Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to this bill. It is an opportunity to reflect on the incredible work that the men and women in the RCMP do. If there is anything this House can agree on, it is the work that front-line officers do in keeping our communities safe and putting their lives on the line.
I had the opportunity, as the public safety and national security critic for the Liberal Party, to visit attachments across the country and talk with officers. I am always amazed by the work they do and the quality people we have been able to attract to the force.
In that regard, I am pleased to stand and speak to the bill and the portions that are supportable. I will also talk about some areas of weakness that need to be examined in committee.
First, it is important to look at the origins of where this bill came from. The hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway, who spoke earlier, talked about the fact that it has been a long time that the RCMP has not unionized. However, what the member left out is that it was not an issue until 2008.
I remember in 2008 when the Prime Minister made a commitment to RCMP officers that they would be given simple parity with other forces, that they would be paid the same for the same job essentially. This was brought forward because there was a real problem with retention and recruitment. The feeling was that they had to be paid the same as other forces that were out there. The Prime Minister gave his word in 2008, shook hands with those RCMP officers who were there and made a speech about how important it was to achieve parity.
Mere months later, that promise was broken. The commitment was tossed out the door and the words soon forgotten. The RCMP were left shocked, bewildered and feeling betrayed. As a result, many felt that the time had come to ask for the right to unionize.
Collective bargaining is a right enjoyed by every other police force in the country. One would assume that when the RCMP members asked for the opportunity to put this to a vote and allow them to decide that the government would have said, of course, as that was their democratic right. However, the government did no such thing. It stood in their way and the matter had to be taken to court.
In April 2009, before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, it found that section 96 of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police regulations breached the freedom of association in accordance with the RCMP under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom. It concluded that the 20,000-plus members of the RCMP did in fact have a right, as did every other police force, to make a decision on whether they wanted collective bargaining and who they wanted as their bargaining agent.
It is not as if this was given freely by the government. The RCMP had to fight for it after the betrayal in 2008.
However, it is not as if the government then pounced upon the finding of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. In fact, we had to wait from that point until June 17, 2010. It was more than a year later before the government then tabled this bill. This bill was tabled in June and yet we are only just now beginning the process of debating it at second reading.
Committees are going on right now and, in fact, I am taking a brief break to speak here before I head back. However, in committee we will be talking about whether we should immediately go to clause by clause on a pardon bill. We have already dealt with half of the bill, which was Bill C-23A, and we will be dealing with Bill C-23B, but the government is attacking us for not passing this bill immediately.
However, if we look at the state of that bill, it is already on the verge of going to clause by clause. The government itself has admitted that the bill is flawed and needs amendments, which we still have not seen, and yet the government is saying that we are holding it up.
Here is a bill that is in front of us that essentially nothing has happened with since June. In fact, nothing really has happened since the court decision in April 2009 and yet government members feel free to stand and attack myself and other members, who are diligently trying to do work at committee, saying that we are not moving those bills fast enough. Obviously this has not been a high priority for the government and, as a result, this matter continues to stick and linger.
I will talk about some of the things that the bill does initiate and some of the things that we support. I also will quickly go through some of the items that are weaknesses in the bill.
If implemented, Bill C-43 would give RCMP members the right of choice whether they want to continue to work in an non-unionized environment or to pursue a unionized option where they would be represented by a certified bargaining agent. Under a unionized scenario, RCMP members would not be able to withdraw their services.
It would further give the RCMP commissioner new powers to appoint, promote, discipline, demote or terminate the employment of all members, including commissioned officers.
On that point, the committee will need to look in more detail at what exactly is the scope of these new powers and how they would be applied. That is an area of some concern. On the first point, just simply giving the choice to members to unionize or not is something that should be taken as a given and something that RCMP members should not have had to fight for over the last number of years.
It would further establish a total compensation advisory committee to provide recommendations to the President of the Treasury Board with recommendations on overall compensation of RCMP members who are not represented by a certified bargaining agent. Under a unionized scenario, this would include RCMP officers, executives and other non-represented or excluded employees of the RCMP.
Further, it would establish a consultation committee to address workplace issues. Through a series of local, divisional, regional and national consultative committees and working groups, members would be given the opportunity to bring their views and concerns directly to managers, either individually or as a group.
