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Evidence of meeting #6 for Public Safety and National Security in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was operations.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

François Guimont  Deputy Minister, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
Nada Semaan  Executive Vice-President, Canada Border Services Agency
Bob Paulson  Commissioner, Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Harvey Cenaiko  Chairperson, Parole Board of Canada
Don Head  Commissioner, Correctional Service of Canada
Michel Coulombe  Director, Canadian Security Intelligence Service

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair (Mr. Robert Oliphant (Don Valley West, Lib.)) Liberal Rob Oliphant

I'm going to call this meeting of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security to order.

I thank our witnesses and guests for coming today. This meeting is to consider the supplementary estimates (C) for the year 2015-16. As a reminder, the meeting is televised.

We're very pleased to have the Honourable Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness with us, as well as many senior officials. It is a great honour for us to see you once again.

We're going to have two rounds of questioning. I want to leave about five minutes at the end of the meeting for the vote on the supplementary estimates, which I understand should happen fairly easily. That is my hope.

We are going to begin with a 10-minute presentation from the minister. Thank you for being with us.

11:05 a.m.

Regina—Wascana Saskatchewan

Liberal

Ralph Goodale LiberalMinister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Chair, thank you very much. I offer my sincere apologies to you and members of the committee. I was stranded in another meeting that ran a few minutes over time and I apologize for not being here exactly on time.

It is a pleasure to appear before this committee for the first time as Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and specifically to discuss the estimates.

I want to say that with respect to the estimates process, as members who study old speeches from the House of Commons will know, I very much support the efforts that Minister Brison at Treasury Board is leading to try to improve the ability of parliamentarians both to have effective oversight with respect to the spending plans of the government and to connect the budget process to the estimates process and the public accounts process, so that everyone can follow the money and make intelligent decisions about controlling the public purse. I hope that over the course of this Parliament we will be able to make substantial progress towards greater transparency with respect to government spending.

Today, I am joined by a number of familiar faces. I will introduce my deputy minister, François Guimont, who heads the public service within Public Safety Canada. I would ask François to introduce the other officials at the table, many of whom I know this committee already knows.

11:05 a.m.

François Guimont Deputy Minister, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Thank you, Minister. Good morning to all of you. I present Don Head, whom most of you probably know from Correctional Service Canada; Nada Semaan, executive vice-president with the Canada Border Services Agency; Commissioner Paulson, with us this morning as well, from the RCMP; Michel Coulombe, director of Canadian Security Intelligence Service, CSIS; and Mr. Harvey Cenaiko who is the chairperson of the Parole Board of Canada.

March 8th, 2016 / 11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Regina—Wascana, SK

Thank you, François.

As committee members already know from your previous encounters with officials and heads of the various agencies within the public safety portfolio, this mandate in this portfolio is both large and complex. It encompasses a vast array of responsibilities: national security, emergency management, law enforcement, corrections, crime prevention, and border security.

I am continually impressed by the work that is being done by the dedicated public servants who make up this portfolio in fulfilling the basic mandate that we have from the Prime Minister. It's a mandate that is inherent in this portfolio: keep Canadians safe, and do so in a way that respects their rights, their freedoms, and the values of this country.

No matter how assiduous public servants are, there is always more work to do.

At the outset today, I'd like to address two or three of the top-of-mind issues that we're working on, issues that Canadians are concerned about and on which they are expecting leadership and progress.

First, as members will know, we have moved ahead with real purpose and intent on the issue of post-traumatic stress injuries, or what people now refer to as operational stress injuries. They are disproportionately high among first responders due to the nature of the jobs that first responders are asked to do.

Every day police officers, firefighters, border officers, and others in high-stress situations are risking their lives for the safety of other Canadians. At the end of the day, very often they do not have access to the resources and the support systems they need to help them cope with the trauma they experience in their jobs.

We held an excellent national round table on PTSD, or OSI, in Regina, back in January. It was a first step toward an inclusive national conversation about how we can better support front-line responders.

I understand this committee is going to be studying this important issue, and I will certainly follow your deliberations on that topic with a great deal of care.

Another topic of urgency is the whole question of workplace harassment in the national police force. That was referred to explicitly in my mandate letter from the Prime Minister. We want healthy workplaces that are free from harassment and sexual violence.

