Mr. Speaker, before starting my speech, I would like to say that I will share my time with the member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant.
After some consideration I rise today to speak to Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts. In my speech I will focus on the current cases of misconduct and sexual harassment within the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. This extremely delicate subject must be taken into account in the debate here. As a woman and as deputy public safety critic for the official opposition, I feel it is my duty to speak to this issue.
During the last parliamentary session, my colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, several other members of the opposition and I asked the government to take swifter action in response to the many allegations of sexual harassment within the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The Minister of Public Safety promised us a bill that would address issues of discipline within the RCMP, which we have now in Bill C-42.
The NDP has long wanted to look at the RCMP, particularly the change in corporate culture that would need to take place within the organization in order to address the numerous allegations of sexual harassment. That is why we support this bill at second reading. We absolutely want to examine it more closely and especially propose the necessary amendments to make it even stronger.
Although women have won a lot of rights in Canada, there are still far too many disparities between men and women. “Working in a man's world” is an expression that is sadly used too much these days. A number of fields are unfortunately stigmatized: construction, forestry and even politics, to name just a few.
As a member of Parliament, I often have the opportunity to meet women who make a difference every day in their workplaces. I am thinking, for example, of all of the female corrections officers who work in our penitentiaries. There are three federal penitentiaries in my riding of Alfred-Pellan. We have a number of female corrections officers, and I am very proud of that fact. They themselves are very proud of their work and of their colleagues, on whom they can always count. They are involved in their union; they are mothers; they are real examples to follow, like many women who are looking to make a difference through their dedication to and involvement in their communities.
Female RCMP officers are women who dedicate themselves every day to keeping Canadians safe, and we thank them for it. However, some of them have been subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace. Sexual harassment is deplorable, no matter the workplace. What is regrettable about the RCMP response is the punishment for the guilty parties. Take the unfortunate and notorious case of a senior RCMP officer in Alberta who was found guilty of several counts of sexual harassment. The consequences were minimal: he lost a few days' pay, was transferred to another part of the country, and kept his job. The consequences for him were minimal, but the impact on the victim is irreparable.
This does not solve the problem, far from it. First, the person who is transferred could reoffend. This reminds me of inmates who do not participate in any programs while incarcerated and who have difficulty reintegrating into society after they have served their sentence. All the experts agree that we must punish wrongdoers, but we must also ensure that they do not victimize anyone else.
Furthermore, ignoring a problem such as sexual harassment in the workplace by not punishing the offenders can have serious consequences for the victims. These women risk their lives every day to protect us and they deserve better. The lack of an internal mechanism for dealing with the misconduct of certain individuals does not improve the work environment and does not allow these women to trust a system that is supposed to protect their rights.
As a result of the allegations and what Canadians have learned about the internal operations of the RCMP, they no longer have faith in their national police force, which is huge.
This faith must be restored by changing the corporate culture within the RCMP. That is why it is so important that we have a closer look at this bill and study it carefully.
Bill C-42 simplifies the complex process that is currently in place to address problems and misconduct in the workplace, including the abuse of power, intimidation and harassment, by giving the commissioner the ultimate authority to determine the appropriate disciplinary action.
When the current RCMP commissioner, Mr. Paulson, took the job last November, he told his troops that harassment would not be tolerated in the workplace. I applaud that comment.
Currently, RCMP managers faced with having to address harassment issues have two different processes they must follow—one created under Treasury Board policy and the other under the RCMP Act. Since these processes do not always align, this can lead to confusion about rights, responsibilities and potential approaches.
Bill C-42 proposes giving the commissioner the power to establish a single comprehensive framework for investigating harassment and resolving these issues.
While Bill C-42 gives the commissioner greater powers regarding discipline and the ability to create a more effective process to resolve harassment complaints, the fact remains that the bill does nothing to change the corporate culture within the RCMP, which is crucial to addressing the allegations of systematic sexual harassment, which we in the NDP strongly condemn.
With respect to changes, we believe that profound changes are needed and we must ensure that this never happens again.
The RCMP's current system cannot be transformed with such a bill, but we would like to emphasize the fact that the bill will give the RCMP commissioner the ability to create a more effective procedure for handing complaints of sexual harassment, and this is a big step in the right direction.
Bill C-42 is missing some other important elements. The government needs to create a completely independent monitoring agency that would report directly to Parliament. Such an agency could make binding recommendations and conduct a comprehensive civilian investigation of the RCMP.
In its current form, the bill would enable the provinces to give an investigative body or a police force the mandate to investigate incidents. However, the RCMP could run the investigation itself if no other organization were able to. The official opposition strongly opposes this proposal, and, based on what I have heard from my colleagues opposite who are looking for a clearer, more independent process, they do not like it either. I therefore suggest that they put forward amendments to change this part of the bill.
First, let us go back to the beginning and talk about whether the RCMP can investigate itself. That is part of why Canadians are losing confidence in their national police force. Moreover, this way of doing things will create an extremely piecemeal system by letting provincial organizations oversee a national police force.
The balance of power will differ from one province to the next. We must absolutely take this opportunity to create a fair, clear and transparent system that will go a long way toward building the confidence of the general public and of the women who work for the RCMP, in their national police force.
A number of reports and commissions have recommended implementing structural and organizational reforms within the RCMP that go well beyond what Bill C-42 proposes. For example, Justice O'Connor's report urged Parliament to create an RCMP oversight body. David Brown's 2007 report on the Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP proposed changes that would make the RCMP completely independent from government with status as a separate employer.
Bill C-42 does not go far enough for women either. Women working for the RCMP have the right to safe access to a more open and transparent working environment.
The sad thing about this bill is that the current government had to be asked about it repeatedly in the House of Commons and in committee before deciding to draft it.
The RCMP needs a clear harassment policy. I will be proud to propose amendments and support Bill C-42.