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House of Commons Hansard #146 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was regard.

Topics

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will continue in the same vein. Can the minister explain how a commission that makes recommendations that are not binding can have enough teeth to truly change the corporate culture of the RCMP?

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Conservative Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, as I have indicated, processes alone will not solve the problem, and attitudes need to change. This proposal, in respect of the harassment process, would facilitate the timely and effective prevention, investigation and resolution of harassment issues and address the serious concerns being expressed by RCMP employees and the public. The proposed legislation, together with the process in respect of harassment, would provide the commissioner with the authority to establish a single, seamless and comprehensive investigation and resolution process for harassment complaints against members.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the minister for his comments on Bill C-42. I would like to revisit a question that one of my Conservative colleagues raised earlier. I do not think a full answer was provided. Apparently consultations about this bill were held this summer before it was introduced.

May we have more information about the associations, members or people who were consulted in the lead-up to Bill C-42?

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Conservative Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, for clarification, the bill was put forward prior to the summer. The summer was a good time for me to get the reaction of RCMP members from British Columbia to Newfoundland and Labrador and of civilians who were under the jurisdiction of the RCMP. I thought their reaction was good, but if the member believes there are changes that need to be made and that further consultation needs to take place, I would like to hear from her.

We will be hearing from witnesses at the end of second reading to ensure that we understand fully the implications of the bill and how it will be acted upon by the RCMP. However, generally speaking, the reaction was a very positive one.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-42. I could not agree more with the minister when he said that we should have had this legislation in the House much sooner. There is an urgency for the public in terms of confidence in the RCMP. There is an issue for the RCMP rank and file members who are working in a workplace climate that is often not supportive of the difficult and dangerous work they do. It is also important to the RCMP leadership that is charged with the task of making those necessary changes.

We on this side find much to agree with in this bill and the reasons for undertaking reform of the RCMP Act. In the preamble it talks about many things which we can agree with. First and foremost is the necessity to restore the confidence of Canadians in our international police force.

The RCMP has long provided excellent service to Canadians from coast to coast to coast but over the previous years, dating back to the Liberal government, we have had increasing questions about incidents involving use of force where public confidence has waned in the RCMP. That is a problem not just for the public but for the serving members in the RCMP.

The bill's second purpose as stated is to promote transparency and public accountability in law enforcement. Again, we could not agree more that this is essential if we are going to meet that first objective which is to restore public confidence in the RCMP. The only way to do that is through enhanced transparency and public accountability.

The third reason for reforming the RCMP Act, which is stated in the bill's preamble, deals with the relationship with provincial, regional and municipal governments that hold contracts with the RCMP. They have entered into those contracts in good faith but often feel that they do not have adequate input into the policing in their jurisdictions or adequate accountability measures for the RCMP when they have questions about what has happened in those jurisdictions.

A fourth measure, as stated in the preamble of the bill, is to promote the highest levels of conduct within the RCMP. This, of course, is a goal that is shared by governments, RCMP members and the public at large. We know that day in and day out virtually all RCMP members strive to meet those levels of conduct. However, we need clear statements of what happens when those levels of conducts are not met with clear consequences and procedures that would also protect the rights of RCMP members who have dedicated themselves to the service of Canadians so that they do not find themselves subject to arbitrary procedures as part of discipline.

Finally, the bill's preamble states that we need to reform this legislation to create a framework for ongoing reform so that we do not find ourselves in this situation again 25 years later where government after government, Liberal and Conservative, have failed to address these questions and failed to provide leadership on these issues.

We in the official opposition can agree on the goals expressed in this legislation and I believe we can go further. We can even agree on the key areas for action identified in the summary of the bill. Although, the bill's summary counts the areas of action as only two vital areas, I would count them as three.

We on this side agree that there needs to be action to strengthen the RCMP review and complaints body. The RCMP Public Complaints Commission has provided a valuable service but we have concerns about its full independence and its ability to oversee independent investigations.

Second, we believe there needs to be a framework to handle investigation of serious incidents involving members, incidents that involve death or serious injury, which will help enhance transparency. In this day and age, the public has said very clearly that it does not accept that the police investigate themselves in these very serious incidents. We believe that independent investigation not only benefits public confidence but it also benefits those who serve in the RCMP by guaranteeing that the public will understand the outcome of those investigations and where their names are cleared they will be cleared once and for all.

Finally, there needs to be action in the area of modernizing discipline, grievance and human resource management processes. The minister has cited anecdotal evidence of things that take way too long and we all know that is true. However, what is lacking is clear guidance for RCMP members of what those standards are and how failure of those standards will be dealt with in a judicious and fair manner. In addition, when RCMP members have grievances they need to have the understanding that their concerns can be brought forward in a timely manner and that those grievances can be resolved and not drag on for years and years.

We do agree on the areas in which we need to make reforms to the RCMP Act. In particular, we believe it is crucial to allow the RCMP commissioner reforms in the area of discipline to deal with the climate of sexual harassment that exists in the RCMP. We would like to see leadership from the government in mandating the commissioner to bring in a clear anti-harassment policy and a clear process that contains specific standards of behaviour with regard to sexual harassment and specific criteria for evaluating the performance of all employees in this very important area.

However, having said how much we agree with the objectives of this legislation and that we agree with the areas that need to be reformed, I have not risen in the House today simply to present bouquets to the minister. We in the opposition have our concerns, both about government inaction by the Liberals and the Conservatives and government inaction in particular in the area of transparency and accountability.

