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Senators were intimidated, had their privilege breached, Speaker rules


Any attempt to intimidate a senator while in the process of fulfilling their duties is a breach of their privilege, even if the effort is ultimately unsuccessful, the Speaker of the Senate ruled Tuesday.

Raymonde Gagné’s finding came nearly a month after the Senate erupted into what she called “exceptional chaos” during debate on a carbon pricing bill that would eliminate the levy from most natural gas and propane used on farms.

It all happened Nov. 9 after a Senate committee’s recommended amendments to the bill were rejected. One such amendment was reintroduced, followed by an effort to adjourn debate, enraging Conservative senators who support the bill.

The ensuing tumult involved Sen. Don Plett, the Conservative leader in the upper chamber, who angrily threw down his earpiece and marched across the aisle to confront and berate two of his colleagues.

Those colleagues were Sen. Raymonde Saint-Germain, who raised the question of privilege, and Sen. Bernadette Clement, who moved the motion to adjourn debate. Both are part of the coalition known as the Independent Senators Group.

In an interview last month with The Canadian Press, Clement described being so rattled by the confrontation that she simply froze.

Plett apologized in the Senate two weeks later, acknowledging that “I lost my cool,” although he argued last month that the behaviour did not constitute a breach of privilege.

On Tuesday, Gagné found otherwise.

“Even if some senators disagreed with the course of events, nothing could justify such a disproportionate reaction,” she said.

The evidence showed senators were shouting at their colleagues and “insulting and unacceptable remarks were hurled across the Senate chamber,” Gagné said. Some senators were even threatened with procedural trickery, she added.

“All these events could be understood as attempts to intimidate colleagues and to unduly constrain, or even to extract retribution against them in the performance of their duties as parliamentarians,” Gagné said.

She rejected arguments from some that Clement hadn’t been intimidated, since she remained in the chamber and voted on the adjournment motion.

“Privilege should not be seen as something that only comes into play if there is an actual undesirable outcome,” Gagné said. In other words, harm need not have been caused, she added.

“Senators should not have to fear for their safety or about any retribution for the simple act of moving a motion or voting,” Gagné said.

“It is very possible that if such behaviour is not stopped, a senator could soon say to themselves, ‘Perhaps I will sit out this vote or this debate, or this meeting. I can’t keep on being yelled at and threatened.’”

Gagné also touched on Clement’s concerns that a social media post triggered physical threats that prompted police to urge her to leave her home temporarily for her own safety.

That post, from Conservative House leader Andrew Scheer, resembled what Clement called a “wanted poster.” It included her photo and contact information and urged people to contact her to complain.

Gagné said while it is important not to limit freedom of speech, senators must be mindful of what they post and share online.

Senators disagree about who did or said what prior to the melee. Some accused Conservatives of urging the Senate to reject the committee report so the Senate as a whole could debate each amendment individually.

Conservatives have accused several members of the Independent Senate Group of conspiring with the government to delay the bill, including by introducing a flood of amendments.

One has already failed. A second was scheduled for a vote later Tuesday.

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