Mr. Chair, honourable members, thank you for inviting me here today to speak to you about Bill C-59, An Act respecting national security matters. As you said, Mr. McKay, I am accompanied by Ms. Joanne Gibb, Director of the Research, Policy and Strategic Investigations Unit of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
I will focus my comments today on part 1 of the bill, which seeks to establish the national security and intelligence review agency, thereby transferring certain powers, duties, and functions from the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP to this new agency.
As the head of the commission, I strongly believe in the importance of civilian oversight and review, whether it is related to national security or, for that matter, related to law enforcement more generally. Independent review fosters positive change and makes organizations better, and I think that's an objective we shouldn't lose sight of when we're talking about these changes. Consequently, the commission supports all of the efforts to enhance the national security review framework.
The trust that Canadians have in their public safety and national security agencies is predicated on accountability and transparency, to the degree possible. Independent review, whether it is by the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, or by expert civilian bodies such as the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, the Security Intelligence Review Committee, or the Office of the CSE Commissioner, contributes to the overall accountability framework of the organizations entrusted with keeping Canada safe and secure.
As the government seeks to further strengthen that framework by creating the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency, the commission welcomes the opportunity to work collaboratively with the new review body to ensure that RCMP activities are independently examined.
Created in 1988, the commission has significant experience and expertise in managing complaints and conducting reviews of the RCMP, whether it is into the RCMP’s actions in relation to the G8 or G20 summits, the RCMP seizure of firearms in High River, or policing in northern B.C., to name a few subjects.
The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, as it is known now, has long been a key element of the RCMP’s accountability structure. By independently reviewing complaints, and where necessary making findings and remedial recommendations, the commission strives to bring about constructive change in the RCMP.
Currently, the commission is undertaking a review of the RCMP's implementation of Justice O'Connor's recommendations in relation to the Maher Arar affair. That investigation is ongoing at this time and is expected to be completed before the end of the fiscal year. The commission will then prepare a report outlining any findings and recommendations pertaining to the six sectors examined by Justice O'Connor.
It is my hope that any findings or recommendations made by the commission would guide the new review agency in its future work in relation to the RCMP's national security activities.
In his 2006 report, Justice O’Connor stressed the importance of a review body being able to “follow the thread”. Through Bill C-59, the new national security and intelligence review agency will have the mandate to do just that, providing a more holistic approach to national security review. Justice O’Connor also stressed the need to eliminate silos and for expert review bodies to work more collaboratively. We're hopeful that this will be an outcome of the new legislation and new oversight structures.
Since the mandate of the RCMP is much broader than just national security, I am pleased that Bill C-59 permits the national security and intelligence review agency to provide the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission with information it has obtained from the RCMP if such information relates to the fulfilment of our own mandate. I believe that this is critical to the overall effectiveness of the expert review bodies.
For example, if in the course of a national security review the national security and intelligence review agency becomes aware of a policy issue unrelated to national security, that issue could be flagged to the CRCC for further examination. This is the reality of the world we're living in.
To further illustrate the importance of collaboration and co-operation, I would suggest that if a public complaint was received by the commission that pertained to national security, but also contained allegations related to RCMP member conduct, the two review bodies should be able to collaborate, within their respective statutory mandates, to deal with the complaint. That is the only way that the Canadians who had made a complaint would receive an appropriate response to all their complaints.
Although the legislation requires the complaint to be referred to the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency, the CRCC, as the expert review body in relation to policing and police conduct, could deal with the allegation related to member conduct. This would ensure a consistent approach in reviewing complaints of RCMP on-duty conduct.
In terms of changes to the commission's mandate relative to Bill C-59, certain elements in the legislation might benefit from further clarification, and that the members of this committee may wish to consider further. Proposed amendments to the RCMP Act require that the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission refuse to deal with a complaint concerning an activity that is closely related to national security and refer any such complaint to the national security and intelligence review agency. That means the CRCC will continue to receive all public complaints related to the RCMP, and thus will remain the point of intake for public complaints. The onus will then be on the CRCC to determine whether the complaint is, in the words of the legislation, “closely related to national security” before deciding on how it will dispose of it.
Absent a definition of national security, however, the commission must make a determination on whether to refer the complaint to the national security and intelligence review agency. Once referred to the national security and intelligence review agency, that agency must receive and investigate the complaint in accordance with section 19 of the new legislation. There is currently no authority, however, for a referral back to the CRCC if the national security and intelligence review agency were to deem, after it had examined a complaint, that it was not a matter closely related to national security. This is a matter that the committee may want to consider further.
Also, while Bill C-59 prohibits the commission from dealing with or investigating complaints closely related to national security, as well as RCMP activity related to national security, there is no prohibition on the commission's chairperson from initiating a complaint related to national security. Further to the RCMP Act, if the chairperson is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to investigate the conduct of an RCMP member in the performance of any duty or function, the chairperson may initiate a complaint in relation to that conduct. Bill C-59 does not amend subsection 45.59(1) of the RCMP Act and, as a result, the chairperson could initiate a complaint closely related to national security. I respectfully suggest that the committee may wish to consider whether this is consistent with the intent of the legislation.
As I indicated at the beginning of my remarks, I believe in the importance of civilian oversight of law enforcement, and we at the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP are fully committed to working with the new national security and intelligence review agency.
In closing, I'd like to thank the committee for allowing me to share my views on the important role of the independent civilian review. I welcome your questions.