A year ago right now, the following disgraceful episode occurred in the House of Assembly.
A week later, the gormless Speaker ruled his own ruling to be wrong, and apologized to the Hon. Member for St. John's Centre.
Doctor Darin King has still not done so.
MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I rise today in the House on a matter of great importance, on a point of privilege. I am aware, Mr. Speaker, according to O'Brien and Bosc, page 141, that any time a member wants to raise a point of privilege before this House that he or she ought to do so at the earliest point in time. The issue that I am going to speak to today just became aware to me this morning, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker, the point of privilege that I want to speak to is indeed very serious. It is perhaps, in my tenure in this House, one of the most serious points of privilege that I have ever seen. I want to reference a couple of quotes to give it some context, Mr. Speaker.
In addressing a matter of privilege, in the section entitled Freedom from Obstruction, Interference, Intimidation and Molestation in Bosc and O'Brien, they state very clearly, "Members are entitled to go about their parliamentary business undisturbed. The assaulting, menacing, or insulting of any Member on the floor of the House or while he is coming or going to or from the House, or on account of his behaviour during a proceeding of Parliament, is a violation of the rights of Parliament. Any form of intimidation … of a person for or on account of his behaviour during a proceeding in Parliament could amount to contempt.
Mr. Speaker, my comments are reflected in a point of privilege which I suggest to you, and I hope to prove to you, constitute a point of privilege and/or contempt of this Parliament.
Further, Mr. Speaker, speakers in many Houses of Commons and other provincial Legislatures and elsewhere "have consistently upheld the right of the House to the services of its Members free from intimidation, obstruction and interference." One speaker in 1973 ruled 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".
"If an Hon. Member is impeded or obstructed in the performance of his or her parliamentary duties through threats, intimidation, bribery attempts or other improper behaviour, such a case would fall within the limits of parliamentary privilege. Should an Hon. Member be able to say that something has happened which prevented him or her from performing functions, that he or she has been threatened, intimidated, or in any way unduly influenced, there will be a case for the Chair to consider."
Mr. Speaker, all of us recognize in this House, serving as an MHA in the provincial government, in any government, in fact, but certainly in the provincial government, has good times and bad times. We recognize that. There is at least one member opposite who can attest to that, I am sure, having served in government. We recognize that.
There are times over the course of a government when things are going well and you enjoy a lot of good political life. There are other times when there are challenges. We know that when we run for public office we expect to encounter that roller coaster ride as politicians, but in spite of that, Mr. Speaker, I believe that the people of the Province have an expectation of the behaviour of the people that they elect to sit in the chairs, in the seats in this House. Their expectation is a little higher for us than it is for many members of the public. I do believe, Mr. Speaker, that there have been many instances, not only inside this Chamber but outside the Chamber, where the public has demonstrated that they have a high expectation level for their politicians, and that there are limits.
What I am going to talk about today I believe passes the limit of expectation for the people of the Province and passes the limit of acceptability in this House. We have been very fortunate in Newfoundland and Labrador for a long time, Mr. Speaker.
We reflect on the bombing yesterday in Boston, for example. We see lots of incidents of that all around the world, civil disobedience. We, fortunately, do not have to be exposed to that. There are events in Britain today with the death and the funeral of Margaret Thatcher and some of the non-supporters of Margaret Thatcher, Mr. Speaker. Of course, there has been the bullying and intimidation, and mass murders that we have seen down in the United States over the last number of years.
All of that, Mr. Speaker, are events for the most part that our Province, our democracy, and our governments have been somewhat oblivious to. It is a behaviour that I do not think for one minute that anybody in Newfoundland and Labrador would ever condone, or any actions in particular that would lead to that kind of behaviour, Mr. Speaker; more importantly, which is what I am talking about today, actions that might lead to some kind of illegal or immoral behaviour. I do not believe for a minute that the people of the Province who are here in this gallery or who are watching at home would for one minute condone or accept that type of behaviour.
