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.