The Inception of an International Grand Committee.

AuthorSavoie, Alexandra

Many issues studied by parliaments cross borders and boundaries. Concern about a major data breach involving social media users prompted similar parliamentary committee studies in both Canada and the United Kingdom. Information exchanged between the two committees and their willingness to work together paved the way for the inception of an International Grand Committee (IGC)--a series of meetings held by existing national-level parliamentary committees where parliamentarians from other countries are invited to participate. In this article, the authors outline the process to create the IGC, summarize two IGC meetings, and present comments on the IGC's work by three Canadian parliamentarians who participated in these meetings. They conclude by noting the IGC meetings enabled parliamentarians from various countries to work together on issues of shared concern and importance, using existing national parliamentary committees as hosts and conduits for these international meetings; this structure differs from the work of multilateral interparliamentary assemblies.


On March 17, 2018, The Guardian and the New York Times reported a data breach involving Cambridge Analytica, a company founded in the United Kingdom (U.K.), and Facebook. (1)

With the help of Christopher Wylie, a Canadian whistleblower who was a former employee of Cambridge Analytica, the papers revealed that the company had scraped the data of over 50 million Facebook users. The personal information collected had been used in various campaigns, including the 2016 presidential elections in the United States and the referendum on the U.K.'s exit from the European Union (a process nicknamed "Brexit"). (2)

Responding to this situation, Canada's House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics (the Canadian Committee) adopted a motion on March 22, 2018, to study "the privacy implications of platform monopolies and possible national and international regulatory and legislative remedies to assure the privacy of citizens' data and the integrity of democratic and electoral processes across the globe." (3)

Later reporting revealed that the number of Facebook profiles acquired by Cambridge Analytica was closer to 87 million and may have included the profiles of approximately 600,000 Canadians. (4)

When the data breach was reported in March 2018, the U.K. House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee (the DCMS Committee) was already conducting an inquiry on disinformation and "fake news." (5) News of the breach led the DCMS Committee to focus part of its inquiry on Cambridge Analytica and other parties involved in that scandal.

The similarities between the Canadian and U.K. parliamentary studies, in addition to the fact that the whistleblower at the origin of the scandal was Canadian and that a Canadian company AggregatelQ --was also involved, convinced the two committees to collaborate. (6) Damian Collins, the Chair of the DCMS Committee, appeared before the Canadian Committee in April 2018 and both committees exchanged information regarding their respective work. (7)

The unprecedented collaboration between the U.K. and Canadian parliamentary committees and their will to collaborate at an international level in a parliamentary setting led to the inception of an "International Grand Committee" (IGC).

The term "grand committee" is not novel in the U.K. Parliament. It is the name attributed to an existing forum. Current grand committees in that country include the Welsh Grand Committee, the Scottish Grand Committee, the Northern Ireland Grand Committee, the Grand Committees: House of Lords and the Regional Grand Committees. (8) The purpose of a grand committee is to allow U.K. members of Parliament "to debate issues affecting their region." (9) In a similar fashion, the purpose of the IGC was to allow parliamentarians from various countries to debate common issues affecting their respective jurisdictions.

The first meeting of the...

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