Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I want to thank the committee members and the chair for this opportunity to assist you in your review of this very important bill to introduce the right to unionization and collective bargaining to RCMP members. In its way, it's really quite an historic moment. There have been efforts by men and women in the RCMP for over 50 years to unionize, and they have been consistently resisted by governments of the day. This is now a moment for RCMP officers to exercise these freedom-of-association rights. It's a very important bill for that reason.
So that you know my perspective on this, I'm a lawyer in private practice—a labour lawyer—and I have had the great honour and privilege of representing numerous RCMP officers from across the country in labour disputes over the years, in all the different provinces—or divisions, as they're established in the RCMP. I've dealt with disciplinary matters, promotional cases, harassment cases, whistle-blower cases, occupational injuries, duty to accommodate, and racial and sexual discrimination cases, all in the context of the RCMP. From that experience, I believe I have a pretty good sense of the recourse mechanisms under the RCMP Act that are available to all RCMP members. I want to offer my views on these to you.
The main issues I want to address are the exclusions, about which you've heard a lot, but I'll offer some insight on those as well as on the grievance system that you would have under this bill. It's quite complex now concerning where your recourse goes. Is it a disciplinary matter? Is it a collective agreement matter? Is it a promotional matter? There are different avenues that you have to follow. This, I think, makes recourse very difficult.
I can tell you that even before this bill, this was one of the more complex labour regimes that I have to contend with. I represent all kinds of federal public sector workers, from across the board—every department you can imagine. I represent CSIS officers, CSEC...so I have a sense, and the RCMP Act is very complex as it is right now.
The final issue is the workers' compensation matter. I have some views on that, and I'd like to offer them to you as well. I was going to address it last, but I'll address the workers' compensation one first, because I think the exclusions have been hit pretty well by the other presenters.
Right now, as you're no doubt aware from previous presentations, RCMP members are entitled to full pay from their employer while on sick leave, and the causality doesn't matter. Whether it is a workplace injury or some other kind of illness doesn't matter; they get their full pay. What this bill proposes to do in clause 40 of Bill C-7 is push all RCMP members onto different provincial compensation schemes across the country.
I want to say this right now. If you make any changes or recommendations for any changes to the bill, change this one. This one doesn't make sense, and here's why.
I reviewed what the ministers told you last week, suggesting that the approaches of the different provinces are reasonably consistent and that there are not big discrepancies between provinces. They also told you that this system seems to function well for federal public service employees, who are in the same way governed by provincial compensation schemes based on the province in which they're employed.
The RCMP are very different, for three reasons.
First of all, RCMP officers are involved in more physical work than other federal public service employees and are more prone to injuries on the job. I think that's something we can all understand and grasp.
Two, RCMP officers have mobility built into their jobs. They are assigned and are posted to locations of work across the country and are reposted again and again. You'll see many RCMP officers with even 20 years or 25 years of service who have worked in two or three provinces throughout their career, and some of them even more than that. That's very different from federal public service employees, who typically work in one location their entire lives and who moreover get to choose. If you're applying for a job in Ottawa with whatever agency—say, the CRA—or for a job with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Vancouver, for example, you know what provincial compensation scheme you're going to be subject to.
If you're an RCMP officer, you don't have the right to choose and you don't have that knowledge. You could well be moved—and many are—to different provinces throughout your entire career. I think that is a fundamental difference from the conditions of federal public service employees that really makes this unfair.
Here is the third and final reason why I say you have to take this out of the bill, and that is the differential coverage across the country. It is a patchwork. They are not reasonably consistent.
Under workers' compensation schemes, there is maximum income coverage, so you are covered only up to a certain level of income, and they are very different across the country. The low is $51,000, and that is in P.E.I. The high is in Manitoba with $119,000 of annual income.
An RCMP constable at the top of the band earns $82,000 a year. Of all the 10 provinces, only three would provide full coverage to that constable if he or she was injured on the job and was off work. A dramatic example.... I am from Saskatchewan, so I always enjoy the examples we can draw from Saskatchewan; it teaches the country a lot of things. Lloydminster, as many of you are aware, straddles the border of Alberta and Saskatchewan. It is a really entertaining place for all kinds of reasons, but it also has two RCMP detachments. They are about two kilometres apart. I think one is on 47th Avenue on the Saskatchewan side, and the other is on 44th Street on the Alberta side.
In Saskatchewan, the maximum coverage for that member is $54,000 a year. In Alberta, it is over $90,000. It could well be the case that there is a very serious matter and RCMP officers from both detachments are called to a certain location. A terrible thing might happen and they both might be injured. Well, if you push these members on to the provincial compensation schemes, these two police officers, working side by side at the same incident, are going to have very different outcomes in what they get. The member who is posted to the detachment on the Saskatchewan side is going to earn, by my rough calculations, about $1,000 less per month than his or her colleague who is assigned or posted to the other side.
I wanted to highlight that. This is a bad idea and I think it is unfair to RCMP members. At a bare minimum, making this change right before you are about to see unionization, where an association might want to discuss or negotiate this with the employer, is a very bad idea.
I will turn to the other points I want to talk about, the exclusions. You have heard a lot about the exclusions. I will just hit on the points that I think are most significant, which are promotions and transfers, and harassment cases. These exclusions are not only a major issue due to the lack of free and meaningful collective bargaining, but they also push members into a very complex recourse system. In many cases, when you exclude these from the collective bargaining, they do not have the right of independent adjudication.
Under section 31 of the current RCMP Act, you go through internal grievance mechanisms. They do have adjudicators, but they are commissioned officers, superintendent or chief superintendent. When you are dealing with a situation where you are grieving the actions of a deputy commissioner or a commissioner—and I tend to get involved in cases that are more serious like that—you are going to a chief superintendent and saying, “Hey, can you overturn this decision of the commissioner?” Well, that is not going to happen very often.
The way this act works is that only collective agreement issues will go to the Public Service Labour Relations Board. When you combine that with all the exclusions, this really means that the only things you are going to see at the PSLREB are pay and comp issues. Some of the most important working terms and conditions that are so important to RCMP members are not going to be subject to that independent adjudication. I think that is a really big problem.
About promotions.... Reviews and studies over the last 20 years have repeatedly found that the views of RCMP members are that the RCMP promotional system lacks transparency and fairness. The Brown report from 2007, “Rebuilding the Trust”, said that the promotional system is “viewed almost universally as being ineffective, unfair and opaque.”
That was the Brown report in 2007, cited by the Supreme Court of Canada in the MPAO judgment.
The RCMP did another report of its own recently, called “Gender-Based Assessment”, published in 2012. I noticed they just suddenly posted it last week for some reason. There, they did a review and survey of members. Those members said that one of their most serious issues is “The lack of fairness and transparency in the promotional processes”. Yet promotional processes are kept completely out of collective bargaining or the independent grievance adjudication system that you would have going to the PSLREB. They have to continue to grieve up.
Promotions, I would submit from my experience over the years, are seen as rewards to those who belong to a club, to those who are seen as loyal, to those belonging to certain cliques that happen to be in ascendency within the force, and I honestly say I think that if you would get any member, even a commissioned officer, over coffee or a drink and ask them, they will tell you the same thing: that's how it works.
It's based on loyalty more than anything, not fairness or merit.