Mr. Speaker, in recent years, a number of scandals have rocked the RCMP, particularly with respect to the sexual harassment against certain members in recent years. Furthermore, many Canadians were troubled by the disciplinary measures that were too lenient for some officers accused of serious misconduct. The revelations that came out with these scandals seriously undermined Canadians' trust in this noble institution. I would like to briefly remind members of the various scandals in order to put this bill into context.
More than 200 women who work and have worked for the RCMP in recent years filed a class action suit against the RCMP for sexual harassment. The first hearing was held a little over a month ago, but the class action suit has not yet been accepted by the courts. A number of officers have also filed individual lawsuits in addition to this legal action.
The government introduced Bill C-42 in response to all of these scandals, in order to restore public trust in the RCMP.
From 1994 to 2011, 750 formal discipline hearings were held across Canada. In this same period of time, 206 regular and civilian members resigned from the RCMP. From 2000 to 2011, 715 new formal discipline cases were filed , which represents an average of about 83 new cases a year.
Given the many harassment allegations and serious disciplinary offences, we believe this bill is justified. There is growing public concern among Canadians regarding the problem of harassment.
For months now, the NDP has been urging Public Safety Canada to make the issue of sexual harassment in the RCMP a top priority. Unfortunately, Bill C-42 does not directly or adequately address the systemic, deeply-rooted problems in the RCMP corporate culture, nor will it do anything to change the current climate in the RCMP.
The Minister of Public Safety does not appear to have taken into account the various recommendations made by the Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP. Bill C-42 simplifies the process of resolving problems in the workplace, a process that many saw as complicated and ill-suited to changes in workplace practices.
In 2007, the Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP described the process as too formal, and an overly legalistic and procedural system. More recently, Commissioner Paulson wrote an open letter to Canadians expressing his concerns about the RCMP's disciplinary system, which he described as outdated and administratively burdensome. These problems limit the disciplinary system's ability to ensure that members' conduct is properly managed and corrected or, when necessary, to see to it that the rotten apples are fired.
Currently, RCMP managers faced with having to address harassment issues have two completely different processes they must follow. The first one was created under Treasury Board policy and the other under the RCMP Act. Since these two policies do not always align, this can lead to some confusion about the rights of the parties involved.
Bill C-42 proposes to give the commissioner the power to establish a single framework for conducting investigations into harassment problems and resolving those problems. The bill will also give the commissioner of the RCMP a new power to decide what disciplinary actions would be appropriate, which will include the power to appoint and discharge members.
The first thing we note is that the Minister of Public Safety has adopted a simplistic solution to a problem that is much broader, by simply giving the commissioner final authority when it comes to dismissing employees, for example. Employees are in fact somewhat concerned about this bill.
The bill does nothing to address unionization by the members of the RCMP. Since the RCMP is the only police force that is not represented by a union and is also not subject to a collective agreement, the Mounted Police Professional Association of Canada has concerns about the job security of members of the RCMP and the extraordinary power given to the commissioner over dismissals. But the Conservatives do not want to address that question at all.
While Bill C-42 gives the commissioner greater ability to establish a more effective process to address harassment problems, and also gives him more power in relation to discipline, it cannot bring about the real change of culture within the RCMP that is needed in order to eliminate harassment and problems relating generally to discipline and the conduct of RCMP officers. The evidence is in what Commissioner Paulson has said himself: that legislation alone is insufficient to restore the public’s trust, and that thorough reform is needed to tackle the serious underlying problems in the RCMP, in order to foster a workplace that is more open and respectful for all its members.
The commissioner has also told the Standing Committee on the Status of Women that the problem goes well beyond the question of sexual harassment.
This situation has to change from top to bottom. I think the minister should have taken the opportunity offered by this bill to include a clear policy to combat sexual harassment. The minister did not consider all of the police and civilian stakeholders. The government is also going to have to pay attention to the findings of the two reports that should clarify the problem of sexual harassment in the RCMP, the problem of the RCMP Public Complaints Commission, and the evaluation of the RCMP on gender issues.
Let us move on to another aspect of the bill, the reform of the former RCMP Public Complaints Commission by establishing a new civilian complaints commission called the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, and by implementing a new framework for handling investigations of serious incidents involving members.
The bill will establish a new civilian complaints commission for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to replace the RCMP Public Complaints Commission.
This bill will give the new commission a number of powers, including the power to undertake its own reviews of RCMP policies to ensure that the Minister’s directives and the applicable legislation and rules are being followed. It will provide a right of access to information in the control or possession of the RCMP. It establishes new investigative powers, including the power to compel witnesses and officers to testify, and to require them to produce evidence and documents. It also allows the commission to conduct joint complaint investigations with other police complaints bodies. Lastly, the commission will report to the Minister of Public Safety and the commissioner of the RCMP, and its recommendations will not be binding.
The Conservatives have been promising for years that they are going to make an independent oversight body responsible for investigating complaints against the RCMP, as the Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP recommended. The task force had recommended that a model be adopted under which there would be a body responsible for examining every incident or aspect of RCMP operations that was considered to be problematic and making binding recommendations. With this bill, we can see that the government has not kept its promise.
The “new” civilian complaints commission proposed by this bill bears a strange resemblance to the RCMP Public Complaints Commission, because just like that commission, the new one is unfortunately not totally independent. It reports not to the House of Commons, but to the Minister of Public Safety. We would also have liked more powers to be given to an independent external civilian body, to investigate serious incidents in which death or serious bodily injury is caused by members of the RCMP. That type of investigation will largely be assigned to municipal or provincial police forces, even though many of them have no civilian investigation body, and so, depending on the circumstances, some investigations will continue to be done by the RCMP itself.
Canadians want this type of investigation to be done by a body outside the RCMP. That is how we will enhance Canadians’ confidence in our institution. Bill C-42 does not provide more transparency and better independent oversight of the RCMP. The bill simply leads to a single body that submits its non-binding recommendations to the minister.
We believe that this bill is a step in the right direction, but it does not go far enough. We are therefore going to support it so it can be considered in committee, where we will be proposing amendments.