Speaker Scheer on Anonymous: "a subversive attack on the most fundamental privileges of this House"

Just about no one liked Bill C-30, An Act to enact the Investigating and Preventing Criminal Electronic Communications Act and to amend the Criminal Code and other Acts tabled in the House of Commons by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews. I was one of what seemed like a unanimous chorus of pundits who thought C-30 a bad idea. But some opponents of this bill inappropriately and shamefully thought the best way express their opposition was to personally shame Toews and to threaten his personal safety. A Liberal staffer Adam Carroll hid behind a Twitter account, Vikileaks30, to broadcast details of Toews divorce. Perfectly legal but despicable. Carroll subsequently resigned once his identity was about to be revealed by an investigation by House of Commons staff and the leader of his party, Bob Rae, apologized in the House of Commons. Another group, known as Anonymous, decided to threaten Toews. That’s despicable as well and may quite possibly be illegal. (I should note that the Twitter project #TellVicEverything was a witty, effective, and wonderfully appropriate way to make a point about the bill).

On top of that, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other Canadians flooded Toews’ offices with e-mails and phone calls complaining about the bill.

Toews, on Feb. 27, complained about all of this in the House of Commons to Speaker Andrew Scheer, saying his “privilege” as a Member of Parliament had been breached.

This morning, Scheer ruled on Toews complaint. He took no action on Carroll’s activity, noting that the apology ended that particular matter so far as he was concerned. As for the deluge of e-mails and phone calls, Scheer found no breach of privilege. But as for the threats by Anonymous, Scheer believes Toews’ privilege has been breached. As per House of Commons rules, a committee of the House will now pursue the matter further.

Here, then, is the argument Toews made in the House on Feb. 27 followed by Scheer’s ruling this morning:

Hon. Vic Toews: Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege to bring to your attention activities which I believe to be a contempt of this House.

On Tuesday, February 14, I introduced Bill C-30. In the days that followed I received a great deal of communications from Canadians in regard to this legislation. These ranged from the personally supportive to the critical and indeed to the humorous, but a handful were deeply threatening. It is with those in the last category that I take exception and rise in the House to seek determination of my rights as a parliamentarian.

First, on Friday, February 17, I indicated by letter to your office that news reports revealed that the vikileaks30 account on Twitter had connections to the House of Commons IT system.

The fact that House of Commons resources appear to have been used in an attempt to anonymously degrade my reputation and obstruct me from carrying out my duties as a member of Parliament is, I contend, a contempt of the House. I take no issue with an open attack on the floor of this House, in which the source of the attack may be seen by all. I take strong issue with the idea that House resources would be used to secretly attack a member of the House.

I will await the results of your investigation into that matter. I reserve the right to make supplementary or new arguments should that be appropriate in view of the finding.

Second, videos posted on the Internet on February 18, 22 and 25, published various allegations about my private life but also made specific threats, all of which are clearly stated to be in reaction to my sponsorship of proposed legislation tabled in the House, namely Bill C-30.

I will continue to do my duty and carry out my responsibilities in respect of this piece of legislation, including seeing a motion moved to refer the bill to committee where it can be discussed and debated in an open forum.

Nevertheless, the actions and threatened actions contained in these videos constitute an attempt by the creators of the videos to intimidate me with respect to proceedings in Parliament. The fact that these videos contained threats and have attempted to intimidate me in my role as a member of Parliament for Provencher I contend is a contempt of the House.

Third, I would like to address the fact that there is a campaign to inundate my office with calls, emails and faxes. This campaign is hindering my staff from serving the people of Provencher and I contend is a contempt of the House. Individuals who have real and legitimate needs have been unable to contact their member of Parliament in a timely fashion.

As you know, Speakers have consistently upheld the right of members to serve constituents free from intimidation, obstruction and interference. Speaker Lamoureux stated in a 1973 ruling that he had no hesitation in reaffirming the principle that parliamentary privilege includes the right of a member to discharge his or her responsibilities as a member of the House free from threats or attempts at intimidation.

Mr. Speaker, it is important that we engage in debate in this House. Sometimes that debate may be vigorous, including heated rhetoric. I have served as an elected official since 1995. In that time I have been called many things and, while occasionally distasteful, I have accepted it as part of my job. However, the online attacks launched on both myself and my family have crossed the line.