The present government has been in power since 2006 and, yes, it inherited a record of inaction from the previous Liberal government. However, it has been six years, three ministers and two RCMP commissioners and we are just now embarking on the process to reform this legislation so we can get measures that make a real difference in the performance and work lives of RCMP members now in 2012. In the meantime, we have had more than 200 women members of the RCMP join lawsuits alleging sexual harassment within the RCMP. We also have had an ongoing series of problems with loss of public confidence in the RCMP in investigations of serious incidents like the death of Robert Dziekanski.

We have wasted valuable time and we have had numerous studies that presented solutions to these problems. We had the task force, which was appointed by the government, and I give it credit for doing so, that reported back in 2007, nearly five years ago, with important proposals for reforming the culture of the RCMP, discipline of the RCMP and important recommendations on the Public Complaints Commission. We had an internal review, completed in 2008, of the process of using independent observers in police investigations of themselves. We had the recommendations from Mr. Justice O'Connor in the Maher Arar inquiry with regard to the national security activities of the RCMP in 2006. Most recently, we had recommendations from the former Public Complaints commissioner, Paul Kennedy, both on investigations of serious incidents, which were tabled in 2009, and when he appeared before the justice committee in January of last year to give recommendations on increasing the independence of the job that he used to hold. So there is no shortage of advice available.

However, in a question that I asked earlier to the minister, it is unclear why the government chose to pick only certain recommendations and certain pieces of all these reports. It is hard to see the overall theme that guides this legislation.

We have said that leadership from the government is required but that means more than just legislation. Therefore, I cannot let this opportunity go by without pointing out some of the things that the government has done in the area of the RCMP and the Public Complaints Commission. Just the past week, the government issued lay-off notices to two staff members at the RCMP Public Complaints Commission. When we are in the midst of reforming this and when that commission is in the midst of a massive study of the sexual harassment complaints that have taken place in the RCMP, why has the government chosen to lay off two staff members at the Public Complaints Commission in the midst of this crisis over sexual harassment that the commission was attempting to address?

Also in the last week we saw lay-off notices given to 149 support staff members of the RCMP across the country, including 42 support staff in British Columbia alone. These people provide important services in helping the RCMP do its job on a daily basis. These are not uniformed members who received the lay-off notices but people who work everywhere from the forensic labs to personnel, recruiting and in all the other very important functions that support the basic police duties of the RCMP.

When it comes to the Public Complaints Commission and the RCMP, the government has been following a peculiar practice. When Mr. Kennedy produced his strong recommendations on investigations, the response of the government was to fail to reappoint him to the job. Having appointed him in 2005 and giving him annual reappointments every year, when his very strong recommendations came out, suddenly he was no longer its first choice for the job as the Public Complaints commissioner.

The new interim commissioner, Ian McPhail, was initially given a one-year term as interim chair and now has been appointed again for another year. I am emphasizing the single year because we are talking about someone who should have independence from the government in doing the job of providing civilian oversight of the RCMP. How can someone do that with any confidence when at the end of every year he or she could lose their job? While I am encouraged that the new legislation talks about a term of up to five years for the new chair of the civilian review agency, I am concerned that the government will continue its practice of making only annual appointments, which gives it far too much power over what should be an independent commissioner.

While we believe that Bill C-42 does deal with issues of urgent public concern about the RCMP, we on this side of the House will be supporting the bill at second reading in order to move the bill to committee. I was very pleased to hear the minister say in his opening remarks that he was open to amendments to the bill at committee. We look forward to seeing all kinds of witnesses come forward at committee, witnesses who have previously provided advice to the minister, although he was unable to name any of them specifically today. We hope to see them called as witnesses at committee so we can hear from them about whether the ways the government has chosen to address these issues are the right measures.

While we agree with Commissioner Paulson that legislation alone is not enough, we do need to produce the optimum legislation at this time. That will require extensive amendments to the bill at committee. We believe a positive aspect is that of giving the commissioner power to create one process to deal with the issue of sexual harassment. We understand there are competing RCMP and Treasury Board guidelines, which have created a great deal of confusion within the force. It is a positive measure, but we have some serious concerns about the independence of a new civilian review agency. There are restrictions on its ability to undertake independent investigations. I have already raised the issue of the length of the term for the chair of that commission.

As I mentioned briefly, we also have a concern that the disciplinary reforms needed in the RCMP because of the lengthy and complicated process involved should not err too much on the other side. The RCMP operates in a non-union environment. Many of the rank and file members of the RCMP we talked to over the summer expressed a concern that where they do not have an organization to advocate on their behalf as individuals, there needs to be balance in the disciplinary process so they are not subject to arbitrary dismissal when they have devoted their lives to helping and serving all Canadians.

Therefore, we will be talking at committee on how to ensure there is a balance in the disciplinary process. We agree that it needs to be streamlined and improved, but the government's solution seems to be to concentrate more and more arbitrary power in the hands of the minister. We remain concerned that we get a chance to explore fully at committee what those disciplinary processes would look like and how people's rights as employees would be protected in a non-union environment.

I find the minister's excuse for the most recent delays in introducing the bill, namely waiting for a court decision on whether the RCMP has the right to unionize, a bit weak. It was obviously possible to bring the bill forward with a previous section of Bill C-38 omitted. However, I hope we will have some discussion of the issue of whether or not having a union in the RCMP might be a good way to address some of these outstanding issues, particularly in the area of sexual harassment where people often need an advocate in the workplace to approach management, especially if management is part of the problem. People need someone to approach management and advocate on their behalf. We might not be in the situation we are in today with more than 200 women filing lawsuits against the RCMP if we had a more conducive work environment and a better way of making sure that individual members had advocates on their behalf in the RCMP.

