Evidence of meeting #3 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 that's.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Stephen Rigby  President, President's Office, Canada Border Services Agency
  • William Elliott  Commissioner, Royal Canadian Mounted Police
  • Don Head  Commissioner, Correctional Service Canada
  • Myles Kirvan  Associate Deputy Minister, Deputy Minister's Office, Department of Public Safety

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Garry Breitkreuz

I'd like to bring this meeting to order. This is meeting number three of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. Today we are considering the supplementary estimates B.

We would like to welcome for the first hour the minister, the Honourable Peter Van Loan, Minister of Public Safety. He may introduce the people at the table with him if and when he so chooses. In the interest of time, I think we'll proceed, because the minister informs us that we really only have him for one hour.

Is there a point of order, Mr. Harris?

4 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

It's just a small procedural point, Mr. Chairman. The other day we had a document that was not in both languages. We now have the translation available for the committee, so I'll table it for the committee.

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Garry Breitkreuz

Thank you very much.

We'll go ahead and allow the minister some time for his opening remarks, and then as usual at this committee we'll begin with questions and comments from the official opposition.

We welcome you to the committee, Minister, and look forward to the comments you have for us.

Thank you. Go ahead.

4 p.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Minister of Public Safety

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

It is a pleasure for me to appear before you for the first time as Minister of Public Safety. I am pleased to assist the committee in examining the supplementary estimates (B). My portfolio is in that perspective. I would like to underscore some of my priorities.

With me today are four senior officials under my responsibility.

In most portfolios, I wouldn't think that after three months you were still new, but this portfolio is of such a size that I consider I am still very new and on a steep learning curve, and I thought it necessary to bring lots of help.

Today I have with me Mario Dion from the National Parole Board; Don Head from Correctional Service Canada; Stephen Rigby from the Canada Border Services Agency; Myles Kirvan, who tells me he's my associate deputy minister—I'm not big on titles—; William Elliott, who is the Commissioner of the RCMP; and Jim Judd from CSIS. Hopefully, they will be able to answer the many questions that are beyond my scope and reach.

The estimates that are before the committee seek funds of $156.9 million for the current fiscal year, subject to Parliament's approval. The government would put those taxpayers' dollars to good use by helping keep our communities safe for all Canadians. Specifically, we would make important investments in the Government of Canada's national crime prevention strategy, improve Public Safety Canada's emergency management capacity, continue the transformation of the corrections system, and invest in tools that the RCMP needs to fight crime.

Since my appointment last October, I have visited public safety facilities across the country and have met the Canadians whom we serve, as well as our partners. I have spoken with my colleagues from the provinces and territories, my foreign counterparts, and stakeholders and police departments.

I formed a strong sense of where the government must direct its efforts in the public safety sphere. Let me highlight a few of the government's priorities.

As you know, a secure and efficient border is a key element of Canada's prosperity. That's why we will work to keep the border open to legitimate trade and travel with the United States. In the first days of this session, the government introduced new public safety legislation in the Senate, Bill S-2, amendments to the Customs Act. These amendments contain measures to enhance security and to meet our obligations to our trading partners. I welcome your future review of this legislation once it has passed the other place and comes over to our side.

On the policing front, the Government of Canada is committed to ensuring that the RCMP is an effective and accountable national institution. The interim report of the RCMP Reform Implementation Council concluded that reforming the RCMP is well underway and is headed in the right direction. I'm looking forward to receiving the final report of the council in the coming weeks and to pursuing our efforts in this area.

We have made a commitment to reform the system for reviewing and handling complaints at the RCMP. We have made policy statements to the principal stakeholders and to the provinces and territories that employ the RCMP as a police department. Once those statements have been reviewed, I hope to table a bill in the current Parliament.

We are also committed to corrections reform. Our government has clearly stated that the penitentiary system does not work as well as it should. We need to implement measures to further improve offender accountability. We also need to continue to put policies and programs in place that will give offenders the tools they need to rejoin society as productive citizens.

Budget 2008 included significant investments to help transform Canada's correctional system, and those efforts will continue, with changes to programming and legislation. Law enforcement officials are constantly being challenged by the growing threats of high-tech crimes. Internet fraud and online sexual exploitation of children are a scourge on Canadian society. We are exploring measures to ensure that the right law enforcement tools are in place to fight the growing sophistication of serious and organized crime. This type of crime increasingly utilizes information technology and outstrips our antiquated legal frameworks, which were designed for the era of the rotary telephone.

