A committee may wish to hear testimony from private individuals, representatives of groups, or public officials concerning the matter that it is studying.
Witness selection may be carried out in a number of different ways. Individual committee members or the committee’s research officer may propose lists of witnesses. Quite often, the committee may invite potential witnesses to indicate their interest in appearing through a call for public input advertised in the media and on the web site of the Legislative Assembly.
Groups or individuals who are aware of an upcoming committee study may also indicate their interest in appearing without any solicitation on the part of the committee. They do this by contacting the Clerk of the committee.
It is the responsibility of the committee to determine which witnesses it will hear. While any member of a committee may propose witnesses, the committee makes the final decision as to who will be heard
In the vast majority of cases, committees are able to obtain the evidence they seek by inviting witnesses to appear before them. A committee may also choose to summon a witness by adopting a motion to that effect. Committees usually only summon witnesses in cases where witnesses have declined a prior invitation to appear. If a proposed witness fails to appear when summoned, the committee may report the fact to the House. The House then takes any action it deems appropriate.
A witness appearing before a committee may be required to take an oath or make a solemn affirmation; however, under normal circumstances, witnesses are not sworn in. The decision as to the swearing-in of witnesses is entirely at the discretion of the committee. A witness who refuses to be sworn in might face a charge of contempt. Likewise, the refusal to answer questions or failure to reply truthfully may give rise to a charge of contempt of the House, whether the witness has been sworn in or not. In addition, witnesses who lie under oath may be charged with perjury.
Witnesses appearing before committees are usually asked to make a brief opening statement, summarizing their views or the views of the organization they represent, on the subject of the committee’s inquiry. Following this opening statement, there is a period for questioning. Any member of the committee may pose questions to the witnesses. The Chair may, on occasion, also participate in the questioning of witnesses. Other Members of the House in attendance at committee meetings may also be permitted to ask questions.
In all cases, the Chair directs the questioning and recognizes members in sequence.
Witnesses are required to answer questions asked of them by the committee. If there is doubt as to whether a question is from the committee, as opposed to an individual committee member, the witness may ask the Chair for clarification.
Witnesses appearing before committees may also submit written briefs containing detailed information. A total of 10 copies of all material is to be provided. This documentation is considered to be public information. If a video forms part of the presentation, a copy in DVD format is required, and providing the transcript is recommended.
Groups and individuals who are not appearing as witnesses may also submit briefs.
The Legislative Assembly encourages members of the public to take advantage of the electronic comment form available on the web site to respond to calls for input. The form is a convenient way to let committees know what your views on particular subjects.
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