Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-42. I could not agree more with the minister when he said that we should have had this legislation in the House much sooner. There is an urgency for the public in terms of confidence in the RCMP. There is an issue for the RCMP rank and file members who are working in a workplace climate that is often not supportive of the difficult and dangerous work they do. It is also important to the RCMP leadership that is charged with the task of making those necessary changes.
We on this side find much to agree with in this bill and the reasons for undertaking reform of the RCMP Act. In the preamble it talks about many things which we can agree with. First and foremost is the necessity to restore the confidence of Canadians in our international police force.
The RCMP has long provided excellent service to Canadians from coast to coast to coast but over the previous years, dating back to the Liberal government, we have had increasing questions about incidents involving use of force where public confidence has waned in the RCMP. That is a problem not just for the public but for the serving members in the RCMP.
The bill's second purpose as stated is to promote transparency and public accountability in law enforcement. Again, we could not agree more that this is essential if we are going to meet that first objective which is to restore public confidence in the RCMP. The only way to do that is through enhanced transparency and public accountability.
The third reason for reforming the RCMP Act, which is stated in the bill's preamble, deals with the relationship with provincial, regional and municipal governments that hold contracts with the RCMP. They have entered into those contracts in good faith but often feel that they do not have adequate input into the policing in their jurisdictions or adequate accountability measures for the RCMP when they have questions about what has happened in those jurisdictions.
A fourth measure, as stated in the preamble of the bill, is to promote the highest levels of conduct within the RCMP. This, of course, is a goal that is shared by governments, RCMP members and the public at large. We know that day in and day out virtually all RCMP members strive to meet those levels of conduct. However, we need clear statements of what happens when those levels of conducts are not met with clear consequences and procedures that would also protect the rights of RCMP members who have dedicated themselves to the service of Canadians so that they do not find themselves subject to arbitrary procedures as part of discipline.
Finally, the bill's preamble states that we need to reform this legislation to create a framework for ongoing reform so that we do not find ourselves in this situation again 25 years later where government after government, Liberal and Conservative, have failed to address these questions and failed to provide leadership on these issues.
We in the official opposition can agree on the goals expressed in this legislation and I believe we can go further. We can even agree on the key areas for action identified in the summary of the bill. Although, the bill's summary counts the areas of action as only two vital areas, I would count them as three.
We on this side agree that there needs to be action to strengthen the RCMP review and complaints body. The RCMP Public Complaints Commission has provided a valuable service but we have concerns about its full independence and its ability to oversee independent investigations.
Second, we believe there needs to be a framework to handle investigation of serious incidents involving members, incidents that involve death or serious injury, which will help enhance transparency. In this day and age, the public has said very clearly that it does not accept that the police investigate themselves in these very serious incidents. We believe that independent investigation not only benefits public confidence but it also benefits those who serve in the RCMP by guaranteeing that the public will understand the outcome of those investigations and where their names are cleared they will be cleared once and for all.
Finally, there needs to be action in the area of modernizing discipline, grievance and human resource management processes. The minister has cited anecdotal evidence of things that take way too long and we all know that is true. However, what is lacking is clear guidance for RCMP members of what those standards are and how failure of those standards will be dealt with in a judicious and fair manner. In addition, when RCMP members have grievances they need to have the understanding that their concerns can be brought forward in a timely manner and that those grievances can be resolved and not drag on for years and years.
We do agree on the areas in which we need to make reforms to the RCMP Act. In particular, we believe it is crucial to allow the RCMP commissioner reforms in the area of discipline to deal with the climate of sexual harassment that exists in the RCMP. We would like to see leadership from the government in mandating the commissioner to bring in a clear anti-harassment policy and a clear process that contains specific standards of behaviour with regard to sexual harassment and specific criteria for evaluating the performance of all employees in this very important area.
However, having said how much we agree with the objectives of this legislation and that we agree with the areas that need to be reformed, I have not risen in the House today simply to present bouquets to the minister. We in the opposition have our concerns, both about government inaction by the Liberals and the Conservatives and government inaction in particular in the area of transparency and accountability.
The present government has been in power since 2006 and, yes, it inherited a record of inaction from the previous Liberal government. However, it has been six years, three ministers and two RCMP commissioners and we are just now embarking on the process to reform this legislation so we can get measures that make a real difference in the performance and work lives of RCMP members now in 2012. In the meantime, we have had more than 200 women members of the RCMP join lawsuits alleging sexual harassment within the RCMP. We also have had an ongoing series of problems with loss of public confidence in the RCMP in investigations of serious incidents like the death of Robert Dziekanski.
