Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A just response

At least one of the Cons seems to think he's found a way out of the Alan Riddell scandal for now, as PMS himself has invoked Parliamentary immunity to avoid having to testify. But it's worth noting that in avoiding any scrutiny in court, Harper may only be opening himself up to a label which could severely undercut the brand he's trying to build.

Marleau and Montpetit describe the immunity from appearing as a witness as follows (footnotes removed):
The right of the House to the attendance and service of its Members exempts a Member, when the House is in session, from the normal obligation of a citizen to comply with a subpoena to attend a court as a witness. This exemption applies in civil, criminal and military matters before the courts. However, this claim is not intended to be used to impede the course of justice and, therefore, is regularly waived, particularly for criminal cases. When the House is in session, should a subpoena be served on a Member, the Member may wish to appear in court where he or she feels that absence from court might affect the course of justice. However, the Member still has a right to claim the privilege of exemption from appearing as a witness.
It's not entirely clear from the linked text whether or not Riddell will have any official recourse for the purposes of having the immunity lifted. It seems unlikely that a court would seek to override the jurisdiction of Parliament (see a brief outline of some of the case law here), and none of the Speaker's rulings discussed in Marleau and Montpetit suggest any particular taste for second-guessing a member's assertion of privilege.

But even if there's no clear means by which to force Harper to testify, he's still apparently opening himself up to some serious criticism based on the standard for claiming (or waiving) immunity: surely someone who's trying to sell himself as a law-and-order politician should know better than to voluntarily start a discussion about whether or not he's abusing his privilege by impeding the course of justice. And if Harper's choice ends up leading to that kind of conversation and in turn to a serious loss of face, then he may lose his privilege far faster than he'd likely think possible.

Update: One more point of interest to add, as the only time when Riddell could be sure of avoiding Harper's claim of privilege would be during an election campaign. Is it too early to book trial dates for September 2009?

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