Evidence of meeting #10 for Public Safety and National Security in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was systemic.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Christian Leuprecht  Professor, Department of Political Science, Royal Military College of Canada, As an Individual
Michelaine Lahaie  Chairperson, Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Rick Parent  As an Individual
Peter Sloly  Chief of Police, Ottawa Police Service
Tom Stamatakis  President, Canadian Police Association
Dale McFee  Chief of Police, Edmonton Police Service

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Thank you very much. Again, I apologize for not realizing that you weren't part of the RMC presentation.

With that, we'll return to the list. Next up is Mr. Sikand for six minutes, please.

July 24th, 2020 / 11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Gagan Sikand Liberal Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

My question is going to be for Ms. Lahaie. Whenever I talk about civilian oversight, I like to preface my comments, and it's actually not too different from what Mr. Parent said. By and large our system is good. Our law enforcement officers are good, but you can always make the system more efficient and have it work better for Canadians.

Having said that, I noticed that you attended SECU once last year. You talked about the lengthy time it can take to review public complaints, noting that it can sometimes take years for reports to be finalized.

How beneficial would it be to establish a baseline for time limits for the RCMP to respond, and what would be the best course of action, in your opinion?

11:30 a.m.

Chairperson, Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Michelaine Lahaie

Thank you very much for your question.

From the commission's perspective, it would be extremely beneficial for baseline timelines to be established. That's one reason that, in December, Commissioner Lucki and I signed an MOU between the CRCC and the RCMP that did establish those timelines. A copy of that MOU is posted on the commission's website.

However, the MOU is not binding, so if parliamentarians could establish solid timelines, statutory timelines within the act, it would be extremely beneficial. Canadians who have made complaints will get responses to their complaints in a timely fashion, and that increases accountability exponentially.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Gagan Sikand Liberal Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Speaking of accountability, we've heard that the CRCC isn't regulated, that it has a lack of representation from the affected communities. Surely amongst recent international discussions on policing, this has probably become more pronounced.

In your opinion, should we be expanding participation to those affected populations? How do you think we should go about that?

11:30 a.m.

Chairperson, Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Michelaine Lahaie

In my opinion, the commission can only benefit by having greater diversity. One thing we're doing internally is that we're setting up our own internal diversity and equity committee to look at inclusion and to ensure we're looking at diverse opinions from across the organization.

Internally, we are a diverse organization, but we do not have significant indigenous representation. I believe that is something we need to correct internally so that we're providing a better lens on the issues we deal with on such a regular basis.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Gagan Sikand Liberal Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

I have one final question for you. Your predecessor also noticed that the CRCC has the expertise not only to deal with the public complaints but also to undertake systemic reviews and investigations into the RCMP.

You recently published a review of the service's use of force. How to you foresee improvements involving wellness calls and de-escalation?

11:35 a.m.

Chairperson, Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Michelaine Lahaie

In terms of wellness calls and de-escalation, there are two things that really need to be looked at. The first thing that is critical is training. Police officers need to be better trained to be able to handle those particular situations. That means no longer taking a “command and control” approach, as I indicated in my statement, and looking towards greater de-escalation. That is the most important thing.

The second thing is that there needs to be greater efforts made on the part of provincial and territorial governments to provide greater mental health...so that police forces, when it's required, can work with individuals so that de-escalation is made more possible for those who are in crises.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Gagan Sikand Liberal Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Thank you.

Christian, through your extensive studies on the subject, you've arrived at the conclusion that the RCMP is in need of significant structural change in order to bring about the necessary professionalization of the force and deliver the level of service that Canadians should expect from them. Some of your recommendations include remuneration based on skills rather than seniority, civilianizing the management and senior leadership of the RCMP rather than promoting through the ranks, and requiring higher levels of education and training from officers.

However, the RCMP police union, the NPF, is strongly opposed to these recommendations in favour of the status quo. The head of the NPF, Mr. Brian Sauvé, is due to testify at this committee later today. What would you say to the NPF and its membership to change their minds?

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

That's an extraordinarily complicated question.