We have wasted valuable time and we have had numerous studies that presented solutions to these problems. We had the task force, which was appointed by the government, and I give it credit for doing so, that reported back in 2007, nearly five years ago, with important proposals for reforming the culture of the RCMP, discipline of the RCMP and important recommendations on the Public Complaints Commission. We had an internal review, completed in 2008, of the process of using independent observers in police investigations of themselves. We had the recommendations from Mr. Justice O'Connor in the Maher Arar inquiry with regard to the national security activities of the RCMP in 2006. Most recently, we had recommendations from the former Public Complaints commissioner, Paul Kennedy, both on investigations of serious incidents, which were tabled in 2009, and when he appeared before the justice committee in January of last year to give recommendations on increasing the independence of the job that he used to hold. So there is no shortage of advice available.
However, in a question that I asked earlier to the minister, it is unclear why the government chose to pick only certain recommendations and certain pieces of all these reports. It is hard to see the overall theme that guides this legislation.
We have said that leadership from the government is required but that means more than just legislation. Therefore, I cannot let this opportunity go by without pointing out some of the things that the government has done in the area of the RCMP and the Public Complaints Commission. Just the past week, the government issued lay-off notices to two staff members at the RCMP Public Complaints Commission. When we are in the midst of reforming this and when that commission is in the midst of a massive study of the sexual harassment complaints that have taken place in the RCMP, why has the government chosen to lay off two staff members at the Public Complaints Commission in the midst of this crisis over sexual harassment that the commission was attempting to address?
Also in the last week we saw lay-off notices given to 149 support staff members of the RCMP across the country, including 42 support staff in British Columbia alone. These people provide important services in helping the RCMP do its job on a daily basis. These are not uniformed members who received the lay-off notices but people who work everywhere from the forensic labs to personnel, recruiting and in all the other very important functions that support the basic police duties of the RCMP.
When it comes to the Public Complaints Commission and the RCMP, the government has been following a peculiar practice. When Mr. Kennedy produced his strong recommendations on investigations, the response of the government was to fail to reappoint him to the job. Having appointed him in 2005 and giving him annual reappointments every year, when his very strong recommendations came out, suddenly he was no longer its first choice for the job as the Public Complaints commissioner.
The new interim commissioner, Ian McPhail, was initially given a one-year term as interim chair and now has been appointed again for another year. I am emphasizing the single year because we are talking about someone who should have independence from the government in doing the job of providing civilian oversight of the RCMP. How can someone do that with any confidence when at the end of every year he or she could lose their job? While I am encouraged that the new legislation talks about a term of up to five years for the new chair of the civilian review agency, I am concerned that the government will continue its practice of making only annual appointments, which gives it far too much power over what should be an independent commissioner.
While we believe that Bill C-42 does deal with issues of urgent public concern about the RCMP, we on this side of the House will be supporting the bill at second reading in order to move the bill to committee. I was very pleased to hear the minister say in his opening remarks that he was open to amendments to the bill at committee. We look forward to seeing all kinds of witnesses come forward at committee, witnesses who have previously provided advice to the minister, although he was unable to name any of them specifically today. We hope to see them called as witnesses at committee so we can hear from them about whether the ways the government has chosen to address these issues are the right measures.
While we agree with Commissioner Paulson that legislation alone is not enough, we do need to produce the optimum legislation at this time. That will require extensive amendments to the bill at committee. We believe a positive aspect is that of giving the commissioner power to create one process to deal with the issue of sexual harassment. We understand there are competing RCMP and Treasury Board guidelines, which have created a great deal of confusion within the force. It is a positive measure, but we have some serious concerns about the independence of a new civilian review agency. There are restrictions on its ability to undertake independent investigations. I have already raised the issue of the length of the term for the chair of that commission.
As I mentioned briefly, we also have a concern that the disciplinary reforms needed in the RCMP because of the lengthy and complicated process involved should not err too much on the other side. The RCMP operates in a non-union environment. Many of the rank and file members of the RCMP we talked to over the summer expressed a concern that where they do not have an organization to advocate on their behalf as individuals, there needs to be balance in the disciplinary process so they are not subject to arbitrary dismissal when they have devoted their lives to helping and serving all Canadians.
Therefore, we will be talking at committee on how to ensure there is a balance in the disciplinary process. We agree that it needs to be streamlined and improved, but the government's solution seems to be to concentrate more and more arbitrary power in the hands of the minister. We remain concerned that we get a chance to explore fully at committee what those disciplinary processes would look like and how people's rights as employees would be protected in a non-union environment.