Attacks on the personal life of a member of Parliament, while not appropriate, can be judged by the public where there is public accountability. This should concern all parliamentarians. Members of Parliament must have the freedom and ability to effectively represent our constituents in the House.

I understand that the hon. government House leader or the deputy House leader will be making further, more detailed submissions in support of this question of privilege.

Should you find that there is a prima facie question of privilege here, I would be prepared to move the appropriate motion.

Here is the English-language version of Scheer’s ruling provided by Scheer’s office:

In raising his question of privilege, the Minister raised three issues, each of which he believed to be a contempt of the House.  The first concerned the use of House resources for the so-called vikileaks30 account on Twitter, which he claimed was used to attack him personally, thereby degrading his reputation and obstructing him from carrying out his duties as a Member of Parliament.
The Interim Leader of the Liberal Party then rose to inform the House that he himself had intended to rise on a question of privilege, having been informed February 26 that it was an employee of the Liberal Research Bureau who had been responsible for the vikileaks30 site.  The Interim Leader offered his unequivocal apology and that of the Liberal Party to the Minister.  In view of this unconditional apology made personally by the Member and on behalf of his party as a whole, and in keeping with what has been done in similar circumstances in the past, I am prepared to consider this particular aspect of the question of privilege closed.  I also wish to inform the House that the House of Commons Policy on Acceptable Use of Information Technology Resources was applied in this case, given that an unacceptable use of House IT resources occurred.
The Minister also raised the matter of an apparent campaign to inundate his office with calls, emails and faxes.  This, he contended, hindered him and his staff from serving his constituents, and prevented constituents with legitimate needs from contacting their Member of Parliament in a timely fashion.
As the Member for Windsor—Tecumseh reminded the House, my predecessor Speaker Milliken was faced with a similar situation in 2005, in a matter raised by the former Member for Glengarry–Prescott–Russell.  In his ruling on June 8, 2005, Speaker Milliken concluded that, while the Member had a legitimate grievance that the normal functioning of parliamentary offices had been affected, the Members involved and their constituents had still maintained the ability to communicate through several means.  Thus, he could not find that it was a prima facie case of privilege as the Members were not impeded in their ability to perform their parliamentary duties.
Having reviewed the facts in the current case, I must draw the same conclusion on this second aspect of the question of privilege.
This brings us to the third, and what I consider to be the most troubling, issue raised in the question of privilege, that of the videos posted on the Web site, YouTube, by the so-called Anonymous on February 18, 22 and 25, 2012.  These videos contained various allegations about the Minister`s private life, and made specific and disturbing threats.  The Minister has stated that he accepts that coping with vigorous debate and sometimes overheated rhetoric are part of the job of a politician, but argued that these online attacks directed to both him and his family had crossed the line into threatening behaviour that was unacceptable.  He contended that the threatened actions contained in these videos constituted a deliberate attempt to intimidate him with respect to proceedings in Parliament.
In House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, it states:(quote)“It is impossible to codify all incidents which might be interpreted as matters of obstruction, interference, molestation or intimidation and as such constitute prima facie cases of privilege.  However, some matters found to be prima facie include the damaging of a Member’s reputation, the usurpation of the title of Member of Parliament, the intimidation of Members and their staff and of witnesses before committees, and the provision of misleading information.” (unquote)
In spite of the able arguments advanced by the Member for Westmount – Ville-Marie, the Chair is in no doubt that the House has full jurisdiction to decide the matter.  As is noted at page 108 of O’Brien and Bosc:(quote) “Speakers have consistently upheld the right of the House to the services of its Members free from intimidation, obstruction and interference.  Speaker Lamoureux stated in a 1973 ruling that he had “no hesitation in reaffirming the principle that parliamentary privilege includes the right of a member to discharge his responsibilities as a member of the House free from threats or attempts at intimidation.” (unquote)
Those who enter political life fully expect to be held accountable for their actions — to their constituents, and to those who are concerned with the issues and initiatives they may advocate.  In a healthy democracy, vigorous debate on issues is encouraged.  In fact, the rules and procedures of this House are drafted to allow for proponents and opponents to discuss in a respectful manner even the most difficult and sensitive of matters.  However, when duly-elected Members are personally threatened for their work in parliament – whether introducing a bill, making a statement, or casting a vote, this House must take the matter very seriously.
As noted by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House, threats or attempts to influence a Member’s actions are considered to be breaches of privilege.
I have carefully reviewed the online videos in which the language used does indeed constitute a direct threat to the Minister in particular, as well as all other Members.  These threats demonstrate a flagrant disregard of our traditions and a subversive attack on the most fundamental privileges of this House.  As your Speaker and the guardian of those privileges, I have concluded that this aspect – the videos posted on the Internet by Anonymous – therefore constitutes a prima facie question of privilege and I invite the Minister to move his motion.


