Parsons takes King to task for speaking as justice minister
Liberal justice critic Andrew Parsons had a question for Justice Minister Darin King Wednesday afternoon: how far do you go with guilt by association?
The question came a day after NDP MHA Gerry Rogers was thrown out of the House for refusing to apologize for being a member of a Facebook group.
The Facebook group has been at the centre of controversy, since one of the members — there are currently more than 2,000 — posted violent, threatening comments about Premier Kathy Dunderdale.
“While no one in this House agrees with the disgusting comments against the premier that appeared on the site, it is shocking that the minister made a claim
of guilt by association,” Parsons said.
“I ask the minister: as our justice minister, how can you advocate for a policy of guilt by association, which is fundamentally against the principles of natural law and justice?”
King said when he raised the issue Tuesday, he wasn’t speaking as the justice minister, but instead, as the Government House leader — a different legislative role he also holds.
“My role, as the House leader, is to represent government in this House. If I feel, on behalf of government, that there is a break in the rules or someone not following the rules or a question of privilege, I make the case in this House, Mr. Speaker, and the case is made to you, and you have the ultimate decision as to whether the case was made effectively or if, in fact, it was not a case of privilege, as the case was made yesterday,” King said.
But in his argument Tuesday that Rogers should be thrown out of the House for being a member of the Facebook group, King twice identified himself as the justice minister.
“I suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, that if people have the courage to post those comments in a public forum like Facebook, with such vile and direct and obscene language, then one, as I am advised as the justice minister, one has no alternative but to consider those as threats and to consider that what is said in the comments ought to be taken very seriously, Mr. Speaker,” King said Tuesday.
“As justice minister, I, of course, deal with the police on a regular basis, and I am advised that you do not take any of those things for granted. You assume that they are valid comments and valid threats.”
When King was confronted with that fact in the House, he said that if he identified himself as the justice minister, that was a mistake.
“I will say very clearly for this House that if I misrepresented myself in my capacity as Government House leader yesterday and if Hansard shows that I indicated here that I was acting as the minister of justice, I will gladly withdraw those remarks and apologize because I in no way intended to suggest to this House that I was speaking as the minister of justice. I was speaking in my capacity as a leader of the government in this House.”
King did not address Parsons’ core question of whether somebody should be considered guilty by association for comments made on social media.
Speaker Ross Wiseman ruled Rogers was in contempt of the House, and MHAs can be reprimanded for questioning a Speaker’s ruling, so NDP Leader Lorraine Michael was circumspect when she spoke to reporters Wednesday.
Michael said she respects Wiseman’s ruling, but was shocked King raised the issue in the first place and implicated Rogers for being a member of the group.
“I think it was just a deliberate political move by the government, and I really think that was irresponsible, especially since they were dealing with something so serious in terms of threats to the premier,” she said.
“That was very serious, and to use that to make political points, or try to make political points, I think that was very irresponsible of the government.”
Parsons, who was a lawyer before he went into politics, said guilt by association wouldn’t hold up in court.
“He is the head of justice in this province,” Parsons said. “If he thinks guilt by association is the right thing, is the proper thing, then that concerns us.”