I find the minister's excuse for the most recent delays in introducing the bill, namely waiting for a court decision on whether the RCMP has the right to unionize, a bit weak. It was obviously possible to bring the bill forward with a previous section of Bill C-38 omitted. However, I hope we will have some discussion of the issue of whether or not having a union in the RCMP might be a good way to address some of these outstanding issues, particularly in the area of sexual harassment where people often need an advocate in the workplace to approach management, especially if management is part of the problem. People need someone to approach management and advocate on their behalf. We might not be in the situation we are in today with more than 200 women filing lawsuits against the RCMP if we had a more conducive work environment and a better way of making sure that individual members had advocates on their behalf in the RCMP.
I want to touch on some of the reports that have been issued and what we believe should be addressed at committee. The 2006 report of the Justice O'Connor inquiry into the actions of Canadian officials in relation to Maher Arar called for Parliament to create an RCMP watchdog along the lines of the Security Intelligence Review Committee. It already monitors CSIS but would also have the right to audit RCMP files and activities and have the power to subpoena related documents and compel testimony. The present complaints commission does not have enough powers over the RCMP's national security activities.
Thus, while we are glad to see provisions in the bill that would increase those powers, given the causes behind the creation of CSIS, we have a question about the RCMP recreating an arm that would undertake national security activities that would appear to operate without adequate parliamentary oversight. That is a question that we will be addressing in committee.
The report filed in 2007 by the Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP proposed reforms to establish the RCMP as a separate entity from government, with separate employer status. That was a very interesting proposal that appears nowhere in this bill. I would like to know why the government, having appointed this commission of eminent persons with expertise to suggest solutions to the problems in the RCMP, including a former commissioner of the RCMP, a vice-admiral of the Canadian Navy, a very prominent Canadian corporate lawyer, and a member of the Alberta Law Enforcement Review Board, set aside a major recommendation of theirs. That is a question for which I would like to hear the government's answer.
In addition to the idea of having separate employer status for the RCMP, many groups in the past have suggested that there needs to be some kind of civilian input mechanism for the RCMP, perhaps only at the national level, but maybe also at the regional level.
While municipalities have boards that provide civilian guidance and control over their police forces and that provide insulation from the local politicians, we have nothing like that in the RCMP. Accordingly, we have had proposals that we create an independent management board, which again came from the 2007 report, which would give Canadians the confidence that the government cannot interfere directly in the activities of the RCMP and cannot give so-called advice to the commissioner, who has to report directly to the minister.
We are depending here upon the integrity of the minister and the integrity of the RCMP commissioner to protect the independence of policing, and reports have often recommended that it would be better to create a structural impediment to that kind of interference than simply depending on the integrity and goodwill of the people occupying those positions.
I am not questioning either the integrity of the minister or of the RCMP commissioner, but the public has to have confidence that independence is there. When those relations go on in private and they are direct reporting relationship, it is difficult for the public to have that confidence in the independence of the RCMP.
Many provisions in Bill C-42 are similar to those in Bill C-38. I would just like to mention a brief comment by Paul Kennedy, the former RCMP public complaints commissioner, that Bill C-38 was so riddled with loopholes that it did not meet the standards necessary to guarantee independence of policing.
Again, here is someone appointed by the Conservatives to the position of public complaints commissioner who presented reports to them on the kinds of reforms that needed to be brought forward. He had serious concerns about what was happening in Bill C-38 and would, I am sure, have those same concerns when it comes to Bill C-42 given that many of the sections remain the same.
With the very limited amount of time I have to conclude my remarks, I would like to say that we do understand the urgency for action here. It is not our goal in this debate to delay these reforms to RCMP accountability and transparency, but it is important that we get them right. We must get them right in terms of public confidence; we must get them right in terms of the careers of individual RCMP members; and we must get them right to give Commissioner Paulson the powers and the abilities he needs to take care of some very serious problems in the workplace climate involving sexual harassment inside the RCMP.
We have one chance to get this right. I am hoping to work co-operatively with the government. Again, as I said, the minister said he would welcome discussion of amendments in the committee, and so we will be putting forward those kinds of amendments.
Finally, I would stress the importance of both the independence of the RCMP from government and the independence of investigations into RCMP conduct from the government and the RCMP, and also the independence of the commissioner, who really ought to be the chair of this new civilian agency and report to Parliament rather than to the minister of the day.
These are the kinds of concerns that New Democrats will be raising at committee.