Hon. R. B. HANSON (Leader of the Opposition):
I rise to a question of privilege, affecting not only myself but every member of this house. On January 21 the hon. member
for Rosetown-Biggar (Mr. Coldwell) raised a similar question. No answer, so far as I know, has been forthcoming from the government and I desire to demonstrate that the practice of which he complained is still continuing and to register my firmest and most emphatic protest against it.
I hold in my hand an air mail envelope postmarked "Wolfville, N.S."-which is in the constituency of the Minister of Finance (Mr. Ilsley)-"February 12, 1942." The end of this envelope has a label pasted over it, upon which appear the following words: "Examined by DB/C 106." This label obscures any initials which may have appeared on the envelope, but the following appears very clearly, "Hanson, Esq., M.P., Leader of the Opposition, Parliament Buildings, Ottawa, Ont." There could have been no doubt in the mind of the censor that this letter was addressed to me as a member of parliament and as leader of the opposition. The censor none the less took upon himself to open and examine this letter.
I protest, first of all, against that. In this connection I should like to draw the attention of the house to the reply made by the Postmaster General (Mr. Mulock) to the hon. member for Parkdale (Mr. Bruce) on January 21 last, Hansard, page 4463, in which the hon. member asked this question:
If any criticism of a department of government has been found, has such criticism been extracted from letters and sent with the name of the writer to the department involved?
The answer of the Postmaster General was:
Such extracts are referred in confidence to the head of the department concerned, when it is considered in the public interest to do so.
In other words, if this letter from the constituency of the Minister of Finance, addressed to me as a member of parliament and as leader of the opposition, had contained critical reference to the minister's conduct of his department, shall I say, it might have been referred to the minister.
Mr. Speaker, this is an intolerable situation and one which the members of this house cannot permit to continue. This practice converts a censorship, which exists solely for the purpose of securing the safety of the state in wartime, into a petty Gestapo spying upon members of parliament and others.
May I make it very clear that my protest is not based upon any objection to the contents of this particular letter being made known to anyone. I hold it in my hand and anybody who wants to do so can read it. The letter is merely a general condemnation of the plebiscite and I would have no hesitation in reading it to the house if anybody wants to hear it. My protest is based upon a principle and that principle I enunciate
Privilege-Mr. Hanson (York-Sunbury)
as follows: Mail addressed to any member of parliament or dispatched by any member of parliament must be considered inviolate and free from interference by any servant of the crown. Unless this principle is firmly established, I do not believe it is possible for members of parliament adequately to perform their duties. If it is possible, as it is, for a letter addressed by me to, shall I say, the leader of the Conservative party in Nova Scotia, or by such leader to me, to be examined by a censor and the contents thereof communicated to the Postmaster General or even to the Prime Minister himself, I do not see how anyone can continue to carry on the duties of leader of the opposition. I do not say that this has occurred, but, under the procedure followed, it may occur.
I propose to lay on the table of the house the envelope to which I have referred. I protest against this practice with all the vigour and emphasis at my command and I ask the house to deal with this violation of privilege. Unless I have an unequivocal assurance that this practice will be stopped immediately I shall take the earliest opportunity to assert by way of a motion the rights and privileges of members of this parliament.
Mr. Speaker, I am trying to carry on one of the functions of government-perhaps in an inadequate manner but nevertheless with all the loyalty and power at my command- but if I am to be subject to this sort of espionage, I shall protest to the utmost and if I get no redress I shall carry the matter to the court of public opinion.