You have only a minute to answer that, so I'll let it go. I don't want to interrupt you again.

11:35 a.m.

Professor, Department of Political Science, Royal Military College of Canada, As an Individual

Dr. Christian Leuprecht

The chair is putting me on notice, so I'll keep it very brief.

Ultimately, we need to work with the police associations and the police unions. They represent the front-line members who are doing a very difficult job and, by and large, a very good and professional job. At the same time, ultimately, my recommendations reflect broader structural issues. The insanity we have is that we keep on picking new police chiefs and new commissioners and hope we'll get all this fantastic change. We've played this game over and over. We keep reproducing the same results.

I would urge the committee to look at some of the broader structural issues and work with the RCMP's new association/union to try to effect structural change that gets improved outcomes for the communities that are served, for the members within the RCMP who have to perform a very difficult and challenging task, and for the federal government, which ultimately owns the police service.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Thank you, Mr. Sikand.

Ms. Michaud, you have six minutes.

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Kristina Michaud Bloc Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'm going to start with Mr. Leuprecht.

Thank you for your testimony. One of your sentences particularly struck me. You say that when the police are the only form of authority in a territory or a community, they quickly become the enemy, so to speak. Yesterday, Mr. McCaffrey, who is a chief of police, told us that in many first nations languages the word “police” means “those who take us away”. That evokes Canada's colonialist past and the whole residential school episode. In the community where he works, the word has been changed to “those who help”.

I think small actions like those can help reduce prejudice or change perceptions. In your opinion, what other actions should be taken to change attitudes and develop a relationship based on help rather than a relationship based on conflict?

11:35 a.m.

Professor, Department of Political Science, Royal Military College of Canada, As an Individual

Dr. Christian Leuprecht

I apologize for answering in English; it's just because of the translation issues.

In many small communities that are policed by the RCMP, the RCMP is often the only federal presence in those communities. In some cases, it is the only governmental presence from outside a community, and often dealing with very considerable challenges. I think it is no surprise that this one presence then becomes seen in an adversarial fashion and that some of the members—certainly not all, and I would say a minority—internalize that as an “us and them” mentality.

There are two important components to this. One is that this reflects a broader failure of educational, health, social services and economic development within those communities, where the RCMP ends up picking up the pieces. We need to return to a more holistic approach to community policing and to community safety.

At the same time, as the chairperson of the CRCC has pointed out, there are serious challenges. As the data with regard to the use of force toward indigenous and minority people by the RCMP in particular bears out, there are particular structural issues within the RCMP. I would say those start with Depot, which is a socializational organization and socializes a certain type of command and control mindset. Starting with a complete overhaul of the curriculum and the training regime at Depot would, I think, also effect change.

I'll leave it there. Many of the other recommendations I've already detailed in my submission.

11:40 a.m.

Bloc

Kristina Michaud Bloc Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Thank you.

You are proposing a complete overhaul of the model on which the RCMP is currently based. You have made a number of recommendations, but you have had little time to explain them in detail. I would like you to tell us which one, in your opinion, is the most pressing. Sometimes, when you have to fix everything, you have to start from scratch.

We want to rework the RCMP model, but where should we start?

11:40 a.m.

Professor, Department of Political Science, Royal Military College of Canada, As an Individual

Dr. Christian Leuprecht

I think the opportunity for the committee and the RCMP in the short term to effect immediate change is the recommendation to hold middle management accountable. There are many instances, to which the chairperson will also be able to testify, where I am puzzled that in an organization that, since 2003, has clearly sent the message that harassment is unacceptable, middle management did not step up and the public issues that we see reflect that.

I would say holding the staff sergeant level accountable for incidents of harassment or potentially inappropriate use of force is critical to change, because middle managers will either simply ignore the problem until they're posted out and someone else can pick up the pieces, or they will try to pass off the problem to someone else. Having them own that problem, making them responsible and facing consequences for not acting is what the Canadian Armed Forces has done with regard to racism and with regard to harassment. I think it has shown to produce certainly positive results within the organization.

