OTTAWA — New Democrats are pushing to have the House of Commons ethics committee conduct an emergency study of the RCMP’s illegal destruction of gun registry records.
Information commissioner Suzanne Legault issued a special report last week in which she revealed she had recommended to the Justice minister in March that there were grounds for charges against the Mounties under the Access to Information Act.
Rather than address the alleged wrongdoing, the Conservative government retroactively rewrote the law, backdated the changes to October 2011 and buried the amendment in an omnibus budget bill it introduced earlier this month.
It was a never-before-seen act of legislative revisionist history that Legault called a “perilous precedent” in her report.
“It doesn’t matter what party you’re in, the issue of being able to retroactively change laws to protect a government agency or department that was involved in illegally shredding documents would set a very, very dangerous precedent for future governments,” New Democrat Charlie Angus, a member of the committee on access to information, privacy and ethics, said in an interview Tuesday.
“This is staggering on a number of levels.”
NDP MP Charmaine Borg’s motion for the ethics committee requests that the Justice Department produce “all of its documents relating to this case” and that Justice Minister Peter MacKay, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney and RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson be called to testify.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said the Mounties were just respecting the will of Parliament when they destroyed long gun registry records that were subject to an active access-to-information request and investigation by the information commissioner.
However the events in question took place before a Conservative bill to end the now-defunct, long-gun registry had been passed by the House of Commons in April 2012. To cover the RCMP’s tracks, the government’s most recent budget bill exempts all gun registry records from the Access to Information Act, as well as any investigations, complaints or judicial proceedings related to those records — and backdates the changes to when the bill to end the gun registry was first introduced in Parliament.
A spokesman for Blaney would not say Tuesday whether the minister would agree to attend committee hearings on what he called a “technical amendment.”
“The will of Parliament has been made clear; all copies of the registry were to be destroyed,” Jeremy Laurin said in an email.
Patricia Davidson, the Conservative vice-chair of the ethics committee, was not immediately available for comment. However Scott Simms, the committee’s Liberal vice-chair, said it has just completed a study on identity theft and has an opening to take on new business, although time is tight.
The Commons is set to rise for the summer recess by June 23 and won’t likely return before Canadians go to the polls to elect a new government in October.
Simms said he’d like to hear from the information commissioner
“This is not about the gun registry, really,” he said. “It’s about access to information and retroactivity associated with it.”
Simms said he has many questions about the precedent-setting move.
“I doubt if I’ll ever get to ask them — unless the Conservatives feel like talking about the gun registry is good for them again,” he said.
The NDP’s Angus says what’s at stake is the power of government to effectively neuter independent parliamentary watchdogs while giving itself the power to rewrite history to negate criminal charges.
“This isn’t inside-the-bubble bickering,” said Angus. “These are the institutions that are supposed to have the power to ensure that parliamentarians and government remain honest.”