I want to touch on some of the reports that have been issued and what we believe should be addressed at committee. The 2006 report of the Justice O'Connor inquiry into the actions of Canadian officials in relation to Maher Arar called for Parliament to create an RCMP watchdog along the lines of the Security Intelligence Review Committee. It already monitors CSIS but would also have the right to audit RCMP files and activities and have the power to subpoena related documents and compel testimony. The present complaints commission does not have enough powers over the RCMP's national security activities.

Thus, while we are glad to see provisions in the bill that would increase those powers, given the causes behind the creation of CSIS, we have a question about the RCMP recreating an arm that would undertake national security activities that would appear to operate without adequate parliamentary oversight. That is a question that we will be addressing in committee.

The report filed in 2007 by the Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP proposed reforms to establish the RCMP as a separate entity from government, with separate employer status. That was a very interesting proposal that appears nowhere in this bill. I would like to know why the government, having appointed this commission of eminent persons with expertise to suggest solutions to the problems in the RCMP, including a former commissioner of the RCMP, a vice-admiral of the Canadian Navy, a very prominent Canadian corporate lawyer, and a member of the Alberta Law Enforcement Review Board, set aside a major recommendation of theirs. That is a question for which I would like to hear the government's answer.

In addition to the idea of having separate employer status for the RCMP, many groups in the past have suggested that there needs to be some kind of civilian input mechanism for the RCMP, perhaps only at the national level, but maybe also at the regional level.

While municipalities have boards that provide civilian guidance and control over their police forces and that provide insulation from the local politicians, we have nothing like that in the RCMP. Accordingly, we have had proposals that we create an independent management board, which again came from the 2007 report, which would give Canadians the confidence that the government cannot interfere directly in the activities of the RCMP and cannot give so-called advice to the commissioner, who has to report directly to the minister.

We are depending here upon the integrity of the minister and the integrity of the RCMP commissioner to protect the independence of policing, and reports have often recommended that it would be better to create a structural impediment to that kind of interference than simply depending on the integrity and goodwill of the people occupying those positions.

I am not questioning either the integrity of the minister or of the RCMP commissioner, but the public has to have confidence that independence is there. When those relations go on in private and they are direct reporting relationship, it is difficult for the public to have that confidence in the independence of the RCMP.

Many provisions in Bill C-42 are similar to those in Bill C-38. I would just like to mention a brief comment by Paul Kennedy, the former RCMP public complaints commissioner, that Bill C-38 was so riddled with loopholes that it did not meet the standards necessary to guarantee independence of policing.

Again, here is someone appointed by the Conservatives to the position of public complaints commissioner who presented reports to them on the kinds of reforms that needed to be brought forward. He had serious concerns about what was happening in Bill C-38 and would, I am sure, have those same concerns when it comes to Bill C-42 given that many of the sections remain the same.

With the very limited amount of time I have to conclude my remarks, I would like to say that we do understand the urgency for action here. It is not our goal in this debate to delay these reforms to RCMP accountability and transparency, but it is important that we get them right. We must get them right in terms of public confidence; we must get them right in terms of the careers of individual RCMP members; and we must get them right to give Commissioner Paulson the powers and the abilities he needs to take care of some very serious problems in the workplace climate involving sexual harassment inside the RCMP.

We have one chance to get this right. I am hoping to work co-operatively with the government. Again, as I said, the minister said he would welcome discussion of amendments in the committee, and so we will be putting forward those kinds of amendments.

Finally, I would stress the importance of both the independence of the RCMP from government and the independence of investigations into RCMP conduct from the government and the RCMP, and also the independence of the commissioner, who really ought to be the chair of this new civilian agency and report to Parliament rather than to the minister of the day.

These are the kinds of concerns that New Democrats will be raising at committee.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his excellent remarks on this important issue, as it is obviously something that we in the NDP have been fighting for. While we are glad to see the government take leadership, as my colleague noted, it has been a long time coming.

I would like to focus on the question of the RCMP's response to sexual harassment in the force. I heard the minister's remarks, which very rarely referenced what is not only a national concern but also a level of crisis among many women working in the force, as well as to a lot of women across Canada who are asking what is going on within our national police force and are wanting to see national leadership on this.

Yes, this legislation is a response to some of it, but it by no means is an exhaustive or proactive response to what is a very serious issue both for the RCMP and Canadians. I would like to ask my colleague how he feels about this need for focus and the kind of leadership we would like to see from the government when it comes to standing up for women in the RCMP, all RCMP officers and a general approach to gender equality in our country.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, there are two further concerns in the area of sexual harassment. One of them is that the RCMP commissioner has launched a gender audit within the RCMP to determine what kinds of problems he is going to need to address. We are going ahead with the legislation in the absence of the results from that audit. Therefore, I am hoping that when we go to committee we will be able to get at least some interim advice from the commissioner on what he has found in those areas. This could help guide the government in providing real leadership in ending sexual harassment within the RCMP and sending a signal to the broader Canadian society and young women who might want to join the RCMP about the confidence they can have. I do feel that we will have a crisis in recruiting women in the force if we do not address this.

The second concern is that the public complaints commission has launched an investigation into sexual harassment within the RCMP and we are now replacing that commission with a new body. One of the questions that New Democrats will be asking in committee is what are the succession plans to allow the commission to complete its work on sexual harassment. Again, we are hoping to have some interim indications to help guide us in committee.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca for his excellent speech and for doing such a terrific job of summarizing what Bill C-42 is all about.

Like the minister did in his opening remarks, my colleague talked about a number of amendments the committee would be able to make. Can he talk about the kind of amendments he would like to add to this bill to flesh it out and make it tougher on harassment in the RCMP?

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member raises a very serious question on how we can actually make the legislation provide the kinds of things the RCMP commissioner needs to take action on sexual harassment.

In terms of the timing of the bill, one of the curious things is that the minister had the courtesy to inform me that there were translation errors in the text of the bill. If it has taken this long to get the bill into the House of Commons it is a bit odd to receive a letter from the minister saying the bill will have to be corrected.

Apart from those housekeeping things, New Democrats will be talking about the kinds of amendments that would ensure a balanced disciplinary procedure, greater independence for investigations and greater independence for those who serve on the new civilian review body that is being created under the legislation.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I asked the minister a question, but I found his answer unsatisfactory, so I would like to ask my colleague the same question.

Many people have said that the RCMP has fundamental problems and that the recommendations of the commission mentioned in the bill are not binding.

How can such a commission, which has no teeth whatsoever, solve these fundamental problems?

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, this is part on which Paul Kennedy, the former public complaints commissioner, made very strong statements. His view was that in his time in the job, which amounted to five years, he felt he needed greater powers to make binding recommendations.

It goes back to this kind of nexus of relationships between the commissioner and the minister and the commission, which is supposed to hold them accountable. Both the commission, which is supposed to do the accountability, and the commissioner report to the minister, so there is no clear hierarchy of someone who can make recommendations that will have to be carried out.

The reports from the commission, even the new commission that is proposed, that have to come to Parliament are only annual reports. Therefore, with any interim reports with recommendations in them, the minister can choose whether to forward those to Parliament for debate.

We are left with a situation that I believe lacks the true independence we need in the civilian oversight of the RCMP.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague just spoke about the independence of the RCMP. This reminded me that Bill C-42 is partly based on Bill C-38, which was introduced in a previous Parliament.

Both bills propose similar things. For example, this type of bill would once again enable the RCMP to conduct investigations itself in certain circumstances. For example, the bill proposes that each province be able to choose the organization responsible for investigating the RCMP; if no organization is able to do so, the RCMP itself will investigate.

I would like to ask my NDP colleague what he thinks about this piecemeal system within the RCMP. Does he not think that this type of system would undermine Canadians' trust in the RCMP?

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member has asked a very interesting question.

We have seen a regrettable tendency by the government across the board to shed responsibilities and pass them down to the provinces. The RCMP is in fact our national police force. If Canadians are to have confidence in the RCMP, it seems that the buck has to stop at the national level which should quit trying to push these responsibilities down to the provincial level. That is a great concern in the bill and one that we will address in committee.

Like the minister, the hon. member, my associate critic, and I fanned out across the country. I know the member for Alfred-Pellan met with the Canadian Police Association. She also met with the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs. I attended the annual meetings of the Canadian Association of Police Boards. In all those meetings with all of those people we found serious concerns, not that the government was heading in the wrong direction or addressing the wrong problems but with some serious concerns about the measures contained in the bill to address those problems.

Once again, we will look to the committee process to make amendments to the bill, which are quite significant in terms of independence of investigation, independence of oversight and to give the commissioner balanced disciplinary powers and the powers he needs to address sexual harassment.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is a good bill to start us off this fall in the House, and I am pleased to participate in this debate.

To start, I would like to talk more generally about the actions of police forces by sharing with members an incident I witnessed this summer.

I stopped at a Tim Hortons restaurant in my riding to get a coffee and work on my work plan. When I entered, there were three people seated at a table: two women and a man. After some time it became clear that the third person did not really know the other two. This third person was a woman in her twenties. She had her head in her hands and was crying. She was obviously very upset. This went on rather quietly for about 15 minutes. Then, two SPVM—Service de police de la Ville de Montréal—police officers walked in. They started to speak to the woman who was obviously upset, and took her outside. There was a long discussion that lasted a good 30 minutes. The police officers were extremely professional. They were very compassionate towards this woman. They asked her questions. This woman may have been suicidal or on drugs, or she may have been going through a psychological crisis. Eventually an ambulance arrived and the police officers helped the woman lie down on a stretcher. The ambulance obviously took her to the hospital.

I shared this story as an example of how wonderful and professional our police forces are, and how patient and attentive they are when they are helping individuals or facing a situation that could turn out badly.

This exemplary conduct on the part of Montreal's finest should not surprise anyone.

I know we are talking about misconduct of police officers, and specifically officers within the RCMP, but I think for every one incident of alleged misconduct or questionable behaviour by the police, there are thousands of incidences every day in the country, like the one I described, in which officers acted in a manner consistent with the highest professional standards, in a manner faithful to their lengthy and rigorous training and in keeping with the highest ideals of service to the community, the same ideals that led them to seek a career in law enforcement in the first place.

On a personal level, the police officers I know in my community are individuals of the highest integrity. They are committed to public service. I think of Roberto Del Pappa, the community relations officer at station 1 in my riding. I think of Paul Dufort, a detective for many years, a gentleman who had a career as a detective with the Montreal police prior to being elected city councillor in my hometown of Kirkland. I think of Michel Lecompte, now retired, but for many years a stalwart presence in Montreal's West Island community as commander of station 1.

There are many police officers serving in the House in a new capacity as elected representatives of the same people they once served as peace officers. I take this opportunity to salute their previous contributions to Canada in their role as members of various police forces.

It is true that what I described did not specifically involve the RCMP, and we are talking about the RCMP's problems today. However, all peace officers are pretty much cut from the same cloth. They are all members of the same family, life members of a true honour society, what used to be called a “brotherhood” before women joined the forces to serve in the same capacity as men and provide the diversity necessary in any public institution that aims to earn and keep the trust, respect and support of the general population.

I came to understand the deep and special bonds that existed within the police community through a friend of mine, the Honourable George Springate, who is now a senior citizenship judge. Many members in the House may have heard of him. He started his career as a policeman and then became a place-kicker for the Montreal Alouettes and helped win the Grey Cup in 1970. After that, he became a lawyer and afterward was head of the police technology program at John Abbott College in my riding. He has been a citizenship judge for a number of years now, doing an exemplary job giving the oath to new citizens. I have come to understand that Judge Springate knows every police officer in the country. Every time he runs into a police officer, somehow he seems to know him or her. Whether it is an RCMP agent or a member of other police forces or municipal police forces, he makes us realize that it is one big community of individuals, men and women, serving society.

It is true that there is some cynicism in our society toward police officers. Even when I was at that Tim Hortons this summer and the police officers were dealing with the situation at hand in an exceptionally professional and noble way, there were people in the coffee shop who somehow thought they were using too much force, which was absolutely not the case. Therefore, there is a level of cynicism toward the police. Obviously, to some extent this bill is intended to reassure the public that our RCMP officers are behaving properly.

However, I would like to suggest that this cynicism is really surface deep. Fundamentally, Canadians truly trust their police officers and feel they are there to maintain order and to do the best in upholding the public good. We just have to think for a moment that everyone here who might have kids probably would have given them the following advice: “If ever you're in trouble, lost or you need some help and there's a police officer around, go to the police officer”. A public that is cynical toward the forces of law and order would not say that to their children.

Also, we all know how much more comfortable we feel if we are in a situation where there is or the potential of a disturbance when we see a police officer not far away. If we see someone speeding on the highway and we just happen to see a police car not far away, we somehow feel much more secure. That means we really fundamentally do appreciate the work of our police forces.

This does not mean that police forces always operate in a perfect way or that reform is not required. Police forces are human creations. They are human constructs and human institutions. As a result, their management structures, procedures and operations are a function of legislation that is created by legislators. Sometimes some reform is required. The system is not perfect and changes need to be brought, especially as society evolves. Fundamentally, Bill C-42 is about changing procedures so that inappropriate behaviours can be dealt with effectively and decisively by the RCMP's internal disciplinary mechanisms. However, it is also about changing RCMP culture.

Organizational cultures communicate signals about what is expected, about what is tolerated and, conversely, about what is not tolerated. I would suspect that, as in any organization, the vast majority of RCMP officers' core personal ethics guide them instinctively toward appropriate behaviour, both as citizens and in their role as police officers.

At the other extreme, there are no doubt those who require clearer signals from the surrounding environment and corporate culture to inform them of what behaviour is acceptable and what behaviour is not.

The RCMP's internal disciplinary structures, policies and procedures must clarify, even simplify, those signals so that expected standards of conduct for a federal police officer are clearly communicated. Obviously, this has not always been the case. One simply has to look at the disciplinary process within the RCMP at the moment to understand how complex it is. It is really hard to wrap one's mind around the various aspects of that system.

Maybe this is one of the reasons why there have been some incidents over the last few years involving the RCMP; for example, the Maher Arar case where matters were not properly dealt with, where the RCMP took some false information to American authorities that resulted in Mr. Arar's imprisonment and torture.

Maybe it is the current system and its failure to communicate properly the inherent, solid values of the RCMP that has led officers to go astray in other ways. For example, in 2004 the RCMP raided the home and office of Ottawa Citizen reporter Juliet O'Neill. Soon thereafter, the Ontario Court of Justice ruled that the sections of the Security of Information Act used by the RCMP violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Somewhere there is a problem in communicating, to some officers anyway, what is expected in standards of behaviour. The court also found that the issuance and execution of the warrants in that case constituted an abuse of process by the RCMP and ordered that they be quashed.

Then in 2007, David Brown, a former head of the Ontario Securities Commission, released his report on allegations that senior RCMP officers covered up problems in the administration of the force's pension and insurance fund. He did not find an issue of cover-up, just mismanagement, saying the force requires major changes to its governance and culture: “We need fundamental cultural, structural and governance changes throughout the RCMP”. He went on to say that the RCMP structure and culture “is completely at odds with the reality of running a $3 billion enterprise”.

Today we are debating a bill that is intended to bring some reform, some clarity and perhaps some simplification to disciplinary procedures and other related procedures within the RCMP so they are clearly understood by RCMP officers.

In regard to the bill, we are especially pleased that the government has finally given in on something Liberals have been seeking for a long time: a civilian complaints commission with the power to compel witnesses to give evidence, to review the RCMP's compliance with legislation and regulations and to appoint civilian observers to assess the impartiality of criminal investigations.

One of my colleagues raised this point somewhat in a tangential way a moment ago in her question to the NDP critic. Yes, provincial police forces will be empowered, and I believe they are empowered at the moment, to investigate situations of potential or alleged misconduct by RCMP officers. However, the new complaints commission or complaints office, the name of which escapes me at this moment, will have the power to review investigations to see if they were truly impartial and will also have the power to call witnesses.

That is an important safeguard. Whether it is a perfect mechanism, we will see in committee. We will hear differing opinions on that, no doubt, and we will produce amendments as a result.

The RCMP is an iconic and thus powerful symbol for Canadians, but its identification with Canada and our Canadian values of order and good government is also international. If I am not mistaken, the RCMP or mounted police, as it is known, is the most identifiable symbol of Canada in the world outside our borders. We must restore that symbol's polish not so much to maintain the global community's esteem for Canada, though that is desirable, but more important, so that Canadians can have the confidence they require that our country's laws are being respected by those who enforce them and that the peace officers who work to uphold that respect are carrying out their duties with integrity. In other words, that the values that they represent are real and that there is no double standard in living and applying those values. That is why this bill is important. That is why we must get its detailed provisions right. We cannot afford, as a committee, as a Parliament, to slip up on this important task before us.

I look forward to participating in the study of Bill C-42 in committee and working with my colleagues in amending it where necessary. I sincerely hope that government members on committee will be open to suggestions from the opposition. The government probably has its own point of view of what needs to be amended, but I sincerely hope the government listens to the debate because these debates sometimes uncover issues that people who prepared the bill did not foresee, people within the department or ministers of cabinet. That is going to be an important part of this process, and I hope the government takes advantage of the committee process to make the bill better.

Finally, it is unfortunate that it took a letter from new RCMP Commissioner Robert Paulson underscoring the need for urgent reform before the government saw fit to act. It is also unfortunate, quite frankly, that it took some high profile sexual harassment cases to encourage the government to act.

We Liberals obviously wish to assist the new commissioner in the mandate he has been given to reform the RCMP's structures, disciplinary processes and ultimately its culture and credibility with Canadians. We are looking forward to working on the bill at committee. We will obviously be supporting it at second reading.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, more than 200 women have now come forward in a class action lawsuit regarding sexual harassment in the RCMP. As members know, we on this side of the House have been pushing the minister for months now to prioritize the issue of sexual harassment in the RCMP.

One of the things Bill C-42 does not directly address is the systemic issues in the culture of the RCMP. The bill by itself would not change the current climate in the RCMP. In fact, for me, there is one glaring omission in the bill.

Nowhere in the bill, or anywhere else for that matter, has the minister mandated the adoption of a clear anti-harassment policy in the RCMP, one that contains specific standards for behaviour and specific criteria for evaluating the performance of all employees. It is obvious to me that such a policy is needed to serve as a basis for a fair and disciplined process.

I was interested in the member's remarks on the topic of sexual harassment in the RCMP, but I note that when the Liberals were in government they did not create such a policy. I wonder whether he would indicate to me now whether he would be supportive of adopting a sexual harassment policy in the RCMP.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

September 17th, 2012 / 1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Of course we would, Mr. Speaker. I sincerely believe that everyone in the House would like to see an up-to-date and rigorous sexual harassment policy in the RCMP.

One of the other concerns I have about the bill, which relates to the point that the hon. member raised, is that so much is being left to future regulation. We ran into a similar situation when the committee was studying private member's bill C-293. That bill lays out a framework, but the details are to come later.

It is important that at committee perhaps the RCMP could table a model sexual harassment policy, one in which it would commit to putting in regulations, perhaps, but one to which it would commit today, publicly, as being the one it would live by.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, in any large organization that one is managing, it is impossible, very inefficient and very expensive to try to micro-manage and keep track of what every single person in that large institution is doing. That is why it is so important, at a senior management level, to take control of the culture of an organization that one is managing.

My question to my hon. colleague is whether or not this bill reassures him and makes him believe that change in culture will occur at the RCMP.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am hopeful. I do think there needs to be more detail. We need to know more about the kinds of structures that will be created.

However, we do know that the commissioner will be given more latitude to reward well-performing officers and to discipline those who fall short of expected standards of behaviour. This is a positive development. It is a desire to cut through bureaucratic disciplinary systems that have probably evolved over a long period of time but have never truly been simplified or rationalized.

I hope the commissioner will exercise his new latitude decisively and wisely, thereby helping to transform the culture. However, we need more detail about why the current system does not work and about what the government plans to put in its stead.

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1:15 p.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis.

My colleague from Hamilton Mountain asked an excellent question about what is going on with the class action lawsuit regarding sexual harassment brought forward by nearly 200 women against their employer, the RCMP.

It is crucial that we create an anti-harassment policy, and Bill C-42 presents the perfect opportunity to do just that: to create a policy that will transform the unhealthy environment that reigns within the RCMP.

Since this has been going on for years, my colleague likely knew that harassment that existed when he was in government.

Now that they agree that an anti-harassment policy is needed, why did they not do something about it when they were in power?

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1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, I was not part of the government at the time.

We need to act now. Maybe something should have been done in 2005, but everyone was surprised by the scope of the problem. We were surprised when some female members of the RCMP reported that they had been sexually harassed. Fortunately, this has been making headlines recently, which is forcing the government and everyone else to take action. However, something should have been done sooner.

The committee's examination will determine if any policy on sexual harassment existed and what went wrong.

We need to look toward the future. As committee members, our duty is not so much to look to the past, but rather to ensure that the sexual harassment policy that is developed is designed for the 21st century.

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1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, we need to recognize up front that the RCMP, as a police entity, has respect throughout the world as an organization that in many different ways has it right. In fact, the RCMP is looked to as a model agency that other countries try to duplicate. I, for one, am very proud of the fact that our RCMP is there. I go to many citizenship courts and see the RCMP officers standing in the red serge, and people identify that and want to have their pictures taken with them. There is an RCMP officer at the front of the stairs in the House of Commons and tourists want to be there. It is an iconic symbol of Canada.

We should recognize that in having such a large organization as we do with the RCMP, there are bound to be some issues that need to be addressed. I am wondering if my colleague would talk about the benefits and strengths in how Canadians identify with what I believe is the best police force in the world.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I began my speech by trying as best I could to pay homage not only to RCMP officers but the broader family of peace officers in Canada. It is of utmost importance that the public trust in our police forces be maintained and enhanced at every opportunity. They are the ones that ensure that our society remains orderly and an orderly society is required in order for everyone's rights to be respected.

We have to repolish the RCMP's image following a number of well-publicized incidents. I said at the beginning of my speech that I believe 99.99% of police officers across this country do their duty in the most exemplary way. It would be a shame if a few bad apples, as they say, cast aspersions on the family of police officers Canada wide.