No legislative change is required, simply a clear signalling by the political authority to the commissioner about what is going to be expected from here on in from middle management and what the consequences are for middle management not acting.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

You have about 30 seconds left.

11:40 a.m.

Bloc

Kristina Michaud Bloc Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I will come back to Ms. Lahaie later. My next question is a little complicated, in my opinion, and I may run out of time. So I will wait until the next round to ask it.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Thank you.

Mr. Harris, you have six minutes, please.

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Thank you, Chair.

First of all, I'd just like to say that my observation from the evidence today from Professor Leuprecht and both other witnesses is that we have a system, as Professor Leuprecht pointed out, where we have 41 pages of recommendations going back to 2007. Ms. Lahaie talked about recommendations being made and sent to the commissioner. After a while, we'll know whether they're accepted or not, but we don't know, and I think Commissioner Lahaie would say we don't really have an effective way of finding out whether the recommendations have been followed or not, as evidenced by your northern B.C. situation.

What are we dealing with here? Is it true that the oversight by the civilian review board that you're heading, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, is an effective model? We've heard suggestions that the RCMP as an institution is broken. Is the oversight that's conducted by your organization broken in a way that can't be fixed by your suggestions, or do we have to look further than that? I have a problem here with all these complaints, lots of recommendations but no follow-through, and apparently the same issues that we're dealing with now.

11:45 a.m.

Chairperson, Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Michelaine Lahaie

I would point out to you that the commission's authorities are the same authorities as you would have with a commission of inquiry. What that means is that we have the authority to make findings and recommendations. Those findings and recommendations are then sent to the commissioner. She is required to respond to our reports and, in her responses, she is required to indicate whether she accepts our recommendations or not, and if she does not accept our recommendations, she has to indicate why she does not accept those recommendations.

The second portion of that, as you point out—and it is one of my recommendations going forward—is that the commissioner should be required to provide a letter to the commission on a yearly basis that indicates the status of the implementation of the recommendations that she has accepted. Putting statutory timelines into the act means that she must respond to public complaints in a timely fashion and, as well, putting into the act a requirement for an annual report on the status of the implementation of those recommendations will certainly strengthen our oversight role, and it will strengthen the accountability of the RCMP.

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

You've also suggested in your statement of July 21 that over the past four years you've issued 14 reports concerning individual cases where RCMP actions in wellness checks or for a person in crisis were unreasonable. You referenced other reports going back to 2009, 2014 and 2016, saying the same kind of thing that you did in terms of the RCMP approach. You issued that statement on the 21st. Obviously, you're not satisfied that there has been no response, so your recommendations going back several years, four years, and these other recommendations going back to 2009 don't seem to be having the effect they should.

What do you think can be done about that?

11:45 a.m.

Chairperson, Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Michelaine Lahaie

By having the commissioner report on the status of the implementation of those recommendations, that's going to increase the accountability. Right now, what's happening is that many of those reports are awaiting a response.

The reason we, or I, chose at the commission to release a public statement is that we were dissatisfied, effectively, with the fact that recommendations have been made over and over again with respect to wellness checks, and the RCMP does not appear to be listening. We issued that statement because I felt that it was in the public interest for that information to be made available.

We increase accountability by imposing timelines for responses to these reports and by requiring the commissioner to indicate the status of the implementation of our recommendations.

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Madam, who initiated the MOU, the MOU that resulted last December? Was that the commission or was that the RCMP?

11:45 a.m.

Chairperson, Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Michelaine Lahaie

I would say it was something we came to jointly. Both organizations realized there would be value in our having an MOU.

The commission has existed for almost 35 years. We've never had an MOU with the RCMP, although it has been in the legislation. We felt that it was time to move forward with respect to putting an MOU in place. It was the first step in starting to impose timelines so that we could get more timely responses to Canadians with respect to their complaints.

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

It has been suggested that having an indigenous person as a fellow commissioner along with you would be of value and that you should be using indigenous people as part of your investigative team.

Is that the case now with respect to investigations? Would you think there would be value in having that, and perhaps having a little more authority beyond recommendations?