Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Man From Niagara Falls Strikes Back

I was seated alone in the bar of the Hotel Vancouver, waiting for my contact who claimed to have a back door into National Defence. I was watching Rob Nicholson on CPAC, defending his government against the Contempt of Parliament motions being brought by Derek Lee and others. I had to bribe the bartender to change one of the multiple wide screen TVs to CPAC; he claimed the management had told him to show only The Nature of Things with David Suzuki. It made people drink.

I didn't see the problem. Watching Nicholson had the same effect. I heard that Derek Lee took notes on index cards during Nicholson's speech. I didn't have index cards so was using bar napkins. They were piling up around my table like...well, like a pile of bar napkins with scribbling on them. The bartender was eyeing me with concern.

My Blackberry went off. My Vancouver contact had texted me: "URGENT! l$&Xi9* Hillier #$%5bW". Clearly it was in code. Well OK, if it was clear, it wouldn't have been in code. Or if it was code, it wouldn't have been clear. But if it was in code, I should have had the code. Oh, God. I ordered another Screech.

Nicholson had mercifully finished and we had The Nature of Things on all channels. I tried to organize my notes.

"Mr. Speaker, it is not entirely clear from the submissions of the three members as to what exactly was being alleged as a prima facie case of a breach of privilege.

"For instance, the Member for Scarborough—Rouge River proceeded to accuse members of this government and officials of the Department of Justice everything from “malice” and “subversive intent” to “constitutional sedition” and “conspiracy”.

"On the other hand, the Member for St. John’s East and the Member for Saint-Jean asked you to find a prima facie breach of privilege based on the House order of December 10, 2009. Yet, from the motion they proposed should such a prima facie case were to be found, they made it clear that no actual breach of privilege has occurred since the original order lacked procedures to protect national security interests."

I was confused. I thought the issue was the supremacy of Parliament. The evil shadows of Sections 38.01 and 38.02 of the Canada Evidence Act swirled around me and made a whirlwind of napkins. What next?

"Similarly, O’Brien and Bosc cite Joseph Maingot’s Parliamentary Privilege in Canada that “A genuine question of privilege is therefore a serious matter not to be reckoned with lightly, and thus rarely raised in the House of Commons.” Similarly, they cite the 1976 report of the Special Committee on Rights and Immunities of Members, chaired by Speaker Jerome, in noting that “a question of privilege is a serious matter, when validly raised, but was frequently resorted to when no real question of privilege was actually involved.”

What? Who said this wasn't serious? And why had John Sims, Deputy Attorney-General of Canada, precipitously resigned, effective tomorrow? And why was the new Deputy Attorney-General a guy who had worked for Elmer MacKay and Brian Mulroney?

My Blackberry went off again. ""URGENTER! Trapped in bar outside *&34#>Z with ___(^SD."

Another napkin:

"Freedom of speech is essential in a free and democratic society. Freedom of speech is also the cornerstone of parliamentary privilege. Freedom of speech is essential in order to facilitate debate in the House and more generally in a democratic society. This means there is an acceptance that members will hold differing views – and they have the protected right to express those differences. That includes opinions as to interpretation of laws."

How was I to make sense of this gibberish? Why was the Attorney-General defending freedom of speech after refusing to let George Galloway into the country because of "national security"? And what did any of this have to do with the motions before the House? I was descending into a Hunter Thompson-ish fugue state of manic writing and paranoid suspicion.

My Blackberry went off a third time: "URGENTEST!..." be continued.