He just left? Thank you. He probably met his whip on the way out who told him to keep quiet. I would like to thank the member from Glengarry-Prescott-Russell who, for once, succeeded in bringing the hon. member from Kingston and the Islands back in line.
I can now go on. The government tabled Bill C-58 after deciding not to appeal the Gingras decision. What Bill C-58 basically tells us is that RCMP members are not part of the public service, they are not governed by the provisions on public servants or by the working conditions established by Treasury Board. This is getting close to the separate employer status that some have always wanted to give to the RCMP.
There is a much broader problem, a staff relations problem that has been around for a while and which the study of Bill C-58 made apparent. There is a gap between command staff and officers of the RCMP. The study of Bill C-58 clearly demonstrated that working conditions are not too good.
Some RCMP members wanted to appear before the committee on government operations to talk about Bill C-58 because it was directly affecting them. They were told not to wear their uniform and that they would have to appear in their own personal name, outside regular hours of work. This job atmosphere is pretty weird in an organization where everybody is supposed to have the same goals.
Bill C-58 also touches upon another aspect of working conditions of RCMP members, that is to say their unionization. Some members are unionized. At present, RCMP civilian employees are unionized. The March 1994 Gingras judicial decision definitely opens the door to the possible application of Part I and, of course, Part II of the Canada Labour Code to RCMP officers.
Fearing that its RCMP police officers could unionize, the government introduced Bill C-58 to exclude them from the ordinary rules of law applicable to all other Canadian workers subject to the Canada Labour Code's general rules.
When the minister and RCMP officers appeared before the government operations committee, they were hard put to answer the following question: "For which reasons are you opposed to unionization, to free negociation of working conditions between RCMP police officers and the government, their employer?"
All they could say was that since RCMP officers had to look after the safety of ambassadors and members of the consular corps, they could not be compared to other Canadian police officers who dit not have to perform such duties. However witnesses have shown during committee hearings on Bill C-58 that Sûreté du Québec police officers, Ontario Provincial Police officers, in their respective province, have to look after the safety of consular corps members located in Toronto, Montreal or Quebec City.
Now, all things considered, they are not any different. We realize the distinct status the RCMP command staff is so fond of is like a sacred cow.
A case is still outstanding before the Quebec Court of appeal. I am talking about the Delisle case against the Attorney General of Canada. Staff sergeant Gaétan Delisle, who is now mayor of Saint-Blaise-sur-Richelieu, claims that the freedom of association provided for in the 1982 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms includes the right to unionization.
The government simply wants to ignore court rulings and legislate retroactively to deny some rights. This approach is not appropriate. Let us wait and see what the court rulings on the right to unionization will be as well as the rulings of the federal commissions responsible for implementing the Canada Labour
Code before deciding if, according to them, RCMP police officers can be unionized, and if so, which system should be applied to them.
We could eventually hold an open debate on unionization conditions for police officers that would be acceptable to MPs representing Canadian citizens. Should we have a general system providing for the right to strike, a system providing for compulsory arbitration or a system providing for a final offer? These are all possible options. With a bill such as Bill C-30, let us not exclude other possible courses of action. Above all, we cannot disregard the tension seething within the ranks of the RCMP, tension which last October or November resulted in Staff Sergeant Gaétan Delisle being ordered not to run for the office of mayor of Saint-Blaise-sur-Richelieu.
We have indeed come to a pretty pass when a police force's headquarters seeks to strip one of its officers of his fundamental right to run as a candidate in a municipal, provincial or federal election. A grievance has been filed. This whole matter will be heard by the trial division of the Federal Court. However, this case, like many others, underscores the prevailing tension.
We are coming very close to restricting individual freedom of expression. In the case of the communiqué released by the member for Charlesbourg, an attempt was made to restrict the freedom of expression of a member of Parliament. This member was brought up before the procedure and House affairs committee and an attempt was made to "do a number" on him, as they say, to intimidate him and to restrict his freedom to freely and democratically voice his sovereignist convictions in an open debate. We have never hidden our true intentions.
The Gingras case, the Delisle case at the RCMP, Bill C-58, Bill C-30, the case of the member for Charlesbourg's communiqué: in all of cases, there is a common denominator, namely an attempt to restrict democratic rights, whether it be the rights of officers of the peace, those of RCMP officers or those of the member for Charlesbourg. To attempt to restrict a member's freedom to voice his opinion about a platform on which he was elected is to take matters too far. That is why we will be voting in favour of the motion at the report stage. We want to have certain provisions stricken from Bill C-30.