At the time this article was written Maurice
Champagne worked for the Legislative Library of the Quebec National Assembly.
To carry out their duties federal and
provincial legislators enjoy a number of rights and immunities known as
"privileges". In some legislatures these are spelled out in legislation
or standing orders while in others they are left to custom. Perhaps the best
known parliamentary privilege is immunity from prosecution for anything a
member says in the House. Related to this, but less well known, even among
parliamentarians, is that a member cannot be expelled from a private club or
union for statements or actions in the course of duties in the House. An
example of this privilege came to light recently in Quebec.
In January 1983, the Syndicat des
travailleurs de l'enseignement de la Haute-Yamaska decided to expel from its
ranks Jacques Beauséjour, the Parti québécois member for Iberville. One of the
reasons given by the head of the Union for Mr. Beauséjour's expulsion was that
he had voted repeatedly in support of Bills 62, 70 and 105 relating to wage
cutbacks in the public sector.1 However, according to a ruling of
the Court of King's Bench dating back to June 21, 1917, an organization does
not have the right to expel from its ranks a member on account of opinions
expressed by him in the Assembly. The case, outlined below, illustrates this
little known aspect of parliamentary privilege.
On January 13, 1916, during the debate on
the Speech from the Throne, Armand Lavergne, a Nationalist member of the Quebec
Legislative Assembly for Montmagny, spoke out passionately in the Assembly
against the participation of French Canadians in the First World War.2
In defending his stand, Lavergne even went so far as to say that he was
prepared to set aside his parliamentary immunity and the government could
arrest him for high treason if they wanted to.3
A few days later the members of the Club de
la garison de Québec lodged a verbal complaint with their secretary, asking for
Lavergne's expulsion from the club. On February 25, a written complaint signed
by sixteen club members was forwarded to the committee and a special meeting of
all club members was convened for March 13. The majority of club members
supported the following resolution: "That the committee be instructed to
request Mr. Lavergne to resign as a member of the club, and in default of his
resigning within ten days from such request, the committee do expel him from
Lavergne took his case to court on January
12, 1917. He sought to have annulled the resolution which had ordered his expulsion.
He also sought from the club, a total of $999 in damages.
Judge Roy ruled that the resolution adopted
by the club was illegal, ultra vires, and in violation of club rules and
regulations and that, consequently, it must be quashed and reversed. The court
issued a permanent injunction in this case and ordered the defendant to pay the
plaintiff up to a maximum of $100 in damages. The club appealed the court's
ruling and on June 21, 1917, the appeal was heard in the Court of King's Bench.
The judgment of the lower court was upheld.
Four of the five judges of the appeal court arrived at two conclusions. one of
which is of special interest to us and concerns the privileges of
parliamentarians: "A resolution, adopted by a social club with a view to expelling
one of its members by reason of something he said in the exercise of his duties
as a member of the Legislative Assembly, constitutes a violation of the
parliamentary privilege of freedom of speech and, as such, is null and
Chief Justice Sir Horace Archambeault gave
the following judgement:
"On the first point, the respondent, in
presenting the facts of his case, quotes section 133 of the Revised Statutes
(Legislature Act) which stipulates that no member of the Legislative Assembly
shall be liable to any action, arrest or imprisonment by reason of anything
said by him before such House. The privilege of freedom of speech enjoyed by a
Member of Parliament is not limited to the examples mentioned in this section.
Moreover, no legislation was needed in order to establish this principle. The
existence of this privilege is essential to every free legislature. Not only
must a member of Parliament not be liable to any action or arrest, much less
imprisonment, he must not be molested in any way by anyone outside of
Parliament. Only Parliament has the right to censure one of its members for his
contemptible conduct or disparaging or censurable remarks. The King himself
could not intervene on the pretext that a member has made some seditious
comments or proposed some measure which smacks of treason. The appellant
maintains that only courts of justice are prohibited from censuring a member of
Parliament and that this principle does not apply to a club wishing to expel
one of its members for some derogatory remarks he made within the confines of
Parliament. This claim is totally unfounded. The privilege of freedom of speech
is universally applicable.
Our Canadian author on parliamentary
procedure, Sir John Bourinot, is a proponent of the same philosophy. He has the
following to say about the privilege of freedom of speech (Parliamentary
Procedure, pp. 47 and 48): "Among the most important privileges of the
members of a legislature is the enjoyment of freedom of speech in debate, a
privilege long recognized as essential to proper discussion and confirmed as
part of the law of the land in Great Britain and all her dependencies. This
freedom of speech, of debate and proceeding may not be impeached or questioned
in any court or place out of parliament. This freedom of speech was originally
intended as a protection against the power of the Crown, but naturally was
extended to protect members against all attacks from whatsoever source."
I can, without any hesitation whatsoever,
state that the resolution adopted by the club is a violation of the
parliamentary privilege of freedom of speech. A Member of Parliament must in no
way be molested or prevented from exercising his right to speak openly and
freely on any subject that may be debated in Parliament. A member must be able
to exercise this privilege without fear or apprehension, since, as the authors
of the various works on parliamentary procedure indicate, freedom of speech is
an essential part of the constitution which governs us...6
1. La Presse, 21 January. 1983.
2. L'Événement, 14 January, 1916.
3.Le Soleil, 14 January, 1916.
4.Barreau de la province de Québec, Les
rapports judiciaires de Québec. Cour supérieur, Montréal, Eug. Globensky &
Cie, 1917, p. 351.
5. Barreau de la province de Québec, Les
rapports judiciaires de Québec, Cour du banc du roi (en appel). Montréal, Eug.
Globensky & Cie, 1918, p. 37.
6. lbid, pp. 3841 (Refers to 1879 edition of