It intends to defend this objective through a statement on national security, which I hope to present at the appropriate time.

Lastly, I want to ensure you that we are firmly resolved to combat terrorism, as we promised in our 2008 election platform. We will be introducing a bill that will enable Canadians affected by terrorist acts to bring legal action against those who sponsor terrorist organizations—in other words, to obtain compensation from designated states.

Members of Parliament and senators introduced similar legislation as private members' bills in the last Parliament. I can assure the committee that public safety remains a core government priority. Tackling crime and ensuring safer communities are commitments we made to Canadians during the last election campaign in the autumn. While the global economic picture has deteriorated since then, one thing remains: security and prosperity go hand and hand and one cannot flourish without the other.

I'm proud to be entrusted with my responsibilities. And I'm especially proud of the achievements of the 60,000 public safety portfolio employees who work hard every day in Canada and abroad to keep Canadians safe. It's the second-largest department in the government by size. It contains capable and professional people in a broad range of areas, and they enjoy a high level of cooperation between them on all the important issues of the day. I appreciate the tremendous support I have received throughout the department, in particular from the senior staff of the agencies that make up the core of the department's responsibilities.

I thank you for having invited me to appear before you today, and I welcome the committee's questions.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Garry Breitkreuz

Thank you, Minister.

I want to thank you especially for being able to come here on such short notice, 24 hours. You were also able to line up an esteemed, elite group of witnesses to appear with you. That's quite impressive, in my estimation.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

Thank you.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Garry Breitkreuz

We are going to move to Mr. Holland, with the official opposition, for his first comments and questions.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Minister, and the department officials, for making time to be with us today.

Minister, I wanted to start with something that's become commonplace. We have an enormous amount of fanfare—cheque signings, photo ops—on announcements of different programs. Yet when it comes to delivering the dollars and the programs, there isn't follow-through. Certainly we've seen that happen with infrastructure, and now we're seeing it with crime prevention.

I want to start with a simple direct question. The department had set out for 2007-08 a budget of $43 million for crime prevention, yet it spent only about half of that, $19.3 million. Can you give me an explanation of what happened?

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

I think it comes down to the key words you pointed to in your question: “results” and “follow-through”. In the past, what we felt was happening with the national crime prevention strategy programs was that they were hampered for two reasons: first, they were often short-term projects, single-year, and it was difficult to sustain an effort; second, the results were not measurable. The programs have been refocused. The grants and contributions are being adjusted so as to achieve a couple of things. They are more likely to be multi-year programs, and they are designed to achieve measurable results. These results are important. We need to know if we are making a difference, and if the things we want to see happening are actually taking place.

There has also been a focus on groups at risk. As a result, anti-crime funding is being targeted, for example, at young people, from children to people in their mid-20s. Actually, I think 24 is our high end. So we're looking at folks who might be at risk of going into a life of crime, into gang life. We want interventions at an early stage to divert them from that. Another key target group is offenders who are no longer under supervision in the community.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Minister, here's the problem I'm having. The government is not in its first week; you're in your third year. There was a budget announced for crime prevention, something we all agree is exceptionally important. We're seeing less than half of that funding actually given out to a lot of these groups.

The problem I have with what you have said is that your department has still not developed any way to measure these results. So we have a year that's gone by where less than half of the funding was actually provided, where the criteria are not developed, and where the system of results has not been announced.

I used to be a chair of something called the youth partnership initiative, and one of the things I know is that it's these tiny organizations—which are sometimes very hard to get empirical results out of—which make the biggest difference on the ground. Frankly, I have grave concern watching their funding being cut and shoved aside, especially mid-year, when there isn't anything that's been put in place.

My first question is, when are you going to at least show us how your department is going to measure these results?

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

First, I think you're jumping the gun a little bit to say that the results aren't measurable. We haven't seen results. The refocusing of the program only commenced in June 2008; that's when Treasury Board dealt with it. So I think to be looking for results from a program where we're only now under the revamped program—

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Then why cut the funding in half?

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

The funding has not been cut. The funding is available, but it is a function of people making applications that match the criteria we're seeking to fulfill.

There were a lot of things funded that, frankly, were not meeting those objectives, or thought to be sufficiently focused to meet those objectives. That's why we set out clear criteria in a refocused program. We think this will give us the opportunity—

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Give me an example.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

Well, I was giving you an example already. We focused on young offenders.