Evidence of meeting #61 for Public Accounts in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was rcmp.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Michael Ferguson  Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General
Bob Paulson  Commissioner, Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Commissioner Joanne Pratt  Assistant Commissioner and Chief Audit and Evaluation Executive, Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Commissioner Daniel Dubeau  Deputy Commissioner and Chief Human Resources Officer, Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Joanne Butler  Principal, Office of the Auditor General

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Good afternoon, everyone. This is meeting number 61 of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, Wednesday, May 31, 2017. I would remind all our committee members, as well as those in our audience today, that we are televised. We will have time for committee business after our first 90 minutes with the witnesses.

Today we are considering “Report 4—Mental Health Support for Members—Royal Canadian Mounted Police,” of the spring 2017 reports of the Auditor General of Canada. We have as our witnesses today, from the Office of the Auditor General, Mr. Michael Ferguson, the Auditor General of Canada; and Joanne Butler, principal with the Office of the Auditor General of Canada. From the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, we have Commissioner Bob Paulson. He is accompanied by Daniel Dubeau, deputy commissioner and chief human resources officer, as well as Joanne Pratt, assistant commissioner and chief audit and evaluation executive.

Welcome.

I understand that both of our witnesses have opening statements. Before we turn to questions by members of Parliament, I'll invite our Auditor General to give his statement at this time.

3:35 p.m.

Michael Ferguson Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General

Thank you.

Mr. Chair, thank you for this opportunity to discuss our spring 2017 report on mental health support for members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, or RCMP.

In May 2014, the RCMP introduced its five-year mental health strategy to contribute to a psychologically healthy and safe workplace and to provide greater support to its employees. The strategy defined mental health as a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her own community.

Our audit focused on whether RCMP members had access to mental health support that met their needs. We examined selected mental health programs and services that supported two key areas of the RCMP's mental health strategy: early detection and intervention, and continuous improvement. We concluded that overall, members of the RCMP did not have access to mental health support that met their needs.

The RCMP took the important step of introducing a mental health strategy; however, it did not make implementation of the selected mental health programs and services a priority and did not commit the necessary resources to support them. Therefore, these programs and services were only partially implemented.

Through our representative file review, we found that although 57% of members received easy and timely access to the mental health support they needed, 16% did not. For 27% of members, the RCMP didn't have records that allowed us to assess whether they received the help they needed when they needed it.

Support for members doesn't stop with providing access to mental health treatment. Health services staff and members' supervisors are responsible for monitoring and supporting members while they are on off-duty sick leave and when they are ready to return to work. However, we found that members' supervisors and health services staff didn't always monitor members on leave as they were supposed to and they did not adequately support members when they were ready to return to work. Some members told us that this lack of support exacerbated their mental health conditions and delayed their return to work. We found that one in five members who sought mental health support from a health services office didn't return to work or took a discharge from the RCMP.

Finally, we found that the RCMP did not have performance measures to evaluate its mental health strategy and to ensure that it worked as intended to support members' needs. The organization did not have a quality assurance framework or monitor its activities to support continuous improvement. As a result, the RCMP did not systematically collect or report information on the results of the programs and services designed to support the strategy.

For the strategy to succeed, the RCMP must know whether the programs and services meet members' needs, provide value for money, and reduce negative personal and organizational impacts.

These findings matter because the RCMP is only as strong as its members. If the organization does not effectively manage members' mental health and support their return to work, members will struggle to carry out their duties, their confidence in the RCMP may be undermined, and the RCMP's effectiveness may be reduced. Ultimately, the poor mental health of some members can affect the RCMP's capacity to serve and protect Canadians

The mental health strategy is important for the RCMP, for Canadians, and for the government as a whole, and it has to succeed. The problems we identified must be fixed to ensure the strategy's successful implementation.

The RCMP is in the third year of the strategy, and there is still an opportunity to make the necessary improvements.

We are pleased to report that the RCMP has agreed with our seven recommendations.

Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening remarks. We would be pleased to answer any questions the committee may have.

Thank you.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you very much, Mr. Ferguson.

Now we'll turn to our commissioner of the RCMP, Commissioner Paulson.

3:40 p.m.

Commissioner Bob Paulson Commissioner, Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and members of the committee, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for this opportunity to speak with you.

I will be giving my presentation mainly in English, but you have the French version in front of you.

At the outset, let me thank the Office of the Auditor General for their report. The overall well-being of RCMP members and employees is of great importance to me as commissioner, and to the RCMP as a whole. A healthy workforce is critical to the RCMP's ability to achieve its mandate. As we continue to implement our mental health strategy, the OAG's recommendations will certainly assist us in our efforts, and I am confident that we will continue to improve. Indeed, mental health services and programs need to be continuously evolving. Accordingly, we have accepted all seven of the OAG's recommendations, and we look forward to working quickly to fully implement them.

