With Conservatives targeting a Liberal staffer who posted the sordid details of Vic Toews's divorce to Twitter, the Speaker of the House has ruled that threatening videos by the hacker group Anonymous violated the Public Safety Minister's parliamentary privilege.
Andrew Scheer told the Commons Tuesday the Anonymous videos "constitute a direct threat to the minister in particular, as well as all other members" of Parliament.
"These threats demonstrate a flagrant disregard of our traditions and a subversive attack on the most fundamental privileges of this House," Mr. Scheer said. "As your Speaker and the guardian of those privileges, I have concluded that this aspect – the videos posted on the Internet by Anonymous – therefore constitutes a prima facie question of privilege."
He invited Mr. Toews to move to have the matter sent to the procedures and House affairs committee. It is unclear how MPs on that committee could call Anonymous to testify, given that its members are, in fact, anonymous.
Anonymous has threatened repeatedly to divulge more embarrassing aspects of Mr. Toews personal life in retaliation for Bill C-30, which opponents say will allow authorities to spy on Canadian Internet users. On Friday it posted allegations that cannot be proved.
The group has demanded the bill be killed and that Mr. Toews resign. And it has voiced support for Adam Carroll, the Liberal staff member who resigned after admitting being behind the Vikileaks30 Twitter feed that published information contained in the minister's divorce papers. The tweets were not illegal but broke rules about how House of Commons computers should be used.
Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro moved a motion later Tuesday to have Mr. Carroll appear at the Commons ethics committee. It was ruled out of order by Jean Crowder, the NDP MP who chairs committee, who determined the matter was outside the committee's mandate. But the Conservatives, who hold a majority on the committee, challenged her ruling.
New Democrat Charlie Angus said the Conservatives are simply trying to divert attention from their own problems with the allegations that telephone campaigns were used to suppress the vote during the last election. But Mr. Del Mastro argued that committees are the masters of their own destiny and may study whatever they please.
Mr. Angus said if the committee must study Vikileaks, it will have to spend time determining whether the salacious information revealed about Mr. Toews' divorce was true – something he said he would find distasteful.
"They would rather turn the lights on on this ugly divorce in order to turn the attention off the elector fraud that's rocking the Conservative party," he told reporters after the meeting. "The role of a committee in Parliament is to hold government to account. What the Conservatives are doing is they are using their majority to attack their political enemies."
Liberal MP Scott Andrews moved an amendment to Mr. Del Mastro's motion, expanding the scope of the committee's study to cover all use of Commons resources participation in social networking sites. The committee adjourned before the amendment could be put to a vote.
Mr. Andrews said his party has made it clear that it has no interest in examining the details of a politician's personal life. But "maybe we'll have to look at every tweet," said Mr. Andrews.
The Public Safety Minister had also asked the Speaker to find that the Vikileaks tweets had violated his parliamentary privilege.
But in his ruling, Mr. Scheer pointed out that Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae had already offered his "unequivocal apology" and that of the Liberal Party. As a result, he said, although Mr. Carroll's actions constituted and unacceptable use of House of Commons resources, "I am prepared to consider this particular aspect of the question of privilege closed."
Mr. Toews also said his office had been inundated with calls, emails and faxes that made it difficult to do his job. The Speaker ruled the minister and his staff could still communicate with constituents through other means. So he determined that he could find no breach of privilege in that regard.
But, as to the actions of Anonymous, Mr. Scheer said he found the videos troubling and the threats disturbing,
"Those who enter political life fully expect to be held accountable for their actions – to their constituents, and to those who are concerned with the issues and initiatives they may advocate," he said. "However, when duly-elected members are personally threatened for their work in parliament – whether introducing a bill, making a statement, or casting a vote, this House must take the matter very seriously."