It would maintain the existing informal conflict management system whereby options will continue to be offered to resolve conflicts above and beyond the formal grievance process, such as mediation through a third party. The use of these options would be voluntary, confidential and impartial.
It would provide the commissioner the authority to implement a restructured discipline system that would seek to resolve conduct issues transparently, consistently and promptly. RCMP members would have the right to refer certain decisions or actions of management to the Public Service Labour Relations Board, an impartial and external decision-making body.
And it would establish the Public Service Labour Relations Board as an independent, external third party to make final and binding decisions relating to discipline issues and some grievances of RCMP members.
There are many items that have been called for over a long period of time, certainly that Liberals have been pushing for, that are commendable and laudable and can be supported. One of the areas that is concerning and will have to be looked at in committee is provisions in the bill that would limit who the bargaining agent might be. I am not sure what the reason is for those limitations and why they would be put into force, but it is certainly something that would have to be explained and at the moment seems contrary to the spirit of the decision that was made by the Ontario Superior Court.
On the fact that it would limit certain matters to be discussed, I am concerned about limiting the ability to discuss classification of work, how layoffs might happen, and matters dealing with promotions. These are normally things that would be included in the collective bargaining process. It seems unusual that they would be cut out. It would certainly not be in the tradition of other collective bargaining processes enjoyed by other police forces. So that is going to have to be described and given some consideration.
As for the provision for the Treasury Board president to be able to decide who the bargaining agent is for civilian members, there has been no good explanation provided for that and obviously has a number of civilian members scratching their heads and being concerned as to why the government would put that provision in and why that power would be granted to the Treasury Board president. That will need to be looked at in committee.
Further, I am also concerned about the additional powers given to the commissioner. These powers need to be explained more fully. The powers are particularly concerning in the context of things that we have been hearing about within RCMP, about the head of the organization, about the structure at the top of the organization not being in shape relative to the rest of the organization.
In that regard, because it really reflects on the overall issue of morale, recruitment and retention, we have to talk about some of the other things happening within the force. I am going to start with those that have a direct impact on this notion of extending additional powers to the RCMP commissioner.
Let us start with the commission of inquiry conducted by Justice O'Connor. Justice O'Connor found that the oversight mechanisms provided to the RCMP were wholly inadequate. To give an example, the RCMP public complaints commissioner was not empowered to proactively initiate an investigation when something went wrong. He did not have the power to force information from individuals and it could only be provided to him voluntarily.
Also, as many of the operations conducted by the RCMP, particularly those dealing with intelligence and security operations, deal with more than one agency, there is no power to follow the bouncing ball. If something happens within the RCMP, there is no power to see what happened at immigration or what happened at the Canada Border Services Agency, so everything exists in a silo.
The notion of giving the RCMP commissioner additional powers in the absence of having adequate oversight, I think, is deeply troubling. If Justice O'Connor's report was new, the government could be forgiven for not implementing it. However, we are coming up to nearly the five-year mark of Justice O'Connor's report being tabled. The government said it agreed with the conclusions of Justice O'Connor, agreed that those had to be implemented immediately, yet those recommendations still sit collecting dust, with no action taken.
This is particularly concerning given the fact that we saw what happened with Mr. Arar and the terrible ordeal he went through in a Syrian prison.
It was repeated with Mr. Almalki, Mr. Abou-Elmaati and Mr. Nureddin, in the report done by Justice Iacobucci where he repeated the call, the need for these reforms to take place and to have that oversight.
For I and other members to sit in a room where we had a replica of the cell that these gentlemen were confined to, as they told their stories of listening and waiting as footsteps went by, wondering when they were going to be pulled from their cell and tortured next, and knowing that detention and torture had at its heart many failures within the Canadian intelligence system, we would think the government would be urgently trying to remedy that so that these horrific circumstances and the torture that these men went through would not be repeated. Yet here again we have a bill giving the commissioner new powers, with no oversight.
I would remind this House that Paul Kennedy, who was the RCMP public complaints commissioner, also talked about the urgent need of reform within his office. He spoke about the import of some of these changes and oversight. Of course, like anyone who criticized the government, he was fired, ostensibly his contract was not renewed, because of the fact that he was being critical, because he was showing what needed to change, what needed to be done. The government got rid of him, which is a terrible tragedy. This is somebody who did tremendous work.
Who replaced Mr. Kennedy? Essentially, it was a wills and estate lawyer who had made all kinds of contributions to the Conservative Party, who we have never heard from since and I do not suspect we ever will.