This notwithstanding, I would like to highlight several areas that were not addressed or perhaps were reflected in an unnecessarily negative light in the OAG's report findings.

In 2014, the RCMP was one of the first federal departments to implement a comprehensive five-year mental health strategy. This strategy, which is still in the process of implementation, focuses on five key areas: promotion, education, prevention, early detection and intervention, and continuous improvement.

Of these five areas, only two—early detection and intervention, and continuous improvement—were examined by the Office of the Auditor General. As a result, the audit does not provide a complete view of all the work that is being done within the RCMP to address mental health.

The audit's scope included the following programs, services, and activities: the road to mental readiness training, the peer-to-peer system, periodic health assessments, RCMP health services offices, RCMP health care entitlements and benefits, and disability case management. However, it did not include key programs and activities, such as Health Canada's employee assistance services, a confidential service available to all RCMP employees 24-7; the RCMP chaplain program; the member workplace services program; the work of the national and divisional mental health champions; the significant efforts the organization has made to reduce the stigma around mental illness; and the overall success of the RCMP mental health strategy.

Several of the OAG's recommendations relate to disability management of RCMP members. Due to the timing of the audit, the OAG was unable to assess the RCMP's enhanced disability management and accommodation program, which we launched on April 1, 2017, with a significant investment of new resources from our existing appropriations. In 2016, the RCMP allocated $4.8 million in ongoing funding for the program, including funding for 30 disability management advisers. To date, 25 disability management advisers and seven disability management coordinators have been hired.

During the course of its audit, the OAG reviewed a small sample of RCMP regular and civilian members' medical case files, 51 in total, selected on the basis of services received. In 37 of the files, the OAG determined that there was sufficient information in the file to assess whether members received access to mental health services in a timely manner, and determined that 78% of these members did receive timely access. However, members' medical files do not capture early intervention measures that do not fall under health services, such as the confidential counselling provided through employee assistance services. Furthermore, this review was completed by individuals who do not have medical expertise to assess the type of information found within the files.

The OAG also surveyed active and off-duty sick members. As the RCMP was only in year two of implementing its mental health strategy at the time of the audit, a number of off-duty sick members surveyed were not aware of the strides the RCMP had made in supporting members with mental health injuries. As a result, the responses of those members who were off-duty sick since prior to the release of the mental health strategy may not have reflected the RCMP's current reality.

The statistics as presented by the OAG highlight areas for improvement, but overall they are relatively positive. For example, the survey results show that 73% of active-duty respondents feel that RCMP members have easy access to mental health programs and services if needed, and 75% feel that access is timely.

In addition, findings from the file review show that four out of five members, or 80%, who were off-duty sick for mental health reasons will return to work in either full or accommodated capacity.

The reality is that we will likely never achieve a 100% return-to-work rate, especially given the nature of the mental health issues being experienced by some of our members. These issues have caused some members to take more than one period off-duty sick, or ODS. Furthermore, given the type of work our members perform, it is not realistic to expect that all members ODS will be able to return to work and/or carry out the same duties they performed prior to their illness.

The RCMP is committed to delivering the road to mental readiness program training to all 30,000 employees by March 31, 2018. It is already part of the curriculum at the RCMP's training academy, and all new RCMP members have this foundational mental health training before they start their first day as a police officer.

Additionally, the peer-to-peer program has evolved over the last couple of years. Today, employees have access to 442 peer-to-peer coordinators and advisers across the country with more due to come on strength in June 2017. While the audit concluded that the RCMP did not consistently or completely implement programs across all divisions, this is a positive example that our programs are still growing.

It is equally important to note that the RCMP is not denying mental health services to its employees. Although the RCMP provides a range of mental health benefits under its health benefits program, not all services are covered. Our health services officers are not treating physicians, and we rely on medical services and support from the public health care system, the same as other Canadians. For the RCMP to have its own network of treating physicians and clinics would require a significant investment of resources to implement and sustain.

The OAG noted in its report that the RCMP did not provide sufficient funding and human resources to support new programs. I want to stress that the RCMP has a dedicated health services team who do a commendable job supporting RCMP members. The RCMP recognizes that additional resources are required in certain areas, and we are currently conducting a thorough analysis of our resource requirements to identify an adequate level of funding to support all initiatives stemming from the OAG's recommendations as well as those initiatives not covered by the audit.

In the interim, the RCMP continues to offer new mental health programs and services to its employees. These include a two-day applied suicide intervention skills training and online suicide prevention and awareness training from the Canadian Police Knowledge Network; a 10-year longitudinal research study of RCMP cadets to identify variables that may be associated with the development of operational stress injuries; a three-year fitness strategy; and an RCMP-led operational stress injury peer support program based on best practices of Veterans Affairs Canada and the Department of National Defence to provide assessment, treatment, prevention skills, and support to RCMP members with a mental health disorder resulting from such an injury.

