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House of Commons Hansard #148 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was force.

Topics

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Jasbir Sandhu NDP Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, absolutely. The government had an opportunity to restore public confidence in the RCMP and one thing that people in my constituency and across the country have been asking for is public independent oversight of the RCMP complaints process. I urge the government to consider some of the NDP's amendments that will be put forward at the committee stage and look at having public oversight so that we can restore the public's confidence in our national police force.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

September 19th, 2012 / 4:55 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, as I have mentioned previously in the House, I have had the great privilege of working in the field of environmental enforcement during my career. I have done this overseas, in Yukon, Alberta, Nova Scotia, Montreal and Ottawa. I have had the privilege of working with very dedicated men and women who are inspectors, investigators and enforcement officers. One of the most important things is morale. It is very important to those officers because they tend to be at the bottom of the totem pole in getting staffing, proper equipment, and attention within their respective agencies.

The bill is absolutely imperative for the protection of officers who may feel they are being maligned by sexual harassment. The bill is also important for the purposes of protecting the credibility of the RCMP and the rights of the public to bring forward complaints and to have them properly reviewed in an independent manner. The bill is also important for the credible and effective enforcement of the laws in this country.

I stand with my fellow members of the official opposition in support of sending Bill C-42 to committee. However, I implore the government to give serious consideration to not only some of the proposals that will come forward by our members but also likely some of the same witnesses who have appeared in the many reviews that have gone on over the last decade. These are wise people with a lot of experience. I would also encourage that some of the enforcement officers be brought in. Who knows better than those who are working on the front lines what is needed to do a proper review?

As has been mentioned, we commend the government for finally bringing forward this legislation, which is long overdue, to improve harassment review procedures, to deal with discipline in the force, and also to provide for an improved complaints review process. It is also important that the agency be properly staffed and resourced.

Mr. Speaker, I am having a hard time hearing myself speak. Perhaps members could take their conversations outside.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Order. I know hon. members are interested to know what the hon. member for Edmonton—Strathcona has to say. It is difficult to hear the member when other members are having conversations. I would ask them to take those conversations out to the lobbies and we will carry on the debate.

The hon. member for Edmonton—Strathcona.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the conviviality among parties in the House but do appreciate the respect for those who are standing to speak. This is an important matter and it is important that we all participate in the discussion which means that we listen to what each other has to say as well.

I stand in support of this bill going to committee. There are a lot of very good measures in this bill but there are a lot of measures that could be improved, particularly to respect and observe the many recommendations from as broad a group as the current RCMP commissioner and previous witnesses, including the complaints commissioner.

Many of these legislative reforms are addressing outstanding issues, including the RCMP complaints process and the sexual harassment processes within the RCMP, most notably, a lot of complaints recently about the harassment of women officers and the right of the RCMP to unionize. Regrettably, those have not been addressed in the bill and have not been addressed by the government. We look forward to the government giving those officers the equal right to organize and be represented and to have proper grievance procedures.

As mentioned, there have been numerous reviews, commissions and official calls for action. This is a good start. Perhaps we can embellish the work that has been tabled in committee and come back with a more adequate bill.

These tabled reforms come in the wake of the deep concern expressed by the Canadian public around such incidents as the sexual harassment of female RCMP. I think there are more than 200 former and current officers who have filed a court action. Also, of course, there is the very regrettable Dziekanski incident in Vancouver. It is time to strengthen the law and policy in investigation and complaints, disciplinary measures and sexual harassment procedures.

On the RCMP commissioner authority, we commