I was glad to receive all party support to table a petition from constituents of my riding of Haldimand-Norfolk. Current House of Commons rules would not have allowed the petition to be submitted, as the page was enlarged beyond what the House of Commons considers a “usual size.” Canadians should be allowed to petition Parliament even if they need to enlarge petition pages to improve the visibility and, going forward, I’ll continue to push to have the House rules corrected to allow this.
Mr. Speaker, today I rise on a point of order to apprise the House of an issue that I recently came across when attempting to have a petition certified by the clerk of petitions.
A few weeks ago, I received a number of petitions from constituents in my beautiful riding of Haldimand—Norfolk, calling on the government to remove clause 14 from Bill C-51 so that the rights of individuals to freely practise their religion will continue to be protected. Now, while most of these petitions were certified and sent back to my office for tabling, there was one petition that was not approved. According to the office of the clerk of petitions, this petition was rejected, because it did not meet the usual paper size requirement under Standing Order 36(1.1)(c). While the petition contained all of the required information as stated in the Standing Orders, it was printed on ledger-size paper and was determined to be not of the “usual size”, which is why it was rejected.
What exactly does “usual size” mean? Some people would interpret it as letter or legal-size paper, which is exactly what was decided upon by the clerk’s office. However, “usual size” does not mean the same to all Canadians. As I am sure members are well aware, people who have a vision impairment use a larger font and paper in order to read the text. To them, ledger-size paper may be the usual size.
As someone who was legally blind at one point, and as the former minister for disabilities, I regularly encourage many institutions and organizations to adopt more accessible-friendly policies. Therefore, it is very disappointing that the House has not taken the same approach.
Not only does this guideline fail to provide accessibility to Canadians who are visually impaired, but we are the only jurisdiction in the Commonwealth that has this requirement. I looked into how the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and the Province of Ontario handle their petitions. In each of these jurisdictions, they have no paper size requirements. The closest is the Province of Ontario, where the clerk’s office recommends that the paper size be 8 1/2” by 11” or 8 1/2” by 14”. However, as long as it contains the prayer and at least one name, address, and signature, the petition can be tabled by any member of the legislature. Even our very own Senate does not have requirements on the paper size of the petition that is tabled.
On page 1,166 of O’Brien and Bosc, footnote 32 states, “Prior to the adoption of this rule, petitions of unusual style were presented from time to time and judged by the Clerk of Petitions to be in accordance with the prevailing requirements as to form.”
The Annotated Standing Orders at page 110 seem to suggest that this requirement and definition of usual style came to be in 1986. In 2004, after the election of Steven Fletcher to the House of Commons, the first quadriplegic to be elected, a new Standing Order was adopted, Standing Order 1.1, which states: The Speaker may alter the application of any Standing or special Order or practice of the House in order to permit the full participation in the proceedings of the House of any Member with a disability.
While I appreciate this Standing Order addresses specifically a member with a disability, the spirit of this relatively new Standing Order could be applied to me, since I am prevented from representing my constituents in participating in proceedings of the House of Commons, not because of my disability, but because of the disabilities of my constituents.
I thank the hon. member for Haldimand—Norfolk for raising her point of order, which touches on some interesting subjects.
As members are aware, in order for petitions to be presented, they must meet specific rules, including technical requirements about size. As the hon. member read, Standing Order 36(1.1) states, “In order to be certified, pursuant to section (1) of the Standing Order, every paper petition shall…be written, typewritten or printed on paper of usual size…”. That, as the member said, has been interpreted since the time she mentioned to mean letter or legal size. That is an important point.
In fact, I know some members, on their websites, will actually set out the requirements so their constituents can see them there and can refer them, when they call about a petition, to that site. However, not every person is going to call before he or she prepares a petition, so that is something for people to consider.
The book the member referred to, House of Commons Procedure and Practice, at page 1166, states that only petitions printed on 21.5 centimetres by 28 centimetres, better known as 8 1/2 inches by 11 inches, or 21.5 centimetres by 35.5 centimetres, or 8 1/2 inches by 14 inches, sheets can be certified.
Having said this, I can understand the member’s frustration. Thus, I suggest she could raise the matter with the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which could, if it sees fit, consider changing the requirements for petitions.
I thank the member for having raised this interesting point.
Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. If you seek it, I believe you will find unanimous consent for me to table a petition.
Mr. Speaker, I present a petition on behalf of people in riding of Haldimand—Norfolk. They are deeply concerned with clause 14 of Bill C-51. As it stands, clause 14 would remove the only provision in the Criminal Code that would directly protect the rights of individuals to freely practice their religion, whatever that religion may be.
The petitioners call on the government to remove clause 14 from the legislation and protect the religious freedoms of all Canadians.
Speaker: Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to table the petition not in the usual form?
Some Honourable Members: Agreed