RCMP members perform an absolutely critical role in our communities. Canadians expect a high standard from them in terms of professional and exemplary behaviour. I am committed to taking whatever action is necessary to help RCMP members, trainees, and employees feel safe and respected among their colleagues and superiors. I know the commissioner has been hard at work on that challenge over the last period of time as well.

In that regard, I wrote to the chair of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP on February 4 this year to ask him to undertake a comprehensive assessment of RCMP policies and procedures in the workplace about harassment, and to evaluate the implementation in the force of the recommendations that the commission made back in 2013.

I note as well that RCMP Commissioner Paulson has asked Paul Kennedy, a former chair of the commission for public complaints against the RCMP, to act as an independent observer and monitor on the investigation that's currently under way with respect to certain allegations of misconduct at the police college. This is a topic that has been of concern to Canadians, and we need to ensure that we're responding on all fronts.

Finally, I want to mention the greatest challenge to our national security as another topic of important concern to me, and I'm sure to members of the committee, and that is the twofold threat of terrorism and radicalization to violence.

As committee members know, we are undertaking broad consultations about Canada's national security framework with stakeholders that include parliamentarians, subject matter experts, the general public, and our foreign partners.

I welcome and actively seek the input of members of all parties to contribute to this review process. Indeed, a number of MPs and a number of senators have already come forward to make offers.

Mr. Chair, I would welcome the advice of this committee about how this committee would want to participate in the consultative process, both hearing from other members of Parliament, but also hearing from the general public about our national security framework.

Among our top priorities is the establishment of a designated Canadian office on community outreach and counter-radicalization coordination. The goal is to find, promote, and share the best ways with communities to prevent and combat radicalization and to build resilient communities and resilient individuals.

The Aga Khan, a very respected citizen of the world, a global activist for peace, and a great friend of Canada, has described our country as the finest expression of pluralism the world has ever seen. If we wish to continue that success, we need to work very hard to share, instill, celebrate, and practise our precious Canadian values of openness, diversity, inclusion, respect, and accommodation, and I hope our new office of community outreach will contribute to that effort.

I'm also working, as you know, with the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons to create a statutory committee of parliamentarians that will help scrutinize government departments and agencies that exercise national security responsibilities. That was a fundamental election promise that we made. Canada is an anomaly at the present time in not having a parliamentary review mechanism with respect to security and intelligence operations. All of our major allies, including those in the Five Eyes—the U.S., the U.K., New Zealand, and Australia—have such a parliamentary vehicle. We intend to fill the gap in Canada and provide that kind of review mechanism in Canada, too.

In the process we will also review what other kinds of vehicles and mechanisms we need in order to properly overview and scrutinize the activities of our security and intelligence operations. Other countries typically have a number of different vehicles including a parliamentary one. We at present don't have that parliamentary one and we will fill that gap.

The objectives are twofold here. Number one is to make sure that our security and police operations are effective in keeping Canadians safe. Number two is to make sure that in the process of doing so they are safeguarding the values, the rights, the freedoms, and the fundamental character of our country.

Mr. Chair, specifically about estimates and supplementary estimates (C), as you will see for the portfolio overall, the total authorities that we are seeking will result in a net increase of $176 million, which is relatively modest from a government pan-Canadian point of view. It represents a 1.98% increase over the total authorities to date.

The largest request, probably not a surprise to the committee, is with respect to the RCMP. Commissioner Paulson in the past has been very candid with the committee indicating where the financial pressures, stresses, and strains are, and he's had to make some internal reallocations from other areas to national security, which has been difficult for the force to accommodate. We can't deal with all of that pressure in this one set of estimates, but we are beginning the process of trying to make sure that on a go-forward basis the A-base contribution to the RCMP is sufficient for the work that Canadians expect the RCMP to do. You can't give them a mandate and demand they perform miracles and then not provide the resources necessary to get the job done. The increase for the RCMP is $110 million, most of which is going to the contract policing side of the equation. There's also funding here for counterterrorism work and the fight against cybercrime.

With respect to the CBSA, there's an increase of $59.2 million, largely related to its mandate for securing the borders. It's the integrity of its front-line operations, the critical work that it has performed in respect to the Syrian refugees, and improving its capacity with respect to biometrics.

