27 April 2007

Mounties get lesson in constitutional law

Lawyers representing suspended Royal Canadian Mounted Police deputy commissioner Barbara George are seeking a federal court injunction to stop the federal police force from investigating their client for perjury.

Questions arose earlier in a parliamentary investigation into handling of the RCMP pension fund among other things. George's testimony was contradicted by other witnesses.

Well, it turns out that a parliamentary privilege of immunity dating back to at least the 17th century protects both members of parliament as well as witnesses in parliamentary proceedings.

While Federal Court Judge Daniele Trembley-Lamer hasn't handed down a ruling, a great many people will be watching the decision with interest. There may be an aspect of the law that would lift that exemption from legal proceedings in a case like this. Whatever happens it will be an important case to watch.

Local Bond Papers' readers will recall that Premier Danny Williams tossed around the idea of removing immunity in the House of Assembly. While the second article on the subject hasn't appeared yet, the first one noted that immunity would be an easy thing to remove, at least in Newfoundland and Labrador. It also made this point:
Freedom of speech is also widely held to be an important right of legislators for the wider public interest it serves. Members of the legislature are entitled to make whatever statements they wish in dealing with a public issue. The same privilege extends to those called before the legislature or its committees as witnesses. All may speak freely and openly without fear and without concern that comments ought to be proven true before they are made.

Update: In an unrelated matter, a supreme court justice in Newfoundland and Labrador today dismissed a case involving a former ombudsman who was suing the provincial legislature over his firing last year.

The justice cited parliamentary immunity as the grounds for the dismissal.

Perhaps the Premier is reconsidering his remarks in February.