Colleagues, before we continue with orders of the day, I will be issuing rulings on two matters. First, I will be delivering my ruling on the point of order raised by the Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh yesterday. After that, I will issue my ruling on the point of privilege raised by the Member for Thebacha.
Thank you, Members, I will now provide my ruling on point of order raised by the Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh. The Member rose on the point of privilege about comments made by the Member for Frame Lake during debate on the Member for Thebacha's point of privilege. I clarified at that time that it would be more appropriate for the Member to rise on the point of order, which he agreed to do, citing Rule 24(h): A Member will be called to order by the Speaker if the Member makes allegations against another Member, a House officer, a witness, or a member of the public.
On page 13 of the unedited Hansard, the Member stated, "Just going back to what I was saying, the Member for Kam Lake mentioned my lawyer, and he can't be here to defend himself." It should be Member for Frame Lake. So I did ask that he retract what he said about that. I assume he was referring to the Member for Frame Lake here.
During debate on the point of privilege raised by the Thebacha, the Member for Frame Lake quoted at length the comments made the Member's legal counsel at a November 18th news conference that was called by the Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh at the Legislative Assembly. Rather than repeat the Member for Frame Lake's full statement during the debate of the point of privilege, I will point out the following excerpts from page 5 of unedited Hansard.
"Mr. Speaker, I'm all for freedom of speech but I view these words by the legal counsel for the MLA for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh as an attempt to intimidate me in my role as a Member that must make a decision on the report and recommendation of the sole adjudicator. While it is possible that these words could be interpreted as a cautionary note with respect to the seriousness of the issues before the House, I did not take these words in that vein. The overall thrust of the news conference and the comments made by the Member and his legal counsel were denigrating and dismissive of a process for addressing the conduct of Members, which this House has established as an appropriate process. I viewed this news conference as a clear attempt to intimidate me and other Members as we embark on the difficult journey of considering the sole adjudicator's report."
I provided the Member for Frame Lake an opportunity to explain his remarks pursuant to Rule 25(4). In doing so, the Member provided the following explanation for his comments, taken from page 13 of the unedited Hansard, "All I did was simply quote comments that his legal counsel made at a news conference. I should be able to reference comments made from someone outside this Assembly."
Members, Rule 24(h) does not say we cannot make reference to anyone who is not a Member of this place. We do that all the time. The rule states that we cannot make allegations against another Member, our staff, a witness, or a member of the public.
I see no issue with the Member for Frame Lake making reference to public comments and statements made by the Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh or his legal counsel. The comments were made in a very public and open forum, and reported by many news outlets. They were specifically directed at the Members of this House.
The Member for Frame Lake did not make allegations against the Member's legal counsel, but rather said how the comments made him feel. While it may have been better for the Member to have raised a separate point of privilege regarding the words of legal counsel, it is at least understandable why he combined them with his other comments. The privileges of Members can be infringed upon by people outside of this House. A point of privilege is the proper place to raise these concerns and there is no point of order.
Now on the point of privilege.
On November 22, 2021, the Member for Thebacha raised a point of privilege alleging that the Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh had made threats or otherwise intimidated her and other Members.
It was a very robust debate that included participation by the Members for Yellowknife North, Frame Lake, Range Lake, Yellowknife South, Yellowknife Centre, Hay River South, Kam Lake, Hay River North, Inuvik Twin Lakes, Inuvik Boot Lake and the Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh.
As Speaker, I am to determine whether the point of privilege has been raised at the earliest opportunity and whether there is a prima facie point of privilege; in other words, at first glance the matter appears to be a breach of privilege and warrants immediate consideration by the Assembly.
Those are the Speaker's responsibilities under Rule 20(4) when a question of privilege is raised.
On the first point as to whether it was raised at the earliest opportunity, I find that it was. The events that the Member for Thebacha and other Members referred to all occurred after the Assembly adjourned on June 4th, 2021. Monday, November 22nd, 2021, was the first day that the Assembly sat since then. Accordingly, the point of privilege was raised at the earliest opportunity.
On the second requirement, the Speaker's role is to determine if there is a prima facie question of privilege. Because this is a very serious matter, I want to explain the Speaker's role here.
