Ross Wiseman violated Gerry Roger’s rights as a member of the House of Assembly.
He did so, by his own initial ruling, with no evidence whatsoever that the member had committed any contempt of the House.
He thinks an apology is good enough.
Ross Wiseman is wrong again.
First, Wiseman ruled initially that there“is no evidence that the member made actual comments on this site that would directly connect her to the offensive statements.”
Wiseman cited an recognised parliamentary authority that says plainly that members themselves cannot use the Internet or other means to distribute defamatory material. Note, though, that Wiseman did not find that Rogers had any connection to the offensive statements.
Instead, he said that he wanted to “broaden that [statement by the authority] to include the need to avoid the transmission of threatening material and participation in activities that might be seen to be threatening.”
There can be no mistake that Wiseman very deliberately found Rogers guilty of a contempt even though he admitted that she committed no contempt.
That, in itself, made Wiseman’s initial ruling a monstrous violation of any principles of natural justice.
That he invented a crime is the second violation of any basic principles of justice.
Third, Wiseman did not hear any submissions from the members of the House on the initial accusation. At the end of government House leader Darin King’s remarks, Wiseman brushed aside requests for a recess. He said instead that he would recess the House so that he could consider where there was a breach of privilege on the face of what King had said.
When he returned, Wiseman ruled that there was no such breach of privilege:
“…there is no prima facie case of breach of privilege.”
Wiseman then proceeded to convict Rogers of a crime he invented by misrepresenting an existing authority. He did so, though, without hearing any further submissions from members of a new matter.
Wiseman thus violated Roger’s rights - and basic principles of justice - a third time by denying her the opportunity to speak in her own defence and address the accusation before being convicted.
To those grievous injuries, Wiseman now adds more.
In his apology on Tuesday, Wiseman said that he realized his mistake after learning some additional things about the Internet that he – supposedly - did not know previously. Here are all four sentences of his landmark retraction of a previous citation for contempt:
I stand today to speak to you about a ruling I made on Tuesday, April 16, 2013. Since making this ruling, I have become aware of considerably more information regarding the complexities and the nuances of this new evolving social media and its use, particularly as it pertains to Legislatures and particularly the manner in which individuals may find themselves attached to a group without their explicit consent.
I have found that there is a lack of law and regulation in this area in the use of social media, thereby leaving and exposing members to many pitfalls. As members, I think it is incumbent upon all of us to be aware of those pitfalls and the implications for them.
Consequently, my finding of contempt in this situation was erroneous and I offer my own apology to the Member for St. John’s Centre for the position for which she was placed as she was asked to apologize to this House of Assembly.
We do not know for sure if Wiseman knew these unspecified details at the time or not.
What we do know is that they are irrelevant. Wiseman’s initial ruling was based on his own invention of a crime that did not relay in any way on how Facebook works. There is nothing in the ruling that hinges on these technical issues.
As for Wiseman’s claim that there is no clear guidance on these issues, Wiseman is wrong again and one suspects he is inventing excuses just as he fabricated a crime.
Wiseman relied on the recognised Canadian parliamentary authority O’Brien and Bosc as the scaffold on which he built his noose for the lynching. Anyone reading this authority would understand clearly state the mode of transmission of a defamatory statement does not somehow alter the defamation. In other words, if you post an improper comment on Facebook (the Internet), you are guilty of an offense.
However, if the member does not not commit the offense, no parliamentary authority would ever hold that members can be in contempt for things they did not do. Wiseman’s initial ruling was exactly such a finding. A member’s guilt can come only from some conscious or overt act such as an unequivocal endorsement. There was no such act, as Wiseman noted in his initial ruling.
In considering these details, one must appreciate the role the Speaker plays in the House. O’Brien and Bosc describe it clearly. The Speaker must protect the House against “arbitrary authority”.
The Speaker is the servant, neither of any part of the House nor of any majority in the House, but of the entire institution and serves the best interests of the House as distilled over many generations in its practices.
Despite the considerable authority of the office, the Speaker may exercise only those powers conferred upon him or her by the House, within the limits established by the House itself. In ruling on matters of procedure, the Speaker is expected to adhere strictly to this principle, delineating the extent of the Speaker’s authority and in some cases offering suggestions as to matters which the House may see fit to pursue.
As an experienced parliamentarian, and as Speaker with the opportunity to consult more experienced individuals, Wiseman had one clear choice: to acquit Gerry Rogers of the charge of a contempt of the House.
He could have suggested that the issue of the Internet be referred to the House standing committee on privileges and elections. That would be the most appropriate choice – if Wiseman had any genuine concerns – since this approach assures that the members themselves determine their own rules, which Wiseman then interprets and enforces.
In his ruling, Wiseman not only abuse the fundamental rights of Gerry Rogers he usurped the authority of the whole House by making up rules where he has no such authority.
His apology is not good enough. It makes light of the incident and does not recognise the severity of the offense that Wiseman himself committed against Rogers, against the members of the House, and against the voters who elected them.
Ross Wiseman must resign as Speaker without further delay. As long as he remains, every ruling he has made and will make is immediately made suspect. Wiseman destroyed his own credibility and without credibility, no Speaker can fulfill his or her duties.