5 thoughts on “Speaker Scheer on Anonymous: "a subversive attack on the most fundamental privileges of this House"”

  1. Re: the Vikileaks 30 being “Perfectly legal but despicable.”

    That’s the way opponents of Minister Toews excused, if not justified, the dissemination of details about his divorce. But would the general public know where to look for such details? I doubt it. The site was the project of a sick vindictive mind. And the person whose first name begins with J who included the twitter address twice in a tweet of his own is just as … well, the word that comes to mind is en français: débile!

    Having said that, I wish Mr. Toews and ALL Conservatives, for that matter, would tone down their own rhetoric. Mr. Toews’ retort to Mr. Scarpaleggia in QP “He can either stand with us or with the child pornographers” [verbatim from Hansard, NOT “Canadians” or a collective “you” as widely reported by the media] was not Mr. Toews’ brightest debating hour.

  2. I’m unclear as to what motion the Minister plans to move? And also, how is it possible to hold an amorphous group like Anonymous responsible for “threats of violence.” I’ve seen the video and disagree with the Speakers finding. No direct threats were made. It was merely hyperbole, in my opinion. Bluster. There were no threats made?

    Interested in your reaction David.

    All the best


  3. More on the Vikileaks30 file …
    “Toews to learn who pulled his divorce file
    1:54 pm, March 7th, 2012
    … To access files in Manitoba’s Court of Queen’s Bench, members of the public must fill out a requisition slip.
    The registrar of the court recently denied Toews’ lawyers access to the names out of concern the file requisition slips weren’t public documents. …”
    — Strange logic. Someone had the “right” to requisition Mr. Toews’ divorce file but he himself cannot be accorded the same “right” of access to the name of the requisitioner. Dandy.

    “The @vikileaks30 account emerged shortly after Toews suggested opponents of an Internet surveillance bill -Bill C-30 – were siding with child pornographers. …”
    — Just one more example of the media’s inaccuracy in reporting Minister Toews’ admittedly intemperate retort to an individual MP. The minister did NOT address his remark to ALL opponents of his bill, he did so only to the MP who minutes before had said this to him:
    “Mr. Speaker, the government is preparing to read Canadians’ emails [untrue] and track their movements through cellphone signals, in both cases, without a warrant. [untrue] …” Hansard, Monday Feb 13
    To include all of Canada or all opponents of Bill C-30 in Minister Toews’ retort — “He can either stand with us or with the child pornographers” idem — is a misrepresentation of the facts.

    “… Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae had apologized in the Commons to Toews, and both he and the NDP say the matter is closed. …”
    — Nice. The matter is closed, its delivery meant to emphasize the purported transparency and humility of the one delivering it. Mr. Rae practically hung a sign around his neck saying “Look at me! What a sincere apology! Why doesn’t the PM follow MY excellent example?”
    Yet when a Conservative apologizes, like MP Rob Anders recently did (twice, I believe), the apology is apparently not good enough. What’s next? A public hanging, perhaps?

  4. I agree, David. Anonymous is not an effective way to influence a member of parliament nor give credence to any cause. I also agree that the tellviceverything protest was extremely effective, legal, and while it may have been a nuisance to Mr. Towes, a collective form of protest MUST be respected by both him and the House. Emails, tweets, phone calls and letters are today’s version of the collective coming up to Ottawa with pitchforks and decrying a member. Vic better learn that now.

  5. The only threats I heard were ones that would embarass Vic. You would think by now with all the negative response from the public that C30 would be dead and buried. I’m hearing that’s not so. Though it is a bill that few asked for and fewer want, it will make another appearance in the house. Apparently there are foreign business interests who desperately want a clamp down on pirating. At this point I’m asking myself if it’s worth it to give up civil rights so someone can enjoy profitable copyright law. I don’t think so.

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