Sunday, June 3, 2012

Long winding road to read petition

(or Petitions 101)

On March 12, 2012, I emailed my Member of Parliament Mauril Belanger, and asked him to read a petition with 25 signatures. I was told by his office to send them in, which I did, and by which time I  had 50 signatures.

This was my petition:
"Whereas Canada is the only nation in the Western world and in the company of China and North Korea without any laws restricting abortion; And whereas Canada's Supreme Court has said it is Parliament's responsibility to enact abortion legislation; Therefore, we call upon the House of Commons in Parliament assembled to speedily enact legislation that restricts abortion to the greatest extent possible."

Simple, right? Wrong.

Now remember, I am not allowed to just waltz into the House of Commons any time I please, and stand up there and read my own petition in Parliament. No siree, I can't do that. I must follow the rules, and the rules say that I have to get my MP to do that (1).

I continued to email and call Mr. Belanger's office on a regular basis for the next two months, to ask if he would first of all, read my petition in the House, and second, when would he do it? I never got any absolute confirmation to either of these questions until May 24 when I was told it would be "tabled" in Parliament, but not "read".

Now I wasn't exactly sure what "tabled" meant and how that differed from "read". And this was not the first time Mr. Belanger's office had used this word. I always used the word "read", since that is what I asked my representative in Parliament to do for me: to "read" my petition. So I needed to do a bit of research.

There are two ways to "present" a petition. One is done orally by an MP (tabled and read in the House and written up in the Debates (Hansard) and Journal), and the other is to file it with the Clerk of the Petitions (tabled only and written up in the Journal only) (2). In both cases, the government responds officially to the MP. (3)

I thought about this and decided that no, if I couldn’t have my petition actually read orally in the House, and written up in the Debates, then I didn't want it just "tabled" (i.e. filed with the Clerk of the Petitions only). I wanted my petition back.

So on May 25 I called again and spoke with Mr. Belanger.

It was quite the interesting conversation.

I asked Mr. Belanger if he was going to read my petition. He said no. I said, okay, then I want it back unless you are going to read it. He said I will not read it and it has already been certified. I said I don't care what's happened to it, it's my petition and unless you are going to read it in the House I want it back. He said no. I asked him why he refused to read it. He said that it was his choice to read it, or not to read it. I am not kidding. I asked him if he was always rude to his constituents. He said he wasn't being rude. I said I want my petition back. He said no. I said I want my petition back. He hung up on me.

So I made a few phone calls...

And then, miracle of miracles, last Thursday I received another email from Mr. Belanger's office. This is what it said:
"Enclosed you will find the electronic link to the Hansard of yesterday. My colleague Sean Casey, Liberal M.P. for Charlottetown, presented the petition you had sent to my office, as per your wish that it be read into the record as opposed to being tabled."

Please refer to page 8574:

Halleluiah! My Petition had been read. In the House of Commons. By an MP. Which is all I ever wanted.

And here is what was said in the House of Commons, and is now in the Debates (Hansard) record:
"Mr. Sean Casey (Charlottetown, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I have two petitions to present today, each of which may sound a bit familiar given the petitions that have already been presented today. The first one is on behalf of residents of the greater Ottawa area, including Gloucester, Nepean and Orléans. The petitioners point out that Canada is the only nation in the western world, in the company of China and North Korea,without any laws restricting abortion. They call upon the House of Commons to speedily enact legislation that would restrict abortion to the greatest extent possible. "

Persistence paid off.

(1) Presentation of Petitions
"As outsiders are not permitted to address the House directly, petitions are presented by Members. Therefore, groups and individuals with petitions for the House must enlist the aid of Members to have their petitions certified and presented. Members are not bound to present petitions and cannot be compelled to do so; [53]  nevertheless, it is evident that many Members consider it a duty to present to the House petitions brought forward by citizens. [54]  The Member, whose role it is to make the presentation on behalf of the petitioners, is not required to be in agreement with the content of any petition he or she may choose to present, and no such inference is to be drawn. [55] 

(2) "Certified petitions may be presented in two ways: orally during Routine Proceedings, [62]  or by filing them with the Clerk of the House during any sitting of the House. [63]  In practice, the majority of petitions are presented during Routine Proceedings"

(eg. Statistics compiled by the Clerk of Petitions indicate that 2107 of 2361 petitions presented in the Second Session of the Thirty-Fifth Parliament (1996-97) were presented orally during Routine Proceedings)

"When petitions are presented during Routine Proceedings, the Members’ remarks are recorded, transcribed and printed in the Debates for that day. An entry is also made in the Journals, the official record of House proceedings. The petitions are listed as having been certified correct and presented pursuant to the Standing Orders. Petitions filed with the Clerk are of course not mentioned in the Debates, but they are listed in the Journals. Certified petitions once presented to the House (by either method) are then delivered to the Clerk of Petitions who is responsible for their reception and processing."

(3) Government Responses to Petitions

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