For the Correctional Service of Canada, the request is a total of $4 million, the majority of which goes to fulfilling the requirements of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights. The same is true with respect to the Parole Board of Canada, a request of $300,000 in order to implement measures in relation to the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights.

With respect to CSIS, you will find a number of transactions in the estimates with money moving back and forth, all intended to increase its capacity with respect to software and its work with Global Affairs Canada, which is taking on increasing importance.

I have one final specific point on the $2.6 million for Public Safety Canada itself. That is largely to recognize the additional responsibilities the department is taking on for the national search and rescue secretariat. That used to be vested in the Department of National Defence, and it will now be vested in the Department of Public Safety.

That's a quick overview, Mr. Chair.

I want to close by thanking all the dedicated public servants who toil in this department and in this portfolio in very critical jobs that relate to the safety of their fellow citizens. They do a remarkable job, subject to the human frailties that we all experience, but they are a terrific group of public servants who work very hard for their fellow citizens.

I also want to say, Mr. Chair, thank you and a farewell to my deputy minister, François Guimont. He will retire from the public service at the end of this month after a remarkable career in the service of Canada in Public Safety, Public Works, Environment Canada, PCO, and elsewhere. François, I wish you well in your retirement, and I extend the gratitude of the Government of Canada for your lifetime of accomplishment in the service of Canadians. Thank you, sir.

11:20 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

François Guimont

Thank you, Minister.

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

We begin our questioning with Mr. Di Iorio.

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Nicola Di Iorio Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair. Good morning, Mr. Minister.

Minister, the world has known different epochs, and Canada has had its share of terrorist threats in its history. However, there is one that is weighing on us currently, and it concerns the threat posed by the radicalization of foreign combatants. We are meeting in a splendid room, Minister, but this room has also been the setting for some tragic moments in the history of this Parliament and of this country.

Could you explain to us how you intend to deal with that threat?

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Regina—Wascana, SK

There are two ways to address it. The challenge is large and significant, and it's a challenge that's shared worldwide.

Many other countries face much bigger problems than we do, but the tragic events of October 2014 demonstrate that Canada is not immune, and we need to treat this with the full seriousness it deserves, in partnership with our colleagues and allies around the world.

Among the activities aimed at dealing with violent extremism and radicalization, the front-line efforts to combat the immediate consequences are directed by the RCMP and by CSIS and by the Canada Border Services Agency. They work with National Defence. They work with PCO. In fact, there are 17 departments or agencies of the Government of Canada that discharge national security functions and obligations.

Those people are on the job doing an amazing job for Canada constantly all the time. They are absorbing all the necessary information. They are taking the appropriate actions to deal with that information. They constantly assess and reassess the threat level that's applicable to Canada.

I would pause here to say that, while this is constantly under review and nothing is ever taken for granted, the threat level that exists today is the same as it was in October 2014, which is assessed at medium. There has been no cause for Canada to adjust the threat level since October 2014, and that remains the case today.

In terms of being more proactive about the future, we are focusing, as you know, on the creation of this new office of community outreach and counter-radicalization coordination. This is to find the very best Canadian ways to reach out to communities, to understand their vulnerabilities, and to identify the best means to intervene before a tragedy occurs.

We have some good research through the Kanishka project, which the previous government initiated. It has given us some useful and helpful insights into the process of radicalization. Some provinces, for example, the Province of Quebec has been very proactive in developing its own counter-radicalization strategy. Cities and police forces such as those in Montreal, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, and others have developed their own outreach initiatives. The RCMP has an outreach program. So does the Department of Public Safety.

What we want to do is pull all of this together in a coordinated national office for outreach and for counter-radicalization, with best practices, to make sure we are doing everything we can to build resilient individuals and resilient communities while avoiding the lure of radical and violent propaganda. We're going to do our very best to make the values of Canadians something for everyone in this country, those who have been here a long time and the newcomers, to celebrate.

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Nicola Di Iorio Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Thank you, Minister.

You just spoke of the threat due to human actions, ill-intentioned actions directed against Canada and its citizens. However, there are also unfortunate events that occur because of natural disasters.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer recently announced that the costs related to natural disasters was increasing. Could you share with us the reasons behind that?

