Queen's Park committee moves to force Laurentian University to surrender privileged documents
A powerful committee of the Ontario legislature moved Wednesday to try and force Laurentian University to hand over privileged documents to the province's auditor general.
The Standing Committee on Public Accounts has members from all the parties and directed Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk to examine the university's records in the first place.
It voted to request a Speaker's Warrant for the documents, a rare step that would give the request the backing of the entire legislature.
Conservative MPP Michael Parsa said the committee had been trying to get LU to hand over the documents for some time.
"They initially indicated a willingness to work with the committee, but immediately made the effort to delay this disclosure of documents by suggesting they require significantly more time than requested by the committee," he said.
The committee told Laurentian on Oct. 22 it was exercising its parliamentary authority to "command" it to surrender the documents, Parsa said.
Laurentian responded Oct. 29, indicating they would be willing to hand over the documents, but only on order from the courts.
Laurentian is currently in a legal battle over the documents. A hearing was held Monday in front of Superior Court Justice Geoffrey Morawetz, who has yet to announce a decision.
"A clearly unacceptable suggestion for a parliamentary committee," Parsa said.
After more exchanges in November, Laurentian responded it didn't accept the idea the committee had the power to force it to surrender the documents.
"This is simply not the case," Parsa said. "As all of us members know that parliament's has sole authority over its own business. This is a long history as old as our system of parliament itself, which maintains the right of parliament to any documents it believes it requires."
The committee called LU president Robert Haché to appear before it at the end of November to explain the school's position, but that failed to resolve the dispute.
"It is my hope that this committee will agree to request that the speaker issue a warrant for these documents," Parsa said.
"I know this is a rare step, but I believe we have no other choice. We need to assert the authority of parliament and we need to hold this publicly funded institution to account."
Nickel Belt MPP France Gelinas told the committee that only a complete investigation into why Laurentian declared insolvency would satisfy residents in her riding, who are hurting after deep cuts to programs and staffing.
"I can tell you that this has been going on for nine months now and it has gone from our complete shock and surprise to dismay to wanting to know more," Gelinas said
"Now the level of anger and hatred toward the university is everywhere in my community. They don't trust them. And now they don't like them. And it's just, every week and every month, it's getting worse."
It's key that Laurentian rebuild trust, she said, and getting answers from the auditor general is the best way to move forward.
"When you don't know what's going on, we tend to assume the worst," Gelinas said.
"And right now my community is assuming the worst ... We need this independent third party to shed a light, but I don't know why (Laurentian is) giving the auditor such a hard time."
By having the speaker issue a warrant for the documents, she said it would no longer be the committee making the request, but the entire legislative assembly.
They have to act fast, she said, "so that our speaker can issue this warrant and the auditor can gain access to the documents she needs to bring peace back to my community."
For her part, Lysyk said she has never received opposition from a group being audited as she has from Laurentian.
"I can say that as an officer of the legislature …we have never encountered the pushback we received from Laurentian University during the course of an audit," she said.
Collin D'Mello, CTV's Queen's Park bureau chief, reports that the next step in the process is for the committee to finalize a report for the Ontario Legislature, which will be updated tomorrow on the situation before requesting a Speaker's Warrant.
The sergeant at arms is responsible for compelling LU to hand over the documents. If Laurentian fails to comply, Haché could be summoned to the bar, be admonished and even face jail time.
The last time the measure was used for documents was when it was used to compel Chris Mazza to testify during the Ornge Air Ambulance scandal.
-- With files from Colin D'Mello