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1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ryan Leef Conservative Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I first thank my hon. colleagues from Lac-Saint-Louis and Winnipeg North for their comments. Before I get into the bulk of my speech, I will read a section from “Sharing Common Grounds”, a document written in the Yukon Territory on the review of the RCMP and its police force. It states:

We have heard many accounts of policing excellence, including stories of RCMP members going above and beyond their normal duties. The purpose of the Review is to improve the quality of policing services for all citizens in the territory.

So I am pleased to rise today to support Bill C-42, the enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police accountability act, because I believe this bill would achieve just what that review was highlighting.

This is a critical piece of legislation that would ultimately have an impact on every Canadian right across this country. The RCMP is a national presence, serving eight provinces, three territories, more than 190 municipalities, 184 aboriginal communities and three international airports from coast to coast to coast. However, it is more than that. It is woven into the very fabric of our nation.

Almost 140 years ago, Canada's first prime minister, Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald, established the North-West Mounted Police to help bring law and order to the newly acquired western territories. The idea then was to make the force something uniquely Canadian by opting for a red uniform in order to differentiate it from the blue ones worn by the Americans. Since then, the red serge has become recognized around the world as a symbol of what it means to be Canadian. Indeed, it has come to symbolize what we as a nation value the most: peace, honesty, integrity and compassion. The RCMP's reputation follows it around the world, with our officers deployed every day in far-flung corners as part of international peacekeeping operations. This global presence is just one more reason why we must ensure that the RCMP continues its ongoing transformation and modernization efforts.

Unfortunately, these ideals and Canadians' confidence in the RCMP have been tested over the past few years due to high-profile events, public inquiries and most recently by the allegations of sexual harassment brought forward by RCMP members. That is why our government has always placed RCMP modernization at the top of its priorities. Once again, the “Sharing Common Ground” document from the territory notes in its executive summary:

The public expects that police officers will act with integrity and that their conduct will be above reproach at all times. From time to time, police services fall short of this expectation. This can be due to the result of a single act by a police officer that offends public sensibility or through a more general decline in the quality of service over time. When either or both occurs, it erodes the public’s trust in its policing service. In these situations, there must be independent, transparent and accessible processes that hold individual members and the organization accountable.

Since first coming into power in 2006, our government has made great progress helping the RCMP modernize and transform itself in key areas. We have already heard the calls for better civilian oversight, more accountability and a stronger framework to handle investigations of serious incidents involving the RCMP. We have heard the calls for more modern discipline, grievance in human resource management frameworks and one that will bring about the cultural shift within the RCMP. We have responded.

The RCMP has also made changes. For example, it has adopted an external investigation and review policy for serious incidents involving RCMP officers. Whenever possible, it refers these investigations to other agencies. It has also revised its conducted energy weapon policy, and it has introduced new operational responses and readiness policies to ensure front-line officers have the resources they require to do their jobs safely and efficiently.

Overall, the vast majority of Canadians remain confident in and proud of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. This was made clear earlier this year when all provinces and territories that rely on the RCMP to keep their communities secure and their citizens safe re-signed new 20-year RCMP police service agreements.

Notably, among the key issues addressed within the new agreements was accountability, a theme that underpins Bill C-42 and one that I will be returning to often. Although progress has been made on many fronts, we must take further steps to enhance the RCMP's accountability and transparency to all Canadians. Bill C-42 is that body of legislation. It is a comprehensive bill that would allow us to move forward with certainty in our transformation exercise. It addresses calls for increased oversight and accountability of the RCMP and builds on the progress already being made in the management of its workforce.

Underpinning this legislation is the idea of strengthening the accountability of the RCMP: accountability to the Canadian public, and the accountability of senior management to RCMP members themselves and of RCMP members to each other.

Focusing on the first thought, that of accountability of the RCMP to the Canadian public, this legislation would put in place a new civilian review and complaints commission for the RCMP. This new review commission would replace the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, or CPC, which was created in 1980 to review public complaints made against RCMP members. The CPC has fulfilled its role with great fortitude and dedication and we are grateful for the tremendous efforts of its members over the years. The reality is, however, that the CPC's powers have limited its ability to fully and effectively review RCMP activities. As such, its efforts to hold the RCMP to account on behalf of the Canadian public have been hampered. The new commission would maintain many elements of the CPC but would operate under an enhanced framework that would allow it to be a more effective oversight body.

The most important changes are new powers, including the power to conduct policy reviews, subject to certain identified limitations; the authority to summon and compel witnesses to give oral or written evidence under oath, or to provide documents and other materials relevant to the complaint; and the authority to access all RCMP information, except cabinet confidences, that the commission needs to undertake its reviews. For example, the commission would be able to request privileged information if it could demonstrate that it is both relevant and necessary to fully review the conduct of an RCMP member.

I am pleased to note that the framework for this commission was developed in close consultation with the provinces and the territories that contract RCMP services. During the negotiations for new police service agreements, provinces and territories spoke of the need for a more efficient review system that removes overlaps and redundancies as well as meets or exceeds other police review bodies. The new commission would be better integrated and harmonized with provincial police review bodies including the sharing of information, conducting joint investigations as needed, and issuing annual case specific reports to provinces and territories regarding complaints and reviews in their region.

A further step toward better accountability to the Canadian public can be found in the framework proposed for investigations of serious incidents. When an RCMP member is involved in an incident that results in death or serious injury, or some other matter of great public interest, the Canadian public wants to know that there is a system in place to allow an independent and comprehensive criminal investigation. In other words, it addresses concerns regarding the police investigating the police.