In closing, I would like to stress that the RCMP is fiercely dedicated to taking care of our employees, including their mental health. This includes changing our culture and any outdated attitudes that mental illness is in any way less serious than a physical injury. We will continue working hard to ensure that any employee impacted by a mental health related issue is supported and will have the necessary resources and services that meet their needs.

My colleagues and I would be pleased to respond to any questions. Thank you.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you very much, commissioner.

We will now turn to our first round of questions.

Mr. Lefebvre, you may go ahead for seven minutes.

May 31st, 2017 / 3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Lefebvre Liberal Sudbury, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you for being here this afternoon.

As you know, when we receive these reports by the Auditor General, we always look at the ones that we want to look at first and the ones we would personally like to emphasize.

For me, seeing the mental health strategy that had been suggested back in 2014 and where we are now at, les lacunes, in terms of the still pervasive issues at the time of the audit is very disturbing. I'm glad to see that there was progress. However, we've seen this record before at this committee.

One of the issues that keeps coming up is that a lot of departments have plans. They have a strategic plan that they put into place, and they have this great vision. The strategic plan is there, but there's no back-up plan to implement it, so there's no critical path. I'm always shocked to see that happen so consistently, and this follows that same road.

Before I ask Mr. Paulson a few questions, I would like the Auditor General to comment on his statement “About the Audit” in his report. In the statement you say, “RCMP management refused to confirm that the findings in this report are factually based, because of disagreement about the approach used to report statistics from the file review and member survey.”

Can you comment on that? That's a disturbing statement to make that there was disagreement on the data that you collected with respect to the RCMP.

3:50 p.m.

Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General

Michael Ferguson

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

That's a standard practice we have when we are doing an audit. We ask the entity to confirm that the findings were factually based. In this case, the RCMP would not agree that the findings were factually based because of their disagreement about the approach used to report statistics from the file review and the member survey. I think we just heard the commissioner mention that we said in the report that 20% of members were not able to return to work. I think the commissioner referred to the other side of that being the 80%. But really, in those statistics you have 20% who were not able to return to work, 30% who were able to return to their duties that they were doing before, and 50% who were able to return to work but had to return to other duties, not to the job they were originally doing. That can have an impact on the RCMP's staffing, because they have people they hired to do one job who go off-duty on sick leave and have to come back to another job.

I think some of these disagreements were about the way we characterized it. For example, we said that 20% were not able to return to work. We think that's the right way to characterize it. The RCMP obviously has their view on how that should be characterized. We feel that what's important here is understanding that 20% were not able to return to work, and in fact 50% had to return to reduced duties. In our view, that shows significant room for improvement on the results of this program.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Lefebvre Liberal Sudbury, ON

How often, Mr. Ferguson, are there disagreements in your audits with the department you're auditing?

3:55 p.m.

Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General

Michael Ferguson

It doesn't happen often. I can't think right now of another time it has happened since I've been in this job that the organization would not sign off on the findings as factually based. We're not asking them to sign off on our conclusions, or on what we are drawing from the findings, but just that the findings are factually based. I believe this is the first, or, if not, it would have happened only one other time since I've been in this role.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Lefebvre Liberal Sudbury, ON

Thank you.

Mr. Paulson, I'd like to hear your comments on that. It's disturbing to see that after many, many audits by the Auditor General's office in the past number of years, this is the first time the characterization of statistics or data or findings in a report has actually been contested by an organization. Can you just clarify that for us, please?

3:55 p.m.

Commr Bob Paulson

I will. First of all, let me say that we take no issue with the recommendations and the results of the audit, so that's not what we were doing.

I think where the issue came about—and I'll ask my chief audit executive to put some precision around that—is that it's a very broad program that we have. It's a very ambitious program that we have. The Auditor General's work was value-adding, in the end, because we accept all of the recommendations. But I think the possibility of the sort of sweeping condemnation—my words—is very strong in terms of the RCMP's resolve and intention to provide proper services for its members.

In the eliciting of the information that the Auditor General relies upon, it's there, I think, where we took some exception. That's not to say we disagree with the findings; we disagree with the manner in which some of the data was used to produce those findings or produce those recommendations.

Maybe Joanne can add to that.

3:55 p.m.

Assistant Commissioner Joanne Pratt Assistant Commissioner and Chief Audit and Evaluation Executive, Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Yes, in our opinion, the statistics could have been presented in a balanced way to allow the reader of the report to understand the extent or the scope of the issue. For example, on the survey results in the report, our total regular member and civilian member population is 22,237; of that, 6,769 active members responded to the survey. The survey was sent in hard copy to our members currently on ODS, meaning those off-duty sick for 30 days or longer. Our ODS member population was 828, and of those, 261 members responded to the survey.

