Evidence of meeting #14 for Public Safety and National Security in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was agencies.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Jim Judd  Director, Canadian Security Intelligence Service
  • William Sweeney  Senior Deputy Commissioner, Royal Canadian Mounted Police
  • Myles Kirvan  Associate Deputy Minister, Deputy Minister's Office, Department of Public Safety
  • Marc-Arthur Hyppolite  Senior Deputy Commissioner, Correctional Service Canada
  • Stephen Rigby  President, Canada Border Services Agency

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

So that would be a future year's item.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Garry Breitkreuz

Thank you very much.

Mr. Harris, please.

April 2nd, 2009 / 9:30 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for coming to the committee, Minister.

I too wanted to ask about the integrated oversight mechanism proposed by Justice O'Connor. It's pretty clear that Justice O'Connor had a full opportunity to hear from everyone concerned about the need and the issues. He studied oversight mechanisms throughout the world and did considerable work on preparing this and presenting it as his recommendation. It's been accepted apparently by everyone except you, sir, and your government. The fact that there's another inquiry on now and there may be another inquiry next year seems to me to be frankly an excuse not to act on very compelling recommendations, a very significant need explored. The fact that there is another inquiry ongoing should not stop you from acting on the very thoughtful and comprehensive study and recommendations made by Justice O'Connor. Why? Respond to the fact that this is just an excuse to put off dealing with a very important recommendation and a significant need.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

There's not much that I would disagree with in what you have said. In politics there's always a tremendous pressure on politicians to act, to show action and to show results quickly. One has to balance that against making considered decisions.

Were we at the start of the Air India inquiry, I might agree with you that it would be the time to act; however, as that inquiry is completed and my understanding is that the findings of Mr. Major are apparently very close to being completed, if not already completed—I heard some suggestion that it may be off for translation, but I don't know what the exact situation is—we are so close that it seems to me to make sense to wait that last little bit longer to get it right.

9:30 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

To be fair, Minister, we're not talking about quick action. We're talking about a report that's already two years old, and there's been plenty of time to act by now. I realize you weren't in the portfolio for all that time.

My colleagues have asked this question, but it seems to me to be rather a different position that this government took with the case of Mr. Maher Arar, in which very shortly after the O'Connor report came down the Commissioner of the RCMP came and made a full apology on behalf of the RCMP, from the approach you're taking—saying it's before the courts—in dealing with the case of Messrs. Almalki, Elmaati, and Nureddin. It was before the courts then, I submit to you, and it's before the courts now. This has nothing to do with whether or not the government can come before this committee to say that it apologizes to these individuals for what has happened to them.

What has changed, and what is different about them? Why are you treating them differently, and why are you ignoring the fact that these individuals were also harmed by actions of this government and its agencies?

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

Again, I'm simply going to do the prudent thing that a Solicitor General does and not comment on a matter that's before the courts.

9:30 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

That's an excuse, I suggest to you, Mr. Minister.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

I think it's the prudent thing to do.

9:30 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

It's an excuse, particularly when parliamentary privilege is available for this particular situation.

Mr. Minister, you submitted that public safety was better off with the actions taken with respect to the RCMP, the CBSA, and other matters, and yet we see a decrease in the main estimates for the RCMP of some $29 million, a decrease for the Canada Border Services Agency of some $4.8 million, and the CPC has been mentioned—$2.6 million. How is it that people should feel safer when the budgets for these organizations are decreased?

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

First, on the issue of parliamentary privilege and speech, I think that might be fine to extend if I were concerned about some personal prosecution of myself, that I could avail myself of parliamentary privilege. But I can tell you, I spent much of Saturday night reading a decision of the courts that was extensively filled with comments from Parliament that played into the decision-making. We have to be cognizant that what we say has consequences. The words I speak in the Solicitor General portion of my role may have weight that affects those issues.

In terms of the adjustments that appear as decreases for the Canada Border Services Agency, largely what you see there is simply a realignment of funding between fiscal years. There are matters that were originally budgeted to apply in this year—for example, eManifest—a lot of which will be moved on to subsequent years through the implementation, and therefore you don't see an actual reduction in the operating budget and in what they're going to need to do. It's really a re-profiling of money between the years.

What appears as a net decrease for the RCMP again has a lot to do with the fact that there's been a decision to leave until later, in supplementary estimates, a lot of the funding that deals with the revenue side, the contract policing money that comes in. Some of this gets into boring accounting, but the fact is that overall the RCMP is increasing the amount of money it has available for its significant obligations.

As I said, the total appropriation doesn't include the projected $80 million to $90 million that you'll see for the federal share of incremental contract policing; that will show up in supplementary estimates, as well as some additional funding that was there for the Olympics. Overall, you'll see that there is additional funding to allow a $50 million increase of re-spendable revenues. That's $79.2 million less a $20 million decrease. So overall, you'll find the RCMP has increasing resources to deal with the issues they need to deal with.

9:35 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

I have limited time. A lot of Canadians are very appalled at the sad death of Ashley Smith in federal custody after spending eleven and a half months in segregation suffering clearly from mental illness and desiring mental health assistance, in fact filing a grievance to do so, which wasn't even looked at until a couple of months after her death.

The Office of the Correctional Investigator recommended a whole series of actions, and the complaint was that they had not been acted upon. I have limited time, but I hope I get the chance again--

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Garry Breitkreuz

Just pose your question, please.

9:35 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

One of the recommendations that he made in his annual report for 2007-08 was that the Correctional Service, in its training initiatives, make it a priority for the current fiscal year to ensure that all front-line employees are trained in dealing with mentally ill offenders.

Can you tell me, Minister, whether that has been done and how much money has been allocated for that? Has this process started, and have people been trained?

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

Yes, a lot of changes have been happening in there, and now mental health training has been developed and has been provided to front-line staff, both institutional and community staff. They've all received that training. As well, suicide prevention training has been provided for all staff who have regular interactions with prisoners.

The Ashley Smith issue is an important one because it's not about Ashley Smith, although it is. It's all about the whole change in our corrections system. There has been major change. I know I don't have a lot of time on this, but in a nutshell we de-institutionalized the mentally ill in our provincial facilities in the seventies, and since that time, and increasingly and likely into the future, we are simply re-institutionalizing the mentally ill in prisons. We are criminalizing the mentally ill. That's a big major issue that we need to spend a lot of time on. It's an issue that involves the provinces and the health care system, and it's something, as I've said in the past, that I intend to make a major focus and priority.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Garry Breitkreuz

Thank you very much.

Mr. Norlock, please.