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Regina—Wascana, SK

There are many reasons for it, but one obvious one is the impact of a destabilized climate and the greater risk of natural disasters because of more frequent, more violent, and more consequential weather events, the floods, droughts, and the other types of problems that have befallen Canadians, and cost municipalities, the private sector, and individual Canadians literally tens of millions and billions of dollars. I think of the flood in southern Alberta a few years ago. In southern Saskatchewan and southern Manitoba, in two out of the last five years, there have been major floods. There was the flooding in Quebec three years ago, I believe.

The parliamentary budget officer has added up the consequences of all of this and taking predictable factors into account, the officer has tried to project what we can expect in terms of cost. He is saying that typically what we budgeted in the past will simply not be adequate to deal with the consequences in the future. There are two things about that. No doubt in future estimates we will need to make more cautious preparations for what the real dollar costs are going to be, but we also need to invest in prevention. There you will see something from our campaign platform that I think is very encouraging. In the streams of infrastructure investment that we intend to make in the future, there is specific reference to building resilience against the consequences of climate change. How do we better prepare for floods? How do we better manage those unpredictable water flows? What kind of infrastructure can we invest in that will make us better able to handle the disasters when they occur and avoid the downstream costs as much as possible?

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

Thank you, Mr. Minister.

We'll go to Mr. O'Toole.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Welcome, Minister, thank you for attending and thank you to your deputy for his service. It's appreciated. I'd also like to thank your department.

We were very happy to see the conclusion of the Syrian refugee program on the modified timeline, and I know a lot of effort went into that. Many of my questions will relate to that, Minister. Under your portfolio which departments were involved in the Syrian refugee response?

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Regina—Wascana, SK

The primary front-line department, Mr. O'Toole, was obviously CBSA, but a great deal of expertise and effort was also devoted by the RCMP and by CSIS. The RCMP and CSIS in particular were helpful to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada in devising the screening process.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

Your own department, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, obviously would have had some involvement as well.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Regina—Wascana, SK

Oh, yes, absolutely.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

Okay.

I liked your remarks at the beginning about studying old speeches and following the money. That's what I intend to do with my time today.

On December 9, in committee of the whole on Bill C-3, which was supplementary estimates (B), Minister McCallum said the overall cost of the Syrian refugee program, which was the need for Bill C-3 in the supplementary estimates, was $700 million. He told the House that day that $500 million of that was the total spending for Immigration, his department. Minister Brison said that other departments.... They did not allocate where the other $200 million would be spent, but Minister Brison said that most other departments involved would cash manage their involvement in the Syrian program. Is that what your departments did, they cash managed it?

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Regina—Wascana, SK

Let me ask Nada to comment specifically from the point of view of CBSA. I would note that I did mention an amount earlier of $13.6 million for the critical role the agency played in those efforts. That's part of these estimates now. But Nada can provide more detail.

11:30 a.m.

Nada Semaan Executive Vice-President, Canada Border Services Agency

Absolutely. This money will be received, once approved. However, as you know, we worked on it quite a bit before, so there was a bit of cash management in anticipating receiving the funds through supplementary estimates (B).

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

So the $13.6 million, Minister, that you mentioned for CBSA, of the four departments you mention that's the only department that will be receiving additional allocation. CSIS, RCMP, and Public Safety, none of them require it?

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Regina—Wascana, SK

That's correct.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

Do we have a breakdown on how the cash management may have affected other priorities or operations of the government?

11:30 a.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

François Guimont

At least in the case of Public Safety, and I'll let my colleagues speak to their specific portfolio responsibilities, we manage that as a priority within our ongoing programs. We did not specifically earmark an individual or a team. This was part of our ongoing activities and we just absorbed it. Very often, frankly, we do that when emerging priorities do come up.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Regina—Wascana, SK

Could I ask Commissioner Paulson or Mr. Coulombe if they have anything to add?

11:30 a.m.

Commr Bob Paulson Commissioner, Royal Canadian Mounted Police

I would just say in a similar fashion that the total cost to our organization was minimal and it was manageable within our existing reference levels.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

Specifically, Minister, the government operations centre, which I understand was the hub of the entire operation, has not received additional funds in supplementary estimates (B) or (C), so did it cash manage the entire additional work?