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In rare move, House admonishes private citizen for contempt in ArriveCan testimony

April 17, 2024  By Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press

GC Strategies partner Kristian Firth stands at the bar of the House of Commons as he is admonished by the Speaker, Wednesday, April 17, 2024 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

The House of Commons admonished a private citizen Wednesday for the first time in more than 100 years — a spectacle that provided plenty of social-media content for members of Parliament, many of whom were on their phones by the time it all ended.

It is just the latest example of ArriveCan fallout as MPs point fingers over the Liberal government’s failure to manage development of the COVID-era app.

GC Strategies partner Kristian Firth was ordered to appear before the bar of the House after refusing to answer certain questions at a committee hearing.

That came the day after the RCMP executed what Firth confirmed was a search warrant at his property.


A spokesperson for the RCMP said Wednesday that the search “was not related to the ArriveCan investigation” and that more information would not be provided.

Police were looking for electronic goods related to another investigation, Firth said, adding he looks forward to the outcome “because I believe it will exonerate us.”

A hush fell over the House of Commons as he appeared shortly after question period alongside his lawyer.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre and several cabinet ministers left prior to his public scolding.

“On behalf of the House of Commons, I admonish you,” Speaker Greg Fergus said directly to Firth, who stood upright and did not look away.

In addition, Firth was ordered to respond to questions that MPs said he refused to answer during a House committee meeting last month.

“I’d like to remind you, you must answer all questions that are posed of you,” Fergus warned.

“Everything you say in these proceedings are protected by parliamentary privilege and can not be used against you in any other form.”

Firth insisted in the House that while his answers were at times “obtuse,” he was not evading MPs’ questions. He said he also apologized to MPs in writing.

“I’m making history right now. I think I’ve acknowledged I’ve made mistakes in previous committees,” Firth said, who was given 10 minute breaks in-between three rounds of questions to accommodate his mental health.

A doctor had provided a note to the clerk of the House recommending that Firth not appear because of acute mental-health diagnoses, with Firth saying he is actively under therapy and on medication. The note was shared with all parties.

That was enough for Liberal MPs to opt out of questioning Firth on ArriveCan, citing concerns over his mental health.

Government House Leader Steven MacKinnon said all recognized parties were informed of options to delay the questioning component of Wednesday’s proceedings until Firth was medically cleared to participate, but he said only the Conservatives refused.

“On this side of the House, we do not believe that it is appropriate to question Mr. Firth if he is not medically able to participate,” MacKinnon said in the House.

“We want this to be done in a way that respects the dignity of Parliament, and forcing someone against medical advice to do something a doctor believes could harm their treatment and recovery is indeed beneath the dignity of this place.”

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said before the appearance on Wednesday that he was “uncomfortable” about what would take place, saying a “populist political show” was taking place “at the instigation of the Conservatives.”

No private citizen has been ordered to appear before the bar since 1913, an extraordinary event that places people under the authority of the House.

In 2021, the former head of the Public Health Agency of Canada was admonished for neglecting to release documents related to the firing of two scientists from a Winnipeg lab.

Despite the rare occurrence, most MPs left after the first round of questions.

By the second round, several Conservative MPs had already uploaded several videos of themselves on social media showing them question Firth.

And when the third round of questions began, many of the handful of MPs that were left in the House were either on their phones or talking amongst themselves ignoring the questions — and the answers.

After two hours, Firth was discharged by the Speaker. His last response, before being escorted out of the House by the sergeant-at-arms: “No, I am not ashamed.”

A lawyer for Firth declined to comment on Wednesday.

In an appearance at a House committee last month, Firth said he has had the full weight of government come down on him over false claims against his company.

Those claims, he said, have led to threats against him and his family, including his children.

GC Strategies did not develop or manage the ArriveCan app, but it was tasked by the federal government to assemble a team to complete some parts of the project, which had an overall estimated cost of $60 million.

Canada’s auditor general found that three separate government departments lacked accurate financial records for ArriveCan and failed to deliver the best value for taxpayer dollars.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 17, 2024.

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc., 2023


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