Evidence of meeting #21 for Public Safety and National Security in the 43rd Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was funding.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Brenda Lucki  Commissioner, Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Clerk of the Committee  Mr. Mark D'Amore
Rob Stewart  Deputy Minister, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
Anne Kelly  Commissioner, Correctional Service of Canada
John Ossowski  President, Canada Border Services Agency
Jonathan Moor  Vice-President and Chief Financial Officer, Finance and Corporate Management Branch, Canada Border Services Agency

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

We have quorum. With that, I'll bring the meeting to order.

We've now completed our sound checks and our weather report from one end of the country to the other. I think we should publicize that on CBC, so that we all know what the weather is across the country.

Colleagues, we are now an hour and 20 minutes behind where we were supposed to be. I propose that we complete at least the first hour and then I'll seek guidance from colleagues as to how to complete the second hour.

With that, I'm going to call on Minister Blair, who is clearly one of the most popular ministers before this committee. I'm hard pressed to know why he is quite so popular, but I'm putting it down to his charm and his good looks.

With that, I'm going to ask Minister Blair to truncate his remarks as much as possible so that we can try to get back on our timeline.

4:50 p.m.

Scarborough Southwest Ontario

Liberal

Bill Blair LiberalMinister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. I'll accept your remarks with respect to charm, but I'm afraid, with respect to looks, it's contrary to the evidence before us.

I'd like to thank the committee for the invitation today, and I'm pleased to present the 2021 supplementary estimates (C) and the 2021-22 main estimates for the public safety portfolio.

I'm very ably joined today by a number of my colleagues. Respectfully, in the interest of time, I will not introduce them, but I'd like to take the opportunity to acknowledge that, during these incredibly difficult and challenging times over the past year, they've all stepped up to the plate. They've been working diligently to keep our borders, communities and correctional institutions safe as well as to protect our national security.

Today, Mr. Chair, I believe these estimates reflect that work.

I'll go through the supplementary estimates (C) for 2021 in order to present these items chronologically. The approval of these estimates will result in funding approvals of $11.1 billion for the public safety portfolio, and that represents an increase of 3.3% over total authorities provided to date. I will briefly share some of the highlights here as they relate to how we manage our critical services during the pandemic.

The first is $135.8 million for the Correctional Service of Canada for critical operating requirements related to COVID-19.

The second is $35 million for Public Safety Canada, to support the urgent relief efforts of the Canadian Red Cross during the pandemic. Mr. Chair, as you know, the many volunteers and staff of the Canadian Red Cross have been there to support Canadians from the outset of this pandemic, including at long-term care homes right across the country.

I would ask this committee to join me in thanking them for all their service and for providing help where it was needed most. I’ll also note that this funding is in addition to the $35 million of vote 5 funding to Public Safety from Health Canada to support rapid response capacity testing being deployed to fill gaps in surge and targeted activities, including remote and isolated communities.

Included in these supplementary estimates is funding to enhance the integrity of our borders and asylum system while also modernizing the agency’s security screening system. This funding will ensure that security screening results are made available at the earliest opportunity under a reformed system.

I'd like to take this opportunity to highlight that CBSA employees have done a remarkable job in keeping our borders safe in response to COVID-19. I'd like to take the opportunity as well to thank them for their continued hard work in keeping Canadians safe.

We're also working through these supplementary estimates to increase funding to end violence against indigenous women and girls and to provide essential mental health services.

For the RCMP, we are investing significant funds through both the supplementary and main estimates to support improvements to the federal policing investigative capacity by bolstering its capability with additional policing professionals, investigators and scientists. This will be used to deal with federal policing initiatives, which include responding to money laundering, cybercrime such as child sexual exploitation, and national security such as responding to terrorism and foreign-influenced hostile activities.

Mr. Chair, if I may, I'll turn to the 2021-22 main estimates. The public safety portfolio, as a whole, is requesting a total of approximately $10 billion for this fiscal year. As I’ve previously noted, the portfolio funding has remained stable over the last few years. I will endeavour to break down the numbers by organization.