I refer back to an earlier remark about this being done in consultation with the provinces. When I reviewed the “Sharing Common Ground” document, an underlying theme that I found within it was that the concerns of the community revolved around the police investigating the police when it involved serious incidents or death. Drawing directly from “Sharing Common Ground”, we see how Bill C-42 is addressing, at least, the specific needs outlined in that territory's review of its police force.

Every time RCMP members put on their badges and leave their homes there is potential that they might have to put their lives on the line to protect Canadians. Because the police hold special powers in our society, Canadians rightfully hold them to higher standards. Canadians have every right to feel confident that there is a very strong system in place to review serious incidents and that the system is fair, impartial, highly transparent and accountable.

Under the proposed framework and building on the RCMP's policy on external investigations announced in 2010, the RCMP would be required by law to refer serious incident investigations involving the RCMP to an independent provincial body that has, as its core mandate, the investigation of police related incidents, for example, Alberta's serious incident response team. Where no such body exists, the RCMP would then be required to refer the investigation to another police service and only in those very rare instances where these two options are not available would the RCMP undertake the investigation itself.

The framework also provides for an independent observer to be appointed to monitor the impartiality of these investigations when they are conducted by the RCMP or another police service. This would go a long way toward maintaining public trust in the RCMP. Public trust and confidence is the cornerstone of policing and without accountability that trust is lost.

The bill also focuses on improving the RCMP's accountability to its employees. It does so with greatly improved and streamlined frameworks to address discipline, grievance and human resource management issues. These changes cannot come soon enough.

All hon. members are aware of the recent headlines about allegations of misconduct and harassment within the RCMP ranks. The proposed legislation would reorient and streamline a system that is currently bogged down in red tape, overburdened with administrative processes and plagued with lengthy proceedings that can last for years in some cases.

All RCMP members deserve to have access to a discipline and grievous system that is timely, fair and transparent. Just as Canadians need to feel confident in their police organization, so, too, do RCMP members need to trust in their senior management. They need to know that there is a strong system in place to hold their managers and themselves to account for their actions.

Our goal is to ensure that the RCMP as an organization has the tools available to address workplace conflict, performance and conduct matters at the first instance and, where possible, at the front line. This means moving decision-making down to the lowest appropriate level, thereby empowering managers and giving them more responsibility for discipline. This means ensuring there is a proper grievous system in place that allows for early intervention into workplace issues that is flexible in how grievances and appeals are managed and that is based on engagement and fairness. The timely resolution of workplace issues means that officers would no longer be crippled by long and drawn out administrative processes.

Bill C-42 also proposes a new human resources management framework that would give the RCMP commissioner enhanced authority closer in line with those of a deputy minister of a federal department and other police chiefs across Canada. In other words, the commissioner would be more fully able to manage the complex and dynamic environment in which the RCMP operates. The bill would give the commissioner the authority to make decisions regarding hiring, demoting or discharging most members, including officers other than deputy commissioners and commanding officers in charge of divisions, as well as the flexibility to delegate these authorities to another person. He or she would also have the authority to establish processes for investigations into disputes relating to harassment in the workplace.

Of course, with these new powers must come strengthened accountability and transparency. For example, while the RCMP commissioner would be able to demote or discharge a member, he or she would be required to show cause for decisions and serious discipline decisions would be reviewed by an independent external review committee.

The final element of the bill is the proposal to streamline the employee categories within the RCMP. To do this, the bill contains a mechanism that would move the RCMP from three categories of employees to two and provides for the conversion of civilian members to public service employees.

Taken together, the amendments proposed in Bill C-42 would truly set the RCMP on a course for a strong future. They would strengthen and modernize the RCMP to make it more accountable and create a more efficient grievance and discipline system.

The bill would help ensure that the RCMP continues to evolve into a more transparent, effective and accountable force of which all Canadians can continue to be proud.

I call on all hon. members to support this important bill and to ensure its passage. Now is the time that we must work together so that the RCMP remains a source of great national pride whose members represent the values we all cherish of honesty, integrity, compassion, respect, accountability, professionalism and the willingness to go the extra mile to help someone in need.

I move:

That this question be now put.

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1:40 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, we in the House are lucky to have the benefit of significant advice when it comes to matters like debating Bill C-42.

I want to draw members' attention to the 2006 report of Justice O'Connor's inquiry into the actions of Canadian officials in relation to Maher Arar. That report called on Parliament to create an RCMP watchdog along the lines of the security and intelligence review committee which monitors CSIS. It would have the right to audit all RCMP files and activities and the power to subpoena related documents and compel testimony from any federal, provincial, municipal or private sector person or entity.

The present RCMP Public Complaints Commission “does not have review powers to ensure systematically that the RCMP’s national security activities are conducted in accordance with the law and with respect for rights and freedoms”. That speaks to the fact that the government must take the next step. It must allow binding recommendations and full civilian investigation of the RCMP through a truly independent watchdog panel that will report directly to Parliament.

Would the member opposite be supportive of creating an agency that actually had teeth and, if that were the case, would he then support that when the bill goes to committee?

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1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Ryan Leef Conservative Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I would suggest that this legislation has teeth and that it is based on the recommendations and input put forward by the provinces and territories in which they tabled detailed reviews of their police forces. The one from the Yukon, Sharing Common Ground, has called almost exactly for what we have put forward in the bill.

When we look at the RCMP and its uniqueness of policing from coast to coast to coast, from urban to rural communities, it will not always be possible to have those reviews done in a timely, clear and independent fashion by one single board based in one region of our country. The flexibility in this legislation allows the RCMP, other police agencies or an independent board to conduct timely, flexible, clear and accountable reviews of policing actions in Canada's unique geography which is unlike any other on this planet.