We also have seen in Newfoundland over the last short period of time, Mr. Speaker, that the political environment has shifted. We all recognize that it has become somewhat testy, and we understand that. It has been a very tough Budget. There have been a lot of expectations placed on government. A lot of critical decisions had to be made by members on this side of the House and by the Premier of the Province as the leader of the government.
We understand that, Mr. Speaker. We also understand that the brunt of the criticism, while we all share it to one level or another, has been levelled at the Premier. The Premier, like all other members of this House, I believe, expects as a leader of the government that is going to happen from time to time.
Mr. Speaker, what we have seen over the last three or four weeks, perhaps, in particular, is a shift in the way that people are starting to express their views and even in some of the actions that we are seeing throughout the Province. For information of the House, there are currently two interlinked Web sites published on Facebook expressing in what I would suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, to be the most vile and contemptible language that I have ever seen personally: the desire of protestors to not only intimidate and obstruct government, but indeed to assassinate the Premier.
I want to read for the record into Hansard one of the comments that have been posted. I do this, and I suggest to people that the language is not the best, but upon advice I have been told I ought to read in for the record so that this House is fully aware. There is an individual going by the name of Adam Maher. I have no idea whether this is a real or fictitious name, but the following was posted. As I said, I warn you that the language is strong, "ur crazy shes the most useless premier we ever had i can't believe no body..." – I am going to use letters and say ‘jfk'd' her. I think members can figure out what it is. I prefer not to read those three words into the record, Mr. Speaker. "…i can't believe no body jfk'd her already n sniped her out cuz the whole province is gone to shit cause of that woman".
There are several others there, Mr. Speaker, I would like to read to illustrate. One of the most recent comments we have found was the Premier was called a "terrorist" – and the terrorist comments were linked to the events in Boston yesterday, posted today, linking the Premier as a "terrorist" to the Boston activities yesterday.
I say again, I cannot believe at all that anybody in Newfoundland and Labrador condones that type of activity or that type of language to be describing the leader of the government – in spite of whether you like the decisions this government is making or not – I cannot believe that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador would condone that, and I will never believe that. I do not believe this House ought to condone those activities either, Mr. Speaker, but I want to move on because there are a few other things that I do want to say to you.
Some of those postings, Mr. Speakers, while I just became aware of that today, people who have advised me about it tell me that there were many other stronger ones, and I do have a list here. I will not read all of them, but many of them have been purged, Mr. Speaker. They were posted long enough to show people who were members of the group, what the group stood for, what the group represented.
I suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, that if people have the courage to post those comments in a public forum like Facebook, with such vile and direct and obscene language, then one, as I am advised as the Justice Minister, one has no alternative but to consider those as threats and to consider that what is said in the comments ought to be taken very seriously, Mr. Speaker. As Justice Minister, I, of course, deal with the police on a regular basis, and I am advised that you do not take any of those things for granted. You assume that they are valid comments and valid threats.
Together, Mr. Speaker, I reference those particular comments. These Facebook sites – there are two linked together – are calling for a protest here at Confederation Building on Friday. Now, a protest at Confederation Building in and of itself would not seem out of the norm. We have seen lots of them over the years on any number of events.
The key here, though, Mr. Speaker, is some of the threatening comments. In particular, the comments directed at the life of the Premier in particular. The person who made those comments is also involved in both particular groups and providing leadership to both particular groups, and they are supported by other participants. Mr. Speaker, the Facebook site has a membership list, which is bringing me to the point I want to make.
There is a membership list. In order to be a part of this group, in order to support this group and to tell people of Facebook and the world that you believe the things that are posted on this group and that you are prepared to stay a part of this group because you think the things that are being said there on this site ought to be done – and people who are part of Facebook or social media would understand. I do not need to explain all of this. That is how Facebook works. You join a group, generally, like you do in the public, Mr. Speaker, because you support the values and you support the objectives of the group and you support what the people of the group are doing.
Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, there are many prominent people who are members of that group. Alan Moulton, a leader with the FFAW, for example, is a part of it, one of the leaders of the FFAW. There are many others. There is also, Mr. Speaker, a member of this House of Assembly who is a member of that group. I believe that that constitutes a point of privilege in no uncertain terms.
In this Province, Mr. Speaker, we have seen a months-long orchestrated campaign now by public sector unions in our Province to try and encourage government to take a certain path, a certain direction with respect to the financial priorities of the government, the future of the Province and the budgetary decisions in particular, and to try and knock us off course. We accept that. That is part of what happens in political life. It is part of trying to influence and develop social policy.
To see the kind of rhetoric that we are seeing on these Web sites, Mr. Speaker, over the last number of days, threats to the life of the Premier, threats to burn down the Premier's home. By the very nature of the comments, Mr. Speaker, the Premier of the Province, who I submit to you, is like most other people here. She happens to be a mother with children, and she happens to be a grandmother, a grandmother who has regularly grandchildren in her home.
I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that the group and the members of that group of which there is a member sitting in this House today, who is endorsing and supporting that – threats to her life and threats to her home, implicit in that are threats to her family, to her children and her grandchildren. Mr. Speaker, that, in my view, is reprehensible and totally, totally unacceptable. Not just for the members of this House, Mr. Speaker, but I believe for the members of the general public who are watching at home and who pay attention to politics. I do not believe for one minute that people in Newfoundland and Labrador support or condone that kind of activity.
Every day, Mr. Speaker, we face a barrage of questions and debate back and forth by members opposite because it is their goal to defeat this government. That is the way democracy works. We accept that, Mr. Speaker, for what it is. We accept the lobbyists and those who try to advocate and influence social policy, Mr. Speaker. That is part of the process of democracy.
What is happening today with a member of this House supporting and participating in that kind of activity is beyond the pale, Mr. Speaker. I submit to you, as I would to members of this House and members listening, what kind of message is that sending to the people of the Province, to our children in the Province when we talk about bullying and harassment and intimidation? It was only a short while ago we had anti-bullying day in schools, Mr. Speaker, for our children.
To think that we are here today talking about a point of privilege because a member of this House is part of a group whose members are advocating that we kill the Premier. I cannot believe the day would ever come while I was sitting in this House that we would be talking about that.
Mr. Speaker, the member that I am referencing, who is a supporter of that group, is the NDP Member for St. John's Centre. Mr. Speaker, I ask that you rule that there is indeed a case of prima facie breach of privilege and I ask that the House be directed to take action under the following motion:
WHEREAS two interlinked Web sites published on Facebook with the explicit support, public support and participation of the New Democratic Party Member of the House of Assembly for St. John's Centre have included grievous threats to intimate, obstruct and assassinate the Premier of our Province;
BE IT RESOLVED that the House directs that the Speaker commission an investigation of these threats and take appropriate action; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Member of the House of Assembly for St. John's Centre be suspended from her position as a member in light of her public support for and participation in these activities.
MR. SPEAKER: The Leader of the Third Party, to the point of privilege.
MS MICHAEL: To the point of privilege, Mr. Speaker.
Obviously, I am quite disturbed by what the House Leader has presented in terms of the content. I, too, do not condone the kind of language, the kind of actions that the House Leader is speaking of; however, this is the first time that I have heard of what he has put forward in terms of the Member for St. John's Centre, so I am requesting a short recess so that we can talk about this, Mr. Speaker, before coming back to the House to address the issue.
I am presuming that is in order, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SPEAKER: To respond to the Leader of the Third Party's question, I have heard your comment with respect to the point of privilege raised and I will hear comments from other members of the House who may wish to make comment before I make a comment myself.
The hon. the Opposition House Leader, to the point of privilege.
MR. A. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I would just like to say at this juncture that I think a recess may be needed to review this, but at that point I do have comments I would like to make to this very serious issue that has been brought up. I do believe a recess – I have no issue with a recess at this time to review it because, obviously, it is a very serious matter.