Public Safety Canada is seeking a total of $1.1 billion in the main estimates. This represents an increase of $329.9 million, or 45.5%, over the previous year. The bulk of this increase is due to the grants and contributions regarding the disaster financial assistance arrangements program, or DFAA. It’s an increase in funding based upon forecasts from provinces and territories for expected disbursements under the DFAA for this fiscal year. This represents a critical part of my portfolio as minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

In these main estimates, increases also include $15 million for incremental funding to take action against gun and gang violence. As this committee knows, I introduced Bill C-21 in the House not very long ago, a bill designed to protect Canadians from firearm violence and to fulfill our promise of strengthening gun control.

Mr. Chair, I know that this committee will have the chance to review that legislation at some future date, and I look forward to discussing it with them at that time.

I want to focus on a number of ongoing issues and our responses to them, starting with Correctional Service of Canada, which is seeking $2.8 billion this fiscal year, which represents an increase of $239.8 million or 9.4% over the previous year. This net increase is primarily due to a net increase in operating funding, which includes an increase for transforming federal corrections as a result of the passage of the former Bill C-83, which introduced the new structured intervention unit model.

That bill represents a major change in the way our correctional institutions operate, and recent reports have been clear that more work must be done. Funding is just one part of the solution. With the creation of data teams, efforts to replicate best practices nationally and enhanced support from independent, external decision-makers, I am confident we will deliver on this transformational promise.

I want to again acknowledge the troubling findings that were made in the Bastarache report, which I know this committee has examined and reviewed with concern. We are seeking funds to establish the independent centre for harassment resolution. This will be responsible for implementing the full resolution process, including conflict management, investigations and decision-making.

Mr. Chair, we know more work needs to be done. I'd like to conclude by noting the importance of our oversight agencies. You will see in the main estimates that we are seeking to increase funding for the Office of the Correctional Investigator, the CRCC and the ERC, the latter by close to 100%.

With that, Mr. Chair, I thank you and the members of the committee for your patience as I delivered my opening remarks. I'm happy to answer questions that members may have about these estimates and the collective work of our portfolio.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Thank you, Minister. Thank you for your timeliness.

With that, we'll turn to Mr. Motz, Madam Khera, Madam Michaud and Mr. Harris for six minutes each, please.

Mr. Motz.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Glen Motz Conservative Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner, AB

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you again, Minister, for being here. It's nice to see you again.

Minister, I'm curious if there's a reason your chief of staff, Zita Astravas, is refusing to respond to an officer of Parliament, that being the clerk of the defence committee, who has made numerous attempts—four, the last I'm aware of—to request testimony about the handling of the General Vance sexual harassment allegations in 2018.

Will you commit today, sir, to ensuring that she appears ASAP?

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

I have a point of order, Chair.

The minister is here to speak to the public safety estimates and not about his staff and what they might have done or what they're being asked to do. This has nothing to do with that.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

I see it as a valid point of order. I usually allow members a fairly wide range.

If Mr. Motz, by some means or another, can tie his question into the estimates, it would be helpful to the chair.

March 24th, 2021 / 4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Glen Motz Conservative Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner, AB

Sure. She's part of the team, Mr. Chair, and therefore is part of the estimates. Yes, it is relevant.

I'd like to have the minister uphold the parliamentary rules and democracy in his office. If he can't answer that or refuses to commit, then I guess we have our answer. Thank you, Chair.

Minister, you and I have had a number of conversations about getting some help for Shelly MacInnis-Wynn, the widow of RCMP officer David Wynn who was slain back in 2015. You have promised every time, sir, to get someone from your department to reach out to her and to help her. Over the last year and a half that you and I have had these off-and-on conversations, that has yet to occur.

I'm wondering why we have to keep having this conversation about doing the right thing and having her—and many others like her, sir—access the benefits they're entitled to.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Blair Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

Thank you very much for that very important question. Of course, I recall those conversations very well.

