coming this afternoon. I think, with their indulgence, that we should do that.
Mr Waters: Further to what Mr Morrow has said, we have invited several witnesses to appear before the committee. The witnesses who are at the conference are on the schedule to appear before this committee and I think that we owe it to the witnesses who we have invited for today to be here with them. I have some concern about inviting people and then just saying: "Well, guess what? We're rescheduling you for another day, because we want to go down and visit -- "
The Chair: I would like to call the committee to order. After conference with the clerk I understand that the period of time that a recess can be requested is up to 20 minutes, so it need not be a full 20 minutes, for your information. Mr Jackson?