MR. SPEAKER: Are there further comments to the point of privilege raised?
There being none, the House will take a brief recess for the Speaker to consider whether or not there is a prima facie case of privilege being breached.
With respect to the request for a recess to consider the issue and come back and present further comments, I will reserve any judgement with respect to that until I have had a chance to review it myself to determine whether it is a prima facie case. If there is a prima facie case, then there is a method for the House to deal with it and at that time anybody else who may want to make representation at that time will be given the opportunity.
The Speaker will consider first if there is a prima facie case of privilege, and until such time as I have done that, this House stands recessed.
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!
I have had an opportunity to review the statements presented by members with respect to the point of privilege raised by the hon. Government House Leader and I want to share with the House my ruling.
As members of this House, we are granted certain privileges and these include the right not to be molested or intimidated in carrying out our parliamentary duties. We also have the right to say things within this Chamber which may be subject to House discipline which may be, by virtue of our privilege, exempt from the normal civil and criminal remedies of the rest of society. With these privileges comes a great responsibility.
As the Speaker, I find myself once again in a position of having to remind members of the care which they must take when engaged with social media. Twitter and Facebook are wonderful, modern tools allowing us to maintain a connection with our constituents, our friends, and our colleagues as never before. With the use, comes this: a responsibility to use them wisely. That responsibility includes holding yourselves to a higher standard than would be accepted and acceptable for the general public.
I find the comments on Facebook referred to by the Government House Leader to be offensive and intimidating. They certainly require that we examine ourselves as to whether or not this is the kind of discourse that we wish to become involved with.
I have taken the time to examine the Facebook pages in question and have found that the Member for St. John's Centre appears on the list of members of this Facebook, and was invited to join that Facebook group on April 11, 2013. There is no way, however, of determining how this participation was initiated and accepted. There is no evidence that the member made actual comments on this site that would directly connect her to the offensive statements.
In this regard, as stated by Maingot, Parliamentary Privilege in Canada, page 227, "…the Member is entitled to receive the benefit of the doubt." I believe that the benefit of the doubt here extends to any findings of a breach of privilege of the House of Assembly or its members. It cannot be clearly and unequivocally stated that the Member for St. John's Centre was herself carrying out an implied or actual threat; therefore, there is no prima facie case of breach of privilege.
Despite this, such comments, though, diminish the work that we do in this House. An affiliation with this type of discourse by any member of this House is contemptuous of what we do, regardless of the role as a member of the Official Opposition or the Third Party or government.
As stated in O'Brien and Bosc on page 97, "Telecommunications, including… the Internet, should therefore not be used to transmit otherwise defamatory material." I want to broaden that to include the need to avoid the transmission of threatening material and participation in activities that might be seen to be threatening.
Consequently, I find that there has been a contempt against this House. I ask that the member apologize for any disrepute that she may have brought upon this House of Assembly by participating in a social media site which clearly targets a Member of the House of Assembly.
The hon. the Member for St. John's Centre.
MS ROGERS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I feel that I –
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!
The Speaker has asked the member to apologize. Apologies in this House are to be without qualification and simply put.
I call upon the Member for St. John's Centre.
MS ROGERS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I will not apologize for something that I have not done. I am sorry; I cannot apologize to the House.
I would also like the opportunity to speak –
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!
The Speaker has made a ruling. The Speaker has asked the member to apologize. I ask for the second time, if the member would apologize to the House?
MS ROGERS: Mr. Speaker, I wholly do not condone violence in any way, shape, or form. I cannot apologize for something –
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!
The Speaker is going to ask for the third and final time for the Member for St. John's Centre to apologize to the House.
MS ROGERS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Out of great respect for this House, I cannot apologize.
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!
I ask the Sergeant-at-Arms if he would escort the Member for St. John's Centre out of the Assembly.
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