Evidence of meeting #20 for Public Safety and National Security in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was rcmp.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Good afternoon, everyone. This is meeting number 20 of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security on Tuesday, January 31, 2012.

Before we begin, I want to welcome all members of this committee back to work here in this new session. Happy new year. I know we are all looking forward to a very productive session.

In our second hour today we will take time to have committee business. It's been on the agenda, and we will have it.

In our first hour today, pursuant to a motion brought forward by Monsieur Chicoine, which we passed before the Christmas break, we're meeting with Canada's new Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Our committee wants to provide a warm welcome to Commissioner Robert Paulson.

Welcome here.

He has appeared before our committee in the past, and we are very pleased to have him appear again here today in his new role of commissioner.

Congratulations on that appointment, Mr. Commissioner. We certainly wish you all the best moving forward in this new role.

My understanding is that Mr. Paulson has no opening statement and that he wants to provide as much opportunity as possible for each one of us to ask questions. So we will proceed into the first round of questioning, starting with the parliamentary secretary, Ms. Hoeppner, for seven minutes.

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Portage—Lisgar, MB

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I also want to extend a welcome to you, sir. Thank you so much for being here. Congratulations on your appointment. I know the government is very pleased that you accepted this position. We have tremendous confidence in your capability, and we know that you're going to bring a lot of experience and a lot of benefit to the position. Again, we congratulate you and we want you to know you have our full support.

3:30 p.m.

Commr Robert Paulson Commissioner, Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Thank you very much.

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Portage—Lisgar, MB

My very first question is about something that has been discussed very recently. It was brought up during question period by opposition members, and it's been in the news and in the forefront over the last maybe three, four, or five days. It has to do with the communications protocol that is in place. Our government has been accused of muzzling you. You've been accused of really not having a mind of your own and not having independence.

3:30 p.m.

Commissioner, Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Commr Robert Paulson

It's not the first time.

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Portage—Lisgar, MB

At the very forefront, I want to give you the opportunity to respond to those questions. I'm wondering, for our benefit and for the benefit of Canadians, if you could also explain your experience in terms of past protocols—certainly protocols for government organizations that answer to a minister, but also the protocol of any organization you've been part of vis-à-vis its strategy for communicating with the people it serves.

So, sir, could you begin by addressing the communications issue?

3:30 p.m.

Commissioner, Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Commr Robert Paulson

Thank you for that.

Mr. Chair, I didn't see any of the news this afternoon or today, but the communications protocol that's been brought into effect for the RCMP is one that simply reflects the policies the RCMP has had for years and years and years. It essentially consolidates all of our policies into a helpful document that assists me and assists decision-makers in our organization. Our policies used to speak about the need to bring things forward when they might attract attention, for instance in the national media or as the subject of questions in the House of Commons.

This protocol tries to formalize a class of activity that already existed in our policy, and it makes it easier, frankly, for me to engage my deputy commissioners, my commanding officers in all of the regions, to make sure we are identifying key issues that are outside of operational matters. One of my challenges as Commissioner of the RCMP is having a bit of a dual role, both as the head of police operations and as the head of a significant department within the government. That's all the protocol is designed to do: to give some structure to those roles and to make sure they are separate.

I have certainly not been muzzled, but thank you for that question. I don't know how it came to be that I was thought to be muzzled, but I'm not. I think I have a duty to perform, which I try to do, and it's the same duty I expect all of my staff to perform.

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Ms. Hoeppner, you still have four minutes.

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Portage—Lisgar, MB

Thank you very much.

I want to go to another topic at this point. In December and November we heard some pretty disturbing reports in regard to sexual harassment among the RCMP. As soon as you were appointed, you immediately took a pretty tough stance on that.

I can tell you that I just came back from a series of town hall meetings in my riding of Portage—Lisgar, and constituents brought that issue forward. There is so much respect for the RCMP, but when there's any kind of report of misconduct...any kind of misconduct, but it's especially disturbing to hear of that kind of harassment.

Can you please explain to us your stance, and why being tough on this issue is important and action needs to be taken?

3:35 p.m.

Commissioner, Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Commr Robert Paulson

Thank you for that.

Just as I was appointed, actually, so in and around November, pre-existing cases and complaints of harassment and sexual harassment really bubbled up and attracted a lot of attention. My response and my strategy has been to first of all centralize the oversight of all of our harassment complaints. When I talk about harassment, that includes sexual harassment, but we also have other cases of harassment. Right now I think we have about 87 or 90 cases under review. From year to year we'll have maybe 130 cases, up to 150 in some years, of complaints of harassment, which include all variations of gender. We'll have male complaining against male—every variation.

One of the things we needed to do to demonstrate to Canadians that we were committed to having a respectful workplace was to assemble all of the complaints into the centre here and make sure that timelines were respected. One thing we've heard from some complainants was that they've made complaints and haven't heard anything, that things have taken a long time to get resolved.

By centralizing the oversight of the process, we've been able to make sure that timelines are being respected, that the complainants are being advised appropriately, that the people who are the subject of the complaints are also brought along. That goes to the process issue, but there are also the core behaviours that give rise in the first place to any sort of complaints. I had all of the commanding officers come to Ottawa, where we had a very special and pointed conversation about expectations around oversight of behaviours and leadership and accountability in the divisions.

I met with my SEC colleagues, the senior executive of the force, which includes all the deputy commissioners, and had that same sort of frank discussion. We recognized that there were opportunities to improve upon how we manage discipline and conduct in the organization, so we've taken some steps toward moving to improve that process.

I also had a meeting with the lead of the agency from the Status of Women. We've undertaken to do a gender-based audit of our workforce, which will essentially look at current practices and examine how.... The day I had that meeting with the head of that agency, we were looking at some of the paraphernalia in my office, including Mounties on horses and hands holding swords. She was quick to point out that they were all male hands and male Mounties on horses. It illustrates some of the challenges we have in terms of advancing the organization.

There are a couple more things that need to be done with respect to the sexual component of the harassment complaint. We've had a hard look at the number of women we have in senior positions in the organization. We're under-represented significantly. I think it's rather intuitive to know that if more women were at the senior decision-making level of the organization, we would have a more balanced approach to workplace issues and respectful workplace matters. I've increased the number of women that we're recruiting into the organization at depot. We had been aiming for a 30% representation in our intake. We've upped it to 35%, which is well beyond the labour market availability.

So those are just some of the things we've had to do.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Thank you.

I'm sorry to cut you off a little bit, but we're trying to keep to a timeline.

You have seven minutes, Mr. Sandhu, please.

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Jasbir Sandhu Surrey North, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

And thank you to the commissioner for being here today. On behalf of the official opposition, I also want to thank the commissioner for taking on this very, very difficult job.

We had hoped for two hours to be able to meet with you; however, there are so many important issues to discuss. They are not only important to this committee but important to Canadians, so I'll get on with the questions very shortly.

I think we can all agree that restoring the public's confidence in the force is critical at this point. I hope that under your leadership we will be able to restore that confidence in the RCMP.

I'll get right on to the questions. Following up on a similar line of questioning from my colleague, Mr. Paulson, I was hoping you could clarify—I want to get a very clear idea—whether you need approval from the minister's office in order to meet parliamentarians.

3:40 p.m.

Commissioner, Royal Canadian Mounted Police

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Jasbir Sandhu Surrey North, BC

Certainly part of what we saw in an e-mail from the minister's office was that the other party members have to be there to meet you.

3:40 p.m.

Commissioner, Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Commr Robert Paulson

I don't know what the minister's office or the department has said. The bottom line is that I don't think I need anybody's approval to meet anybody.