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Speaker's Ruling
John Reynolds

Jurisdiction Over the Precincts of the Legislature, Speaker John Reynolds, British Columbia Legislative Assembly,

Background: In April, the Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Skelly, raised a question of privilege relating to the public's right to demonstrate, by way of residency, on the grounds of the Legislative Building.

The Ruling (Speaker John Reynolds): Yesterday afternoon, the Honourable the Leader of the Opposition rose under the provisions of Standing Order 26 relating to a matter of privilege and described recent events which had taken place on the lawn in front of the Legislative Building.

Firstly, I wish to thank the Honourable Member for his courtesy in advising the Chair of this matter, prior to his raising it in the House. Honourable Members will appreciate that privilege belongs to Members of the Legislature, individually and collectively. The individual privileges are:

a) freedom of speech in debate; and

(b) freedom from arrest

The collective privileges are:

(a) access to the Crown;

(b) the right to provide for its due composition;

(c) the right to regulate its own proceedings;

(d) the power to punish for contempt;

(e) the power to summon witnesses; and

(f) those privileges enumerated in the Legislative Assembly Privilege Act

The distinctive mark of a privilege is its ancillary character. The privileges of Parliament are rights which are (and I stress) "absolutely necessary for the due execution of its power." They are enjoyed by individual Members because the House cannot perform its functions without unimpeded use of the services of its Members; and by each House for the protection of its Members and the vindication of its own authority and dignity. The question the Chair must address is whether or not the privileges enumerated above have been breached by the actions described by the Honourable the Leader of the Opposition yesterday.

The Chair must also observe that the Speaker's jurisdiction in British Columbia has never been clearly defined and the problems relating thereto were placed before this House in a report filed under the Legislative Procedure Review Act in 1984. In that report, at page 41, it was recommended that the legislative precinct be defined as the land the buildings bounded by Belleville, Government, Superior and Menzies Street, and further recommended that that definition be included in an Act establishing an Internal Economy Board.

The Chair feels the matter raised yesterday by the Honourable the Leader of the Opposition could have been examined by such a board and the experience in other jurisdictions of the Commonwealth lends support to that conclusion.

The right to demonstrate and protest are integral parts of a parliamentary democracy. The question the Chair, and indeed this Assembly, must address is whether or not they wish to circumscribe limits to these rights, particularly when the actions in question directly impact upon the precinct of this Legislative Assembly. The Speaker is, and will remain, the servant of this Assembly, but is placed in an invidious position when the extent of his jurisdiction remains uncertain. It is hoped that the Premier's statement relating to the formation of a Board of Internal Economy will hasten the resolution of many of these uncertainties.

The matter raised by the Honourable the Leader of the Opposition has brought into sharp focus these jurisdictional problems but the matter described does not, under the authorities, qualify as a prima facie breach of privilege.

For the further assistance of all Members, I refer them to a comprehensive treatment of this matter contained in Parliamentary Privilege in Canada by Joseph Maingot, and Sir Erskine May's Parliamentary Practice, 19th edition, at page 92, and Beauchesne's Parliamentary Rules and Forms, 5th edition, at page 11.

The Chair must make a further comment in relation to a fresh incident reported by the Honourable the Leader of the Opposition during this morning's sitting which, as the Chair understands it, amounted to a repeat of yesterday's incident on the lawn of the Legislative Assembly. As a result of this last-mentioned incident, the Speaker has issued instructions to the Sergeant-at-Arms that neither he, nor any of his staff, are to become involved in the forcible removal of persons or articles from the grounds of the Legislative Building. These instructions will remain in place until the Chair has been given different instructions by this House, or by a duly constituted Board of Internal Economy. Let me emphasise, this in no way derogates from the Chair's acknowledged responsibility for security matters within the walls of the Legislative Building, which will continue in accordance with the Standing Orders of this House and well-established custom and usage.

Canadian Parliamentary Review Cover
Vol 10 no 2

Last Updated: 2020-03-03