It is hard to think of a week that went by where we did not hear from Mr. Kennedy, stepping forward and speaking out on behalf of the changes that needed to happen within the RCMP. Yet, of the new commissioner, we hear essentially nothing, which given his background and connections to the Conservative Party is probably exactly what the government was hoping for.
However, when these voices are killed, these independent voices that shine light into dark corners, that give us an opportunity to know what the truth is and what is going on, the whole process is undermined. Frankly, it is offensive that the government would come and ask to give even more powers to the commissioner in absence of moving forward at all with any of these oversight mechanisms.
It is also important for us to reflect upon the work that was done in the Brown report, in the wake of the RCMP pension scam, where he said there had to be important structural changes happen to the RCMP as an organization. Mr. Brown gave the government two years. He thought it was an aggressive but achievable timeline in which to make those changes. The government did nothing. It did not recommend a single one of Mr. Brown's changes. Despite the fact that it said, yes, it agreed with what he said needed to be done, it did not implement those changes. In fact, some six months ago we celebrated the two-year mark he had given for the changes to be implemented.
So it is not surprising, when we look at this, why we are having some problems within the RCMP in terms of morale. Those brave men and women who are on the front lines doing their job are looking and asking why these changes are not taking place; why is reform not happening at the top of the organization; why is the government consistently ignoring commission after commission, inquiry after inquiry?
The public safety committee has issued many recommendations on this, and it too is ignored. The government's response is, “Yes, we are going to do it”, and then it does not.
We also know that Mr. Kennedy spoke very clearly about the need to take action with respect to conducted energy weapons. The report that he did on the death of Mr. Dziekanski and the lessons that came from there still largely has not been implemented. Most of the recommendations, some of them very simple around providing direct guidelines and direction for use of conducted energy weapons, still sit not implemented.
As an example, in the case of Mr. Dziekanski, who was fired upon multiple times, the second and third time even after he was already subdued and riling on the ground in pain, one simple recommendation would simply be that once somebody is incapacitated, to stop shooting them. It would seem a fairly straightforward thing to be able to implement, yet even that is not there.
We also know with respect to conducted energy weapons that it really needs to be placed into that continuum of force training that happens at depot, yet at depot that does not happen. Right now when they are getting their continuum of force training, conducted energy weapons are not part of the training. They have guns, a stick, and pepper spray, but left out of that continuum is the taser and the question of where exactly in application of force it should be put.
When we reflect upon all of this overwhelming desire for change, all of the self-evident changes that need to happen and the fact that the government continually does not do it, I am completely baffled as to why.
I get asked by many members, if all of these things are so self-evident, if these reports have been done with clear and concise recommendations and timelines and it is made clear how the implementation should happen, why has it not been done?
The latest excuse, when we get an excuse, was that they were waiting for Justice Major's report on Air India. After Justice Major tabled his report some seven or eight months ago, there was a lot of hope that we would finally get movement on all of these things that have been outstanding forever.
Yet last week the government tabled its so-called action plan on Air India and absent from the action plan was any action. Instead of actually moving on all these things that have been standing and waiting to move forever, there were some vague, general aspirational statements that we would have expected the day after Justice Major's report came out. There is still no movement whatsoever on oversight.
In the case of Justice Major's report, where there were a number of new things that were talked about, including somebody who could head up counterterrorism to break through those different silos there, the victims of Air India had to wait all that period of time only to be told that after the government had said six months ago that it would accept the recommendation, it is now tossing it out. Too bad.
When it came to compensation for those families, too bad. Wait and maybe one day they will hear from the government.
If Justice O'Connor's report is any example at all, it has been five years and we are still waiting. I wonder if the Air India families are going to be asking the same kind of questions that Mr. Arar's family is asking five years later, or Mr. Abou-Emaati's or Mr. Almalki's or Mr. Nureddin's.
I will conclude with this. I think it is important that we empower the RCMP to make the choice of whether or not it wants to unionize.
The bill needs to proceed to committee. There are a number of areas that are weak. However, I would call upon the government, for the sake of the RCMP, this national symbol that is in desperate need of renewal, with Canadians really calling out and begging for the government to make the changes that do service to the organization, that it act on what has been asked of it and move on what needs to be done, not just on this but on all outstanding matters.