Fortunately today, I'm joined by the commissioner of the RCMP. As your question directly relates to an HR matter for her department, I would invite her to offer any response.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Commissioner Lucki.

4:55 p.m.

Commissioner Brenda Lucki Commissioner, Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Thank you, Minister.

First of all, obviously my heart goes out to Shelly for the loss of Constable Wynn.

We've received several pieces of correspondence from Ms. MacInnis-Wynn, and we have been dealing with her directly. She has a family liaison in Alberta. There have been quite a few back-and-forths with compensation questions. We have been doing some calculations for her and getting some necessary information that she has been having trouble getting.

There has been a constant back-and-forth, and I think she has pretty well gotten the information she's requested up to date.

5 p.m.

Conservative

Glen Motz Conservative Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner, AB

I won't belabour the point, Commissioner.

Back to the minister, I've spoken to her again as recently as last evening and she does not. It's more than just the RCMP, sir. It rests with you. I would encourage you to continue to follow up with that.

Sir, I want to move on to the buyback. This is the third meeting that you've been in front of us. You've been asked the funding amounts for this firearms compensation program that you have announced. I don't see it anywhere in the estimates. I can't find any estimates here to cover off the cost of this confiscation.

How many billions of dollars do you anticipate this buyback costing the taxpayer, sir?

5 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Blair Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

Thank you very much for the question, Mr. Motz. It gives me an opportunity to clarify something.

I would just point out that in the legislation we've introduced there are strong new regulations that create a new regime placing additional restrictions upon the weapons that were prohibited by order in council back on May 1. That's what's in the legislation. That legislation's going to be very important to facilitate an efficient, orderly and responsible buyback program, which we've committed to bringing forward. We'll bring it forward when the legislation advances through the House.

I understand you're anxious to see that outcome. I'm looking forward to your support to move this legislation through the House and through committee as expeditiously as possible.

5 p.m.

Conservative

Glen Motz Conservative Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner, AB

Minister, if it actually was to improve public safety, you'd have my full support. It doesn't, so I won't be supporting it.

In June of 2020, I asked you how many toys you were including in this firearms ban. You said that was an absolute lie spread by the firearms owners. I'm wondering what happened. We now have airsoft banned. You're destroying hundreds of companies and thousands of jobs in this country, and the pastime of tens of thousands of Canadians.

Who's safer by this proposal?

5 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Blair Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

Canadians are, Mr. Motz.

By the way, when you asked me the question last June, you asked about the order in council. Of course, replica firearms weren't dealt with in that order in council, but they are in Bill C-21. That's in direct response to urging that we've received from police leaders across the country.

Today I spoke to Chief Neufeld in Calgary. On March 4, two of his officers were involved in a tragic incident when somebody pointed what they obviously believed was a real firearm at them. They discharged their weapons. A woman died. There's now an independent investigation going on. It's extremely traumatic for those officers and traumatic for the community as well—

5 p.m.

Conservative

Glen Motz Conservative Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner, AB

Yes, thank you, Minister. I'm fully aware of that.

5 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Blair Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

I know you don't want to hear the facts on this, but these represent a danger.

5 p.m.

Conservative

Glen Motz Conservative Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner, AB

Minister, I have one last question for you.

5 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Unfortunately, Mr. Motz, you've just gone over the—

5 p.m.

Conservative

Glen Motz Conservative Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner, AB

Chair, a point of order was brought up and my time was used. I still have 40 seconds based on my clock.

5 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

No, the clock was stopped during your point of order and you're now at six minutes and 21 seconds. I'm sorry about that.

With that, I'm going to move on to Madam Khera for six minutes, please.

5 p.m.

Liberal

Kamal Khera Liberal Brampton West, ON

Thank you, Chair. Thank you, Minister, for being here.

I echo what John said earlier. I feel like you're part of this committee because I see you here so often. It's good to see you. Thanks again for being here.

