MPs complain about security delays on Parliament Hill
An RCMP officer walks by Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 15, 2013. (Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
OTTAWA -- RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson came to a Commons committee armed with police video footage from three different security cameras and giant time-stamped photos mounted on display boards.
He took MPs second-by-second through two incidents on Parliament Hill last month. By his side at Tuesday's hour-long hearing were two other top Mounties, the head of the Ottawa Police Service and head of House of Commons security.
NDP MP Yvon Godin and the House Speaker Andrew Scheer had been momentarily detained from getting to the Commons as German President Joachim Gauck's motorcade went on and off the Hill.
As deputy NDP Leader David Christopherson put it, this is "serious stuff."
MPs says their ability to move freely is a question of parliamentary privilege, ranking with their right to call for witnesses and documents and to say what they want in the Commons. There's also plenty of dark symbolism around police blocking the movement of MPs.
And so when Godin was prevented for a little over a minute from crossing a road to get to a Commons vote and Scheer's driver was delayed by two minutes the following day, all parties agreed the matter looked like a breach of privilege and needed to be studied.
What ensued was three days of hearings at the procedure and House affairs committee, including Paulson's testimony. MPs were able to watch video footage of Godin and others being delayed on a sidewalk as Guack's motorcade passed by.
There was also footage of Scheer's car idling at an RCMP checkpoint.
"This could easily be seen by member of the public as, 'Well, here we go, a bunch of MPs, they think they're so important...,' said Christopherson.
"There's nothing etched in stone in the universe that says that Canada remains a democracy forever. ...We're here to remain on guard for democracy."
Godin says that when he told the RCMP officer he would be late for a vote, the Mountie said, "I don't care." He was backed by MPs from all stripes for bringing up the grievance.
But Paulson says that the officer didn't recall using those words -- a difference of versions that upset Godin.
"I've been an MP for 17 years, I have the respect of my constituents and I haven't made a career by lying and manufacturing a situation that doesn't exist," said Godin.
Said Paulson: "I do not want you leaving here thinking the RCMP has taken a swipe at your reputation."
The RCMP now says it will look at having cars come onto the Hill from another entrance to avoid the possibility of delaying MPs. The various forces will also be reminded once again of the privilege MPs have to move around the precinct.
The same committee dealt with a similar issue in 2012 after a visit by Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu. After that study, police were given booklets featuring photographs of all parliamentarians.
The committee went behind closed doors to decide what they would report back to the Commons.