Madam Chair, my comments this evening will deal more specifically with the services provided by the RCMP in the regions and will, of course, refer to the closure of the nine RCMP detachments in Quebec.
First, I would like to thank those who were with us in the previous Parliament and who were actively involved in this issue, namely Diane St-Jacques, for Shefford, David Price, for Compton—Stanstead, and Gérard Binet, for Mégantic—L'Érable. I thank my former colleagues who brought this issue to the forefront, in an attempt to avoid these closures at the time.
We saw what has happened since. The RCMP commissioner decided to close nine detachments in various regions of Quebec. It is important to understand that when the RCMP is present in a region, it must work with municipal police forces and with the provincial police force, including the Sûreté du Québec. A few years ago, I attended a meeting with officers from the RCMP, the Sûreté du Québec and various municipal police forces. They told us that, in order for the various police forces to work together, there has to be some chemistry between them. It is not just a matter of sending a couple of officers from Montreal to meet with their counterparts in a region, thinking that everything will be just fine. That is not how things work.
There is also the deterrence issue. How can we have a deterrent effect in rural areas? By ensuring that police officers are present. Someone who drives along the road but never sees an officer will be tempted to drive a little faster than the speed limit. It is the same in any other area. When the police are not visible, it is an indication to criminals that they can take advantage of the situation.
This is, I think, a very harmful consequence of the decision made by the RCMP commissioner to close these nine regional detachments in Quebec.
I feel quite justified talking about this issue, since there are 10 border crossings in my riding, but no RCMP detachment. The closest detachment is located in Granby and serves the 10 border stations in my riding.
One other element of police presence is that it can be part of the community and thus be aware of what is going on. For example, the little regional papers in my riding recently listed properties that had been sold for three times their municipal assessment value. According to real estate agents, what is more, these were cash transactions. If the police or RCMP were located in the area, they might see these reports and it would shorten their investigations.
Police are a very important presence in the regions. I am not the only one to think that. The Minister of Public Security and Emergency Preparedness said the following in her speech in honour of the four officers killed in Alberta recently.
These four officers served their community, but they were alsopart of the community. I have been struck, listening to the commentsof residents in the area, by how everyone has mentioned that thesefour men were not only police officers carrying out their officialfunctions, but they were very much part of the daily lives of localresidents. They were actively involved in local charitable events andrecreational activities
This is another hallmark of the force. To do their jobs, its membersbecome, and want to become, part of the communities in which theyserve.
Our Minister of Public Security and Emergency Preparedness said that on March 7.
A few days later, on March 10, our Governor General, Her Excellency the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson said the following:
I have visited, in the last five and a half years, hundreds of these small towns and villages. In the north and all across Canada, it is wonderfully obvious how the local RCMP detachments contribute to the well-being and mutual understanding of their fellow citizens. Local newspapers print a welcoming article when a new constable comes to town; in Mayerthorpe and district, people were almost as likely to see an officer at the grocery store or a playing field as in uniform.
Those two testimonials are a clear illustration of how important it is to have the RCMP in the regions.
Let us take a look at the drug problems faced by our regions. More specifically in my riding, about one year ago, a mayor told me he was going to take his combine and run it through the fields of his 50 or so local clients. He asked me to guess in how many of these 50 fields traces of marijuana could be found; there were 45. That is insane. At a time when we are confronted with this renewed increase in marijuana production, a decision is made to move the RCMP out of our regions. I do not understand the rationale behind that, I do not understand it at all.
I also mentioned the 10 border crossings in my riding. A few years ago, a U.S. congressional committee, namely the Judiciary Committee’ssubcommittee on drugs, toured border crossings, and I met with its members. At the end of our discussion, the congressmen asked me this little question that said it all, “What about your Quebec gold?”
Clearly, the Americans are very aware of the fact that there are individuals in our regions who grow marijuana with total impunity. That does not make any sense.
Recently, we have been told that the problem had spread beyond high schools, to elementary schools, where pushers are now operating. That does not make any sense. The police have to be present and visible in our regions.
Some might argue that this is not part of the RCMP's mandate. As for the Sûreté du Québec, one must understand that, in Quebec, several municipal police forces have been amalgamated with the Sûreté du Québec. In addition, the mayors are complaining about inadequate presence of the Sûreté du Québec in their towns or cities. Therefore, I think that the RCMP has a major role to play, complementing that of the Sûreté du Québec and the municipal police services.
As for security, how many roads crossing the border are not guarded by customs officers? This evening, I want to pay tribute to all the RCMP officers who testified just how important it was for them to stay in the regions, despite the fact that the top brass wanted to take them out of the regions and send them to offices in Montreal or elsewhere. I also want to pay tribute to all these customs officers who do such an extraordinary job. However, this work is not supported by the RCMP but it should be to a much greater extent.
I want to give an example. In Noyan, in my riding, there is what is called an unguarded road. A customs office is located in a particular spot, but 500 metres away is an unguarded road. A small sign along this paved road advises that travellers must stop and report to the customs office down the road. People rarely make the detour and stop in to report to the other customs office.
The customs officers are therefore powerless, because we do not have what the Americans on the other side have, which are border patrols. We do not have this system. Previously, the RCMP patrolled the borders but it no longer does because the border stations have been closed and the resources reallocated.
Nine RCMP detachments are closed in Baie-Comeau, Coaticook, Granby, Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Joliette, Lac-Mégantic, Rivière-du-Loup, Roberval and Saint-Hyacinthe. All the local and municipal elected officials have told us it does not make sense to close these RCMP detachments. The public has said the same thing.
This evening, I am appealing to RCMP Commissioner Zaccardelli. I do not know if he is still watching at this hour—it is 11:15 p.m. I call upon him, if he is watching, to listen to the public and the elected representatives of Quebec who are asking him to keep these nine RCMP detachments open.
Recently, in committee, Commissioner Zaccardelli said that a police officer used to be able to process roughly 15 cases a year. Then he added that now they have changed their methods and it takes 15 police officers to handle one case. I do not get it.
When I came here as an MP 10 years ago, I was told it was important to see the police. It was important for the police to be seen. This is a complete about-face. I simply do not get it.
I invite Commissioner Zaccardelli to come to my riding. I invite him to visit the border crossings and to speak to the mayors in the hope that, at some point, common sense will prevail.