In House of Commons, Procedure and Practice 3rd Edition, at page 147, the authors quote a former clerk who described the responsibility of a Speaker at this stage as "the Speaker's role ought to be explained, and it is that the issue put before the Speaker is not finding a fact. It is simply whether on first impression the issue that is before the House warrants priority consideration over all other matters, all other orders of the day that are before the House.
In raising her point of privilege, the Member for Thebacha referred to a Facebook message sent to Caucus by the Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh. She read part of it, and the Member for Frame Lake filled in the rest of the statement which reads: "I just want to say F you for making my loved ones cry. You squeezed my heart. Whoever backed this, I'm coming for you." I have edited the profanity in the message.
This message was sent on October 3, 2021, by the Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh - the day before the inquiry by the sole adjudicator was to commence.
When examining the rules and authorities, it is clear that intimidating, threatening, or molesting Members can give rise to a breach of privilege. As was pointed out during the debate, Rule 20(1)(v) of the Rules of the Northwest Territories Assembly states, in part, that "The privileges of Members include: (v) freedom from obstruction and intimidation in relation to their duties as elected representatives."
Rule 20(1)(l) addresses this subject when it states "The privileges of this House include: (l) the power to maintain order and to discipline for breaches of privilege and for contempt of the House. Contempt of the House may include disobedience to its orders, misconduct before it, affronts against its dignity and authority, and any act or omission which impedes or obstructs the House or its Members in the performance of their duties. Technically, to intimidate, threaten, or otherwise obstruct a Member may be considered a contempt of the Assembly.
In House of Commons Procedure and Practice 3rd edition, the authors say, at page 108, that while such actions are technically contempts since these matters relate so closely to the right of the House, to the services of its Members, they are often considered to be breaches of privilege. It doesn't really matter how it is characterized. If the Speaker finds a prima facie question of privilege, it is treated the same way whether it is a contempt or a point of privilege.
In this case, we have heard that the Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh made threats to Members of Caucus. Eleven Members stood in this Assembly yesterday on the point of privilege. Most said they felt threatened or intimidated. Some indicated they were fearful because of the actions of the Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh. I was especially struck by the comments from the Member for Inuvik Twin Lakes who expressed very real fear about travelling to Yellowknife or participating in committee proceedings.
I find that there is a threat to Members as it related to their duties as Members. Sending a message to Caucus, a body composed of elected Members, affirms this view. Furthermore, the message was sent the day before the hearings of the sole adjudicator began into the complaint against the Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh.
The sole adjudicator's role is set out in the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act, but he is like the Integrity Commissioner as an officer of the Assembly and covered by privilege. The adjudicator's role is to perform duties for Members.
It is a necessity in our democratic system that Members be able to exercise their freedom of speech without fear of intimidation or threats. This Assembly must be a safe space for all. Certainly, Members may be criticized for what they say but that is part of our democratic system. Threatening or intimidating Members goes well beyond free speech.
Also, there were allegations that the Member threatened officers of the Assembly. These officials have no voice in this Assembly.
The allegation is that the Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh said something to the effect that he was coming for a deputy clerk of the Assembly. The second allegation is that the same Member referred to cutting the head or neck off a snake in reference to an officer of the Assembly.
In his book of Parliamentary Privilege in Canada 2nd edition, Joseph Maingot says, at page 232, "Officers of the House of Commons, while in the execution of their duties, receive the protection of the House in the event they are interfered with, molested, intimidated, or assaulted. It is as much a prima facie point of privilege to threaten or intimidate an officer of the Assembly as it is a Member.
Finally, I would point out that none of the Members who spoke denied that threats had been made. Even the Member for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh did not deny that he made the statements that led to this point of privilege. He apologized, but it wasn't clear what exactly he was apologizing for. In this Assembly, an apology doesn't end the matter on a point of privilege.
Accordingly, I find that there is a prima facie question of privilege and, as I said earlier, it was raised at the first opportunity.
Any Member can now propose a motion under Rule 20(5) or can give notice of a motion calling upon the Assembly to take action on the matter or referring the matter to a committee of the Assembly no later than the end of sitting day tomorrow. Thank you. Member for Thebacha.