Minister, we know this pandemic has shone a light on the vulnerabilities that exist in our communities, especially visible minorities, whether they are Black Canadians, South Asian Canadians, Muslim Canadians or Asian Canadian populations. We know that since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, anti-Asian racism has been on the rise and has only escalated, even though we know it existed before that. StatsCan reported last summer that visible minorities experienced an increase in harassment or attacks based on their race, ethnicity or skin colour, which had tripled compared with the rest of the population since the COVID-19 pandemic started, with the largest increase among Chinese and Korean Canadian populations.

All that, Minister, coupled with the recent events in the U.S., is very real and very concerning. Can you perhaps talk a bit about the work that you're undertaking to fight violence fuelled by hate, racism and discrimination in all its forms?

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Blair Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

Thank you so much, Ms. Khera.

This is actually a very important question, not just for the public safety portfolio but for all Canadians. What we have seen is a very disturbing and concerning rise in racism, intolerance and hatred, not just in our society but right around the world.

Many of these issues have been aggravated by the pandemic but they don't begin there, so our response has to be very comprehensive. I can tell you that in response to the growing concern across Canada with the very significant and serious increase in incidents of hatred directed towards Asian Canadians—and by the way, I spoke to the chief of police in Vancouver in response to these events last week—I reached out to police leadership right across the country, in every part of the country. I engaged them in a conversation about our collective response to these acts of hatred. The chief in Vancouver tells me they've seen a 770% increase in hate crimes directed towards Asian Canadians. This is completely unacceptable.

I also reached out and spoke today to the executive of the CACP and raised the issue, once again, of our collective response. We spoke, for example, about the tools and resources they need to deal with online hate. I advised them that our government is working on bringing forward legislation for the removal of online harms, including online hate, for the preservation of that evidence and for ensuring that the police and law enforcement have access to the evidence and the tools they need to deal more effectively.

We talked about how certain other measures, including the red flag laws that are introduced in Bill C-21, can be used to deal more effectively with those who are online advocating violence against women and religious or ethnic minorities in this country. They should not have access to firearms. They represent an unacceptable risk. We talked about those tools as well.

I can tell you that, in all of my agencies, this is our most important discussion. We acknowledge that ideologically motivated violent extremism, which includes all of the hatred, biases and intolerances that concern all Canadians—or should concern all Canadians—is at the forefront of this because it represents the greatest threat to the domestic security of all Canadians.

Ms. Khera, there is no place for racism or intolerance anywhere in our society. Certainly, I want to assure you that all of our agencies and departments understand that they have a responsibility to take action. We're looking at all the tools and resources they need to ensure we are able to do that.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kamal Khera Liberal Brampton West, ON

Thank you, Minister.

On the same topic, in the main estimates you were seeking increased funding for the security infrastructure program, and I believe we have quadrupled the funding since forming the office. What role does this program play in protecting communities at risk, including the ones I just mentioned?

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Blair Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

I'll try to be brief, but it's such a great program. It provides resources to religious institutions and community organizations that are at risk, that are vulnerable and that are too often the target of hatred and intolerance.

We have quadrupled the funding for the security infrastructure program, but I will tell you, it's always oversubscribed. We work very closely with all of the organizations that seek this funding. We encourage them to participate. It has proven to be a valuable asset to them, and it helps them improve their security infrastructure. It's a part of society's response and we're going to continue to support those organizations. We also know that our departments and agencies, law enforcement and national security have a responsibility as well, and we're going to step up on every front.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kamal Khera Liberal Brampton West, ON

Thank you.

Could you just briefly talk about the issue of oversight? I know you mentioned that in the main estimates, you're seeking an increase in the level of funding [Technical difficulty—Editor] investing 3% more than last year. The CRCC, I believe, is 2% more than last year, and the external review committee for the RCMP, I believe, is 100% more than the year before.

In your opinion, why is it so important for these agencies to have this effective oversight? Will you be reintroducing legislation to bring oversight to the CBSA?