A variety of carryings-on

After QP this afternoon, the Speaker ruled on a pair of disturbances in the House, previously noted here and here.

The prepared text of Mr. Scheer’s ruling is below.

I am now prepared to rule on two points of order raised concerning disturbances in the Chamber. The first is the point of order raised on November 24, 2011, by the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader (Mr. Lukiwski) regarding the disturbance in the gallery on November 23, 2011. Secondly, there is the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Toronto Centre (Mr. Rae) regarding a disturbance on the floor during the taking of a vote on November 28, 2011 and the ensuing gallery disturbance.

I would like to thank the Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader and the Member for Toronto Centre for raising these matters. I would also thank the Right Hon. Prime Minister (Mr. Harper), the hon. Minister of State and Chief Government Whip (Mr. O’Connor), the House Leader of the Official Opposition (Mr. Comartin), the Chief Opposition Whip (Ms. Charlton), and the Members for Malpeque (Mr. Easter), Churchill (Ms. Ashton) and Acadie – Bathurst (Mr. Godin) for their contributions.

The events that have given rise to the first of these points of order are the following. On November 23, following the recorded division on the motion to allocate time at the report and third reading stages of Bill C-18, Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act, a disturbance occurred in the Gallery when a protestor held up a sign and shouted loudly. Proceedings in the Chamber were interrupted while the individual concerned was removed by security personnel and, while this was happening, certain Members of the opposition were cheering and encouraging the protester.

The following day, the Parliamentary Secretary rose to say that the protester had been sponsored by the hon. Member for Churchill (Ms. Ashton) and went on to allege that the Member for Churchill, along with her colleagues, had known that the protest was going to take place. He argued that this foreknowledge was apparent since several Members had cameras ready, and were cheering and encouraging the protester. He stated that these actions by Opposition Members were an affront to the dignity of the House and diminished respect for our parliamentary institutions.

In response, the Chief Opposition Whip (Ms. Charlton) acknowledged that the Member for Churchill had provided at least eight people with passes to the gallery but stated categorically that the Member for Churchill had no advance warning of the protest, was in no way responsible for it and – on the contrary, she regretted that it had occurred. The Member for Churchill herself later confirmed this account when she intervened on the matter on November 28 at page 3684 of Debates.

On November 5, 2009, at pages 6690 and 6691 of Debates, Speaker Milliken had occasion to rule on a strikingly similar incident and, in doing so, referenced two other such incidents. In all three of those cases, it was alleged that a certain Member had prior knowledge of, and was therefore complicit in, a disturbance in the galleries. Then, as now, the accused Members denied involvement and Speaker Milliken accepted those explanations. Remembering the time-honoured tradition in this place that Members are taken at their word and so in keeping with the precedents just cited, the Chair is prepared to consider this particular aspect of the matter to be closed. As for the actions of certain Members while the November 23 incident occurred, the Chair will have more to say later in this ruling.

The second point of order I want to address arises out of events that occurred November 28, when the House was voting on third reading of Bill C-18, Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act. On that occasion, while their caucus voted, Members on the government side applauded loudly in a sustained manner. When the result was announced, a large number of gallery spectators applauded as they rose to file out of the gallery. This time, it was Members on the government side encouraging and cheering the disturbance.

Let me be clear that the public is welcome to view our proceedings from the galleries – indeed, such visits are, I believe, encouraged and Members’ offices facilitate such visits all the time. However, it is a fundamental principle of public attendance in the House that the proceedings must be respected by those who come here to witness them first-hand. In the galleries, the public is here to observe. There is ample opportunity and appropriate public venues for demonstrations but the Chamber of the House of Commons and its galleries do not constitute such a venue.

When Members assist people who wish to attend the House by providing them with gallery passes, it is simply not acceptable for those people to take advantage of their access to disrupt a proceeding of this House. So, be it the actions of the single protester on November 23 or the groups of applauding observers on November 28, the Chair has no hesitation in stating that these behaviours are not acceptable.

But our concerns cannot end there. The actions of Members to encourage the behaviour of those who ought to have been simple spectators were as troubling to the Chair as were the disturbances themselves. The House of Commons Chamber enjoys a reputation as a forum where matters of national significance are debated and strongly-held views are expressed. Sometimes, as in the case of proceedings on the Wheat Board bill, emotions will run high. The Chair understands that. But this does not obviate the responsibility of all Members to act in a manner that is befitting their role and worthy of this institution, setting an example of appropriate behaviour for others.

Rising to address the events of November 28, the Member for Toronto-Centre asked the Chair to define which types of demonstrations are permitted. It is unfortunate that such a question needs to be asked. But let me be clear with hon. Members on all sides of the House and with those who follow our proceedings: demonstrations are not part of the accepted standard of decorum in this Chamber – not in the galleries by visitors to the House and not on the floor by Members of the House. Even brief applause, which has been tolerated at times when a particular Member rising to vote is being acknowledged for his or her contribution to an initiative, is never encouraged. In fact, Standing Order 16(1) states:

(quote) “When the Speaker is putting a question, no Member shall enter, walk out of or across the House, or make any noise or disturbance.” (unquote)
I repeat: “or make any noise or disturbance”. This rule has traditionally applied until the results of the vote are announced. Clearly, sustained applause during a vote is out of order and should not happen again.

While we are on the subject, let me add that lately during votes we have witnessed a variety of carryings-on, including mischief-making by whistling, changing places to confuse the vote-callers and other disruptive behaviours that are not in order. Too frequently lately, lack of decorum is evident – during question period, for example, where Members asking or answering questions are drowned out by heckling, applause or, to use a colloquialism, hooting and hollering of one form or another.

Left unchecked, a deterioration in order and decorum risks impeding the work of the House and doing a disservice to Members and to the voters who sent them here. All Members must take great care in what they do and say here – they are personally accountable for their actions and for their words – so that they do not risk transgressing the accepted rules that exist to protect the dignity of this House and its Members.

As your Speaker, I have been entrusted with preserving order and decorum, but I can only succeed with the serious and sustained cooperation of all Members. I count on each individual Member on all sides of the House for that cooperation.

I thank hon. Members for their attention on this matter.

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