The Prison of the Legislative Assembly

There has been much talk in the U.S. media of late about the possibility that the House of Representatives might vote to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of congress, leading to speculation about whether Barr could be jailed as a result.

This made me curious about what powers legislators here in Prince Edward Island have along the same vein, and the answer can be found in Section 10 of the Legislative Assembly Act:

11. Common jail
The common jail of the County of Queens is the prison of the Legislative Assembly. R.S.P.E.I. 1974, Cap. L-11, s.11.

12. Committal to prison, who may be
The Legislative Assembly may commit to prison any person adjudged, by resolution of the Legislative Assembly, guilty of any contempt or breach of its privileges, and the Sergeant-at-Arms of the Legislative Assembly shall carry out any order of the Legislative Assembly under this section. R.S.P.E.I. 1974, Cap. L-11, s.12.

13. Receiving persons into custody and confinement
The keeper of the common jail of the County of Queens shall receive into his custody and confine in the jail all such persons as shall be committed to the jail, under and by virtue of any warrant signed by the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. R.S.P.E.I. 1974, Cap. L-11, s.13.

The “common jail of the County of Queens” is, apparently, the Provincial Correctional Centre in Charlottetown, otherwise known as “Sleepy Hollow.” Brian Weldon currently holds the office of Sergeant-at-Arms.

Members of the Legislative Assembly allege that one of their peers is in contempt of the House surprisingly often, although a casual review of Hansard suggests, these allegations rarely result in imprisonment.

The language in the Legislative Assembly Act can be found, in almost the same wording, in the earlier An Act respecting the Legislature from 1893, which reads, on the topic:

8. The common jail of the County of Queen’s shall be the prison of the Legislature.

9. The Assembly shall have full power to commit to prison any person who shall, by resolution of the said Assembly, be adjudged guilty of any contempt or breach of its privileges, and the Sergeant-at- Arms of the said Assembly shall be the officer to carry out any order of said Assembly, made under this section.

10. It shall be the duty of the keeper of the common jail of the said County of Queens to receive into his custody, and confine in such jail, all such persons as shall at any time be committed to such jail under and by virtue of any warrant signed by the Speaker of the Assembly. All justices of the Peace, Sheriffs, Deputy Sheriffs, jailers, Constables and other officers, shall aid and assist the said Assembly whenever required so to do.

The federal Minister of Justice, John S. D. Thompson, took exception to these powers in his review of the Act:

It has been established by many decisions that a local or colonial Legislature does not, in the absence of express grant from the Imperial Parliament, possess punitive powers, and it is, in the opinion of the undersigned, not competent for such a Legislature to confer upon itself or one of its constituent bodies powers such as those in question.

That that language of the Act has persevered to this day suggests that the Minister’s cautions were not heeded, perhaps because Thompson, who was also Prime Minister, died eight months later (at Windsor Castle, while visiting Queen Victoria).