When you go into the exhibit that's in the report and the manner in which it's represented, it focused on the very negative aspects of that, as opposed to the balance of, say, the 73% of active members and 46% of ODS members who responded that they had easy access; the 75% of active members and 49% of ODS members—and when you look at the 49% of ODS members, it would be 100-and-some members responding—who said they had timely access; and the 77% active and 53% of ODS respondents who were aware of the mental health strategy; and the 74% of active respondents and 64% of ODS respondents who knew how to access mental health services.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you. I have a feeling we may be coming back to some of this.

We'll now move to Mr. McColeman, please. You have seven minutes.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brantford—Brant, ON

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you for being here today to go over the points that the Auditor General has put before us.

I want to get a sense of the kinds of disabilities you're dealing with. Give us some examples of the kinds of disabilities within the ranks that are referred to throughout the report, in terms of disability case management and setting up the solution for that. Expand, if you can, on how that disability case management solution will help facilitate members' receiving the support they need to return to work as soon as it is safe for them to do so. What kinds of recurring disabilities are you seeing, if any? Are they one-offs? What might they be?

4 p.m.

Deputy Commissioner Daniel Dubeau Deputy Commissioner and Chief Human Resources Officer, Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Thank you. I'll take that question on recurring disabilities.

One of our issues that I think the audit did pick up, and rightly so, is that our software doesn't pick up these disabilities as much as we would like it to. We use a certain system, but we're purchasing another system.

If you use the VAC data—we go with Veterans Affairs and they provide us data—and you look at serving members, one of the broadest and most recurring disabilities for most of our serving members would be PTSD. We have a high incidence of PTSD, which could be very broad because PTSD is just one symptom. For instance, there is depression. We have done research in certain areas where alcoholism or drug dependency is not high, so that's the good news, but you would see more mood swings and depression. PTSD is one that many of our serving members will get a pension for. Those would be the types of injuries they'd have. Then you would also have physical injuries along with those. Those are probably what you would call the “recurring” ones. That's a trend that we're seeing.

We're trying to drill down on that. That is part of our role, trying to get that software up so we can get a better idea of what's going on across the force, what types of injuries are happening, so we're able to do something with that and, hopefully, prevent these from happening. That was—

4 p.m.

Commr Bob Paulson

The case management aspect of your question is to have case managers working on the specific cases to make sure that the support and the care are being aligned quickly and directly, with the view always being to get people back to work. Get them well, get them back to work.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brantford—Brant, ON

Both the Auditor General's audit on support for members' mental health and the RCMP's 2014 internal audit of RCMP members' long-term sick leave identified problems with supervisors fulfilling their roles and responsibilities to support members on off-duty sick leave. This relates, in the report, to paragraphs 4.85 and 4.86. What does the RCMP believe the reason is for this lack of support? What steps are you taking to address the problem?

4 p.m.

Commr Bob Paulson

I'll start, and maybe I'll ask Dan to weigh in.

What we're talking about, at least in 2014—and I would defer to the Auditor General to elucidate their findings—was that supervisors get a note from their members to say they've got a doctor's note. They're not coming to work. They're sick. There is a certain tension, or at least there was a certain tension around the privacy-related aspects of that sickness and how far a supervisor could inquire about it. Our focus is to have the supervisors, in a preventive, anticipatory role, to notice or participate in getting members' support prior to that declared absence from work. The view of most supervisors—and some of it's accurate, frankly—is that some members don't want to be getting calls from the office about when they're coming back to work. It's about the interface with the employee once they've gone off-duty sick.

4 p.m.

D/Commr Daniel Dubeau

Regarding the disability management role, the adviser role, when you hear us talk about disability managers, they are people we will hire with those skill sets to help the supervisor, to actually coach them through this, because at times our supervisors aren't really sure how to approach a member who may be suffering from mental health issues or may be on sick leave. It's to become the link, to help coach along, and also bring the whole team along—supervisor, our health services, our workplace advisers, as well as the employee—to work together to come to a solution and to get the right treatment. That's the key part for us: to bring them up, which is why we are deploying that program.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brantford—Brant, ON

I'm sure the RCMP has various categories of employees it is required to hire. Not all of them are front-line officers and able to go on patrol and to do the things that a normal police constable has to do. What is the RCMP's policy, if any, for hiring people with disabilities?

4 p.m.

D/Commr Daniel Dubeau

To be a serving police officer?

4 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brantford—Brant, ON

No, not to be a serving police officer. A lot of people with disabilities would not be able to function in that—

4 p.m.

D/Commr Daniel Dubeau

We do hire—

4 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brantford—Brant, ON

Do you hire people in other categories—

4 p.m.

D/Commr Daniel Dubeau

Yes.