Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
It's a great pleasure to be here with my colleague, the Honourable Scott Brison, President of the Treasury Board, to aid in your study of Bill C-7.
I am joined today by Daniel Dubeau, who is deputy commissioner of the RCMP and chief of the human resources department; Craig MacMillan, the professional responsibility officer with the RCMP; and Kathy Thompson, who is assistant deputy minister, community safety and countering crime branch within Public Safety Canada.
Mr. Chair, we gather for this meeting on the day that the RCMP is laying to rest the late Constable Sarah Beckett, who tragically lost her life in the line of duty a week ago today near Victoria, British Columbia.
I know I speak for all committee members and all Canadians when I express our sincere condolences to Constable Beckett's family, her friends, and RCMP colleagues. Thousands will gather in her honour this afternoon, exemplifying Canada's love and respect for her and for her chosen career as a member of the RCMP. We honour her memory.
Specifically on this legislation, Bill C-7, it is encouraging to see a pretty good deal of cross-party support for this bill, at least judging by some of the debate on second reading. On the whole, I think the bill has been acknowledged as a fair and reasonable attempt to respond to the instructions of the Supreme Court of Canada.
At the same time, any legislative change of this scope is subject to questions and concerns, and we have of course heard these as well. We hope that those questions and concerns can be addressed during the committee's study of Bill C-7. As you know, the Prime Minister has been very clear on the important role of parliamentary committees. He has directed the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons to strengthen committee work and ensure that the committees more effectively fulfill their function of scrutinizing legislation. That is the purpose of your hearings today with respect to Bill C-7.
For my part at this meeting, I will briefly discuss the unique role of the RCMP as our national police force, as well as try to provide some background on how this legislation came about and why we need to move ahead on the changes that are before the committee.
Mr. Brison will then provide you with a more detailed look at the nuts and bolts of the bill and the implications of the proposed changes for the current RCMP labour relations regime.
Mr. Chair, as we know, the RCMP plays a policing role that isn't found anywhere else in the world. It is truly unique. That role is international, national, provincial, territorial, municipal. It not only provides federal policing services to all Canadians; it also provides police services under contract to three territories, eight provinces, 150 municipalities, and more than 600 indigenous communities across Canada.
Its mandate is vast. RCMP members prevent and investigate crimes—from petty theft to cyberespionage to terrorist activities, and everything in between. They protect the safety of state officials and visiting dignitaries.
They also work abroad as part of peacekeeping operations and with other law enforcement agencies in Canada and around the world.
That just scratches the surface of what the RCMP is all about. RCMP members are dedicated to their work and to serving Canadians. They must perform their jobs while often facing immense challenges and very real personal dangers. That becomes tragically apparent when we hear the sad news, as we did last week, of that young constable killed in the line of duty in British Columbia. It is important for all of us to support the work of RCMP members and important that we take all proper steps to ensure that they can in fact exercise their charter-protected freedoms, including the freedom of association.
That brings us to the legislation that is before this committee now. As members know, this proposed legislation is the Government of Canada's response to a significant ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada that was rendered in January of 2015. In that ruling, the court held that key elements of the labour relations framework in existence at that time for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police infringed the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, because those elements substantially interfered with members' rights to freedom of association.
In other words, within reasonable limits, RCMP members, according to the Supreme Court of Canada, are indeed entitled to unionization.
The ruling has broad implications for the government and for the RCMP, and it requires a restructuring of the existing framework that has applied to the force for more than 40 years.
Given the implications of this decision, which as I said was rendered in January of 2015, the court suspended its declaration of invalidity for 12 months. There was a deadline set for new legislation by January of 2016. No visible steps were taken to get things rolling in that regard before Parliament adjourned in June of 2015. Then, of course, as we know, a very long election campaign intervened. During the summer, after that long campaign had begun, government officials undertook some important basic consultation with both RCMP members and with the jurisdictions across the country that constitute the contract partners for the RCMP to get a sense of how the government should respond to that outstanding Supreme Court decision.
After the government changed in November, we went back to court to get a little bit of extra time to make it possible to respond in an orderly fashion, and the court provided an extra four months. That takes us to May 17, which is the deadline for getting the new legislation in place. We have tried to move quickly and responsibly in this regard.
Mr. Chair, I thank you for your encouraging view of the work of the committee: that the committee would hopefully be in a position to give this legislation its consideration and report to the House in a timely manner.
Officials at Public Safety Canada, the RCMP, and the Treasury Board have worked very hard to develop a sound legislative proposal to put before you, one that responds not only to the court decision but that also takes into account the views and preferences that were gathered from RCMP regular members themselves during the consultation process that I referred to. We want a bill that reflects the unique role and the operational nature of the RCMP.
Importantly, this bill provides members with a constitutionally sound labour relations regime, one that allows members the freedom, if they so wish, to choose to be represented by an employee organization and to bargain collectively through that employee association to address their labour needs with the employer. This is the same freedom of choice that is enjoyed by all other police forces in Canada.
It is crucial that we respond in a timely manner to that Supreme Court decision in order to respect RCMP members' charter rights and to provide members with legislative certainty about their labour relations future. If we don't respond by May 17, on that date the existing Public Service Labour Relations Act will come into effect and apply to members of the RCMP, so it's important that we intervene before that date.
The Public Service Labour Relations Act in its current form does not fully accommodate the concerns and interests of RCMP members or their operational reality. That said, I can assure committee members that we are committed to proceeding with a complete and thorough study of Bill C-7. We welcome open discussion and healthy debate on the proposed elements of the bill, and we are eager to hear from experts and stakeholders who will appear before the committee to provide their input.
I would like to touch on one important element of the bill, which has to do with the question of occupational injuries. I know this has been of interest to some members of the committee.
By way of history and background, on April 1, 2013, at the request of provincial contracting partners the previous government moved the RCMP members' non-occupational health care needs to provincial and territorial health care systems, but for reasons of the day, occupational-related injuries remained with the RCMP management to adjudicate and handle. A temporary program internal to the RCMP was set up to administer those occupational claims.
That temporary program lacks important features, such as a robust, independent adjudication methodology and an appeal structure. The employer should not be the final arbiter of whether the injury of one of its workers occurred on the job. An arm's-length arbiter, such as provincial workers' compensation boards are, can better provide professional, independent adjudication on any such claims, along with an established appeal procedure. The provincial boards also have experience with police-related injuries, as most municipal and provincial police currently access occupational claims coverage through provincial WCBs.
Finally, I would like to touch briefly on the issue of harassment, which I know members of the committee have been interested in as well, and mention three things.
Number one, I have taken under review the cases of four RCMP employees alleging harassment that are currently before the courts. You may recall that this issue became a matter of public discussion shortly after the election campaign. Both the Prime Minister and I undertook to review those cases, and that work is under way.
Number two, on February 4, 2016, I invited the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP to undertake a comprehensive review of the RCMP's policies and procedures on workplace harassment and to evaluate the implementation of the recommendations that the complaints commission itself had made in 2013; in other words, what progress has been made from the last report of the complaints commission.
Number three, you will recall the incident that occurred this winter at the Police College. The commissioner has launched a full investigation of that matter. He has invited Paul Kennedy, the former complaints commission chair, to act as an independent monitor of the situation at the Police College, and we are awaiting the report from that review and from Mr. Kennedy.
Finally, Mr. Chair, I can assure you that other steps will be taken as well to deal with the difficult and troubling matter of harassment.
On that note, I will end my remarks and ask my honourable colleague, Mr. Brison, to provide a more detailed overview of Bill C-7.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.