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Conflict of Interest for Senators - Sixth Report of Committee Adopted. sixth report (Obligations of the Honourable Senator Boisvenu under the Conflict of Interest Code for Senators)

 

The Senate proceeded to consideration of the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Conflict of Interest for Senators (Obligations of the Honourable Senator Boisvenu under the Conflict of Interest Code for Senators), deposited with the Clerk of the Senate on August 25, 2014 and deemed presented in the Senate on September 16, 2014.

Hon. Serge Joyal: Honourable senators, the Honourable Senator Andreychuk provided a good summary of the sixth report of the Committee on Conflict of Interest for Senators after the Senate Ethics Officer's special report was tabled on June 25.

I'm just going to make a few observations that I would like honourable senators to consider in their study of the sixth report, since this is the first report of its kind that the committee received for study and recommendation, after certain provisions of the code were enforced in relation to an alleged failure to meet some of the obligations set out in that code.

The first observation that I would like to make concerns the independence of the conflict of interest committee in carrying out its duties.

The Committee on the Conflict of Interest for Senators is a stand-alone committee in relation to the other 18 standing and joint committees that have been mandated by the chamber to debate and study bills and public policy issues.

The way the conflict of interest committee is set up is unique. The committee is made up of five members. Two are chosen by secret ballot by the government caucus in the Senate. Two others are chosen by secret ballot by members of the opposition caucus. Senators from each caucus are individually called upon to choose their representatives on this committee. The four senators who are chosen in this process then elect, by secret ballot, the fifth member of the committee from among all the senators who put their name forward, whether they be Conservative, Liberal or independent.

As a result, senators themselves are directly responsible for the make-up of the conflict of interest committee and for good reason: the Committee on the Conflict of Interest for Senators is responsible for exercising one of the privileges of this chamber, namely, to discipline members, a duty that inherently belongs to each senator, not just to the leaders of the respective parties or political groups represented in the Senate.

The committee is entirely independent. That is its most important characteristic. It answers basically to all of the senators in this chamber, and to no other authority. In other words, and you will understand the point I want to make, the Committee on Conflict of Interest for Senators operates independently of political leadership.

That is the first condition that must be satisfied for a proper disciplinary process, one that is inspired by the principles of natural justice — that is, it must be a fully independent tribunal.

The second observation I wanted to make to my honourable colleagues has to do with the procedure the committee must follow when it receives a report from the Senate Ethics Officer regarding the conduct of a senator.

This is very important, because the disciplinary procedure must guarantee that the process is transparent and fair. That is also one of the fundamental principles of justice. In other words, on the one hand, senators must know what to expect when the committee is asked to rule on whether a senator has violated the code, and on the other hand, they must be certain that the rights of the senator in question are clearly identified and protected and that that senator has the right to full answer and defence.

The Conflict of Interest Code explicitly sets out the procedure the committee must rigorously follow when dealing with investigation reports from the Senate Ethics Officer.

In the matter in question, the committee members were very careful to follow the procedures set out in sections 45 and 46 of that code to the letter. First of all, the Senate Ethics Officer's report was deposited by the committee chair, the Honourable Senator Andreychuk, with the office of the Clerk of the Senate on June 25, the same day that it was received, and the document was therefore made public immediately.

Second, the committee met quickly the following month in Ottawa, on July 28 and July 29, 2014, and it deposited its final report with the clerk on August 25. The committee was very diligent.

Third, the senator in question was invited to share his perspective with the members of the committee in camera, unimpeded and with all the time he required for his testimony.

Fourth, all committee members were able to ask all their questions to the senator in question, and he was forthright and spoke freely in his replies, as pointed out in the sixth report.

Fifth, the senator then felt it was advisable to make other representations in writing, which the committee took into account.

Sixth, the committee then deliberated based on the facts in the SEO's report and considered all of the additional information that the senator in question provided to the members of the committee.

Seventh, in its sixth report, the committee concluded — unanimously, I should point out — that, pursuant to the mandate set out in the code, it was appropriate to recommend sanctions in light of the obligations of each senator, as set out in the code, the conclusions in the SEO's report, and the additional information obtained from the senator in question.

Eighth, in determining the sanctions, the members of the committee considered all of the facts set out in the SEO's report, and in particular the circumstances surrounding the events, as described by the senator in question. Furthermore, the members of the committee had to consider each senator's responsibility to maintain public confidence in the integrity of the institution. Lastly, they were concerned that the determination of a sanction would also be useful for other senators in defining their own conduct.

It was very important to every member of the Committee on Conflict of Interest to rigorously follow the procedure set out in the code, which guarantees a senator's right to be treated transparently and fairly, so that all senators would have confidence that the code is being applied in a balanced and fair manner. The committee sought to discharge its responsibility with a deep concern for fairness. This concern was especially on the mind of every committee member because it was the first time the committee had been asked to take on the important responsibility of exercising the privilege of discipline that the chamber conferred upon it on its behalf under the provisions of the code governing the study of SEO special investigation reports.

The committee members were all aware that when asked to take on this kind of responsibility, they must draw on the principles of natural justice, as set out in our laws and our parliamentary tradition.

I can assure honourable senators that the committee members took on the responsibility conferred on them with the greatest concern for integrity and the utmost respect for the institution of the Senate and every one of its members.

I therefore recommend that honourable senators approve the sixth report of the Committee on Conflict of Interest for Senators.

Hon. Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu: Honourable senators, I have read the sixth report of the Committee on Conflict of Interest for Senators, and, as set out in the rules, I do not wish to exercise my right of final reply.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

(Motion agreed to and report adopted.)