Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be sharing my time with the member for Welland.
Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act, addresses issues of urgent public concern with respect to the RCMP.
The men and women in uniform at the RCMP have a difficult and often dangerous job to do every day, a job that requires a great deal of judgment and conduct beyond reproach. We should be mindful of the fact that the majority are fathers and mothers who risk their lives to ensure our safety. However, the admiration we have for their courage and commitment should not prevent us from collectively examining the corporate culture of the RCMP and the repercussions this culture may have on workplace relations and the RCMP itself, which is accountable to the public and must be more transparent.
We have all heard that over 200 female employees and former employees of the RCMP have joined a class-action lawsuit alleging sexual harassment. Other individual lawsuits have also been filed. Sexual harassment has no place in our society. It should not be tolerated anywhere, least of all in the RCMP.
We have also heard about disciplinary measures imposed on RCMP officers accused of gross misconduct, measures that many believe to be too lenient. For the past few months, we have been urging the Minister of Public Safety to make sexual harassment in the RCMP a priority.
Bill C-42 appears, at least in part, to be a response to public concerns about this issue. But is it an adequate response? Does the bill go as far as it should to reassure the public that the government is doing everything it can to change the prevailing culture within the RCMP? Like many others, I have my doubts.
Let me be clear. Yes, Bill C-42 is a step in the right direction, but it does not go far enough. We will support it at second reading knowing that the committee will have to work hard to improve it.
I would like to commend the minister for the openness he expressed in his opening remarks earlier this week. He said that he was open to the committee amending the bill. I think that we should all make an effort to collaborate more here in the House.
As I said, we agree with the spirit of Bill C-42. For example, we agree that restoring public confidence in the RCMP is a priority. One would have to be blind or wilfully ignorant not to have noticed public confidence declining over the past few years. The tragic death of Robert Dziekanski and the force's response to it, along with the sexual harassment allegations that I mentioned earlier have done serious damage to the RCMP's reputation.
Second, we also recognize that civilian review is vital to promoting the RCMP's obligation to ensure transparency and public accountability; it is crucial. This is especially true because, without accountability and transparency, the goal of regaining public trust cannot be achieved.
As for the goal of promoting irreproachable conduct within the RCMP, that is self-evident. That being said, it would be in everyone's best interest to clearly specify the consequences of and the procedures to follow in cases of misconduct on the part of any employee. This is the kind of proposal that could be discussed in committee.
On both sides of the House, we share certain ideas about the goals we wish to achieve with this bill, but where we might disagree is on how to go about achieving them. While we support some aspects of the bill, we believe that it should be more ambitious regarding certain points.
It is not a question of criticizing for the sake of criticizing, but rather being constructive and proposing options and solutions.
For instance, we believe it is crucial to allow the RCMP commissioner to carry out reforms in the area of discipline in order to deal with the climate of sexual harassment that exists in the organization. No one is against virtue.
Everyone agrees that the current process to address problems and misconduct in the workplace is too complex and needs to be simplified. However, we also think it is crucial to bring in a clear anti-harassment policy. Specific standards of behaviour regarding sexual harassment and specific criteria for evaluating the performance of all employees must be put in place. It is also important to ensure that these reforms in the area of discipline do not lead to any arbitrary dismissals.
The RCMP is the only police force in the country that does not have a collective agreement. Under these circumstances, we must ensure a balanced disciplinary process in order to avoid any abuses.
We also support reforms to the old RCMP Public Complaints Commission. The public must have full confidence in the independence of that institution. I think the Conservatives and the NDP can agree on that.
Where we perhaps disagree is with regard to the degree of independence that the new civilian review and complaints commission should have. Everyone agrees that we should strengthen the RCMP's review and complaints body. However, Bill C-42 is not robust enough in that regard.
The bill sets out that, like the former commission, the new commission will report directly to the Minister of Public Safety rather than to the House of Commons.
We believe that this way of doing things does not promote the independence of the commission and the investigations that it will conduct. If we really want to restore the public's confidence in the RCMP, we have to guarantee that the civilian review and complaints commission is fully and completely independent.
In order to guarantee the civilian review and complaints commission's independence, we must also do things differently when it comes to the contracts of the commissioners who will oversee it. The current commissioner, Ian McPhail, inherited a one-year contract when he replaced Paul Kennedy. This one-year contract was recently renewed for just one more year.
One year contracts are meant to ensure that the complaints commissioner has an arm's length relationship with the government and to avoid any perception that he does not. Some people will wonder whether the commissioner is able to do his work properly if he does not know whether he will have the job from one year to the next.
The bill provides for contracts of more than five years. Now, we must ensure that this way of doing things does not open the door to a practice similar to the one that is currently in place, that of a one-year renewable contract.
In closing, I would like to emphasize the importance of working together within the House. Above and beyond our political allegiances, we all have the duty to best serve the interests of Canadians.
As I mentioned, we agree with the spirit of Bill C-42 and that is why we will support it at second reading.
However, there is still work to be done. We still have to fine-tune this bill in committee. I raised a few ideas that I hope will be incorporated. My colleagues will do the same. Together, the government and the opposition must ensure that we come up with the best bill possible.