Senate Speaker Raymonde Gagné ruled Tuesday that Conservatives’ behaviour toward Independent senators last month – including an incident where Conservative Leader Don Plett yelled at two of them – breached the Red Chamber’s rules on privilege, and amounted to intimidation.
The ruling followed the outburst by Mr. Plett on Nov. 9 and a post on the social media platform X by former Conservative leader Andrew Scheer with photos of two female senators, who said it resembled a wanted poster from the Wild West.
Mr. Scheer’s post urged members of the public to call Senator Bernadette Clement, who is Black, and Senator Chantal Petitclerc, a former Paralympic athlete, and included their photos and office phone numbers. It claimed they had shut down debate on a bill that would help farmers get a carbon pricing carve-out. It was reposted by Conservative Senators Denise Batters and Leo Housakos.
The post prompted a stream of angry and insulting calls to the offices of Ms. Clement and Ms. Petitclerc. Ms. Clement also suffered racist abuse online and a threatening phone call from an unknown man who said he was coming to her house. The call prompted her to fear for her safety, leave her home temporarily, carry a panic button and contact the police. It is being investigated by parliamentary security.
Raymonde Saint-Germain, the facilitator of the Independent Senators Group, sought a ruling from the Senate Speaker last month about whether there had been a breach parliamentary privilege on what she said were Conservative intimidation attempts. One Conservative senator had shouted “fascists” at the Independent senators, during heated scenes.
Ms. Saint-Germain told the Senate that a “line has been crossed” and called for action to be taken by the Speaker.
But Mr. Plett, backed by other Conservative senators, argued that “being attacked on social media is not a question of privilege,” nor does it cover “sharp language” in the chamber.
On Tuesday, the Senate Speaker ruled that it was indeed a question of privilege, reminding senators that the “Senate is a chamber that prides itself on its work to protect minority rights.”
The ruling prompted Ms. Saint-Germain to present a motion to refer the matter to the Senate ethics committee for consideration, which could lead to a recommendation of disciplinary measures or changes to the Senate code of conduct.
Ms. Saint-Germain told The Globe and Mail in an e-mail that the Speaker’s decision “will be a reference for the Senate for years to come.”
In her ruling Tuesday, the Speaker said senators “must be assiduous in avoiding contributing to a toxic online environment.”
Ms. Clement and Ms. Saint-Germain told The Globe they “froze” after Mr. Plett came over and berated them on Nov. 9, after they called for an adjournment on a bill backed by the Conservatives.
“He stood over our desks in very close proximity. I felt the spittle landing on my laptop. He was yelling,” Ms. Clement told The Globe.
Mr. Plett later apologized on the floor of the Red Chamber for yelling. Mr. Plett said he “never intended to cause harm or discomfort” and acknowledged he had lost his “cool.”
On Tuesday, Mr. Plett’s spokesperson, Karine Leroux, said “we completely and fundamentally disagree with the Speaker’s ruling.” She said they thought the Speaker had “ignored both facts and past Speakers’ rulings.”
In her speech announcing her ruling, the Senate Speaker said, “threatening or assaulting a member during a proceeding … is a violation of the rights of Parliament.”
“Senators should not have to fear for their safety or about any retribution for the simple act of moving a motion or voting. It is very possible that if such behaviour is not stopped a senator could say to themselves ‘perhaps I will sit out this vote or this debate or this meeting. I can’t keep on being yelled at and threatened,’” she added.
“The Senate chamber felt threatened and insulted and intimidated. That is a violation of the rights of Parliament, for the Senate of individual senators,” she said.
Her ruling was welcomed by Independent senators, including Tony Dean.
“Senators who have experienced online abuse will understand well the Speaker’s warning that senators should assiduously avoid contributing to a toxic online environment that risks being destructive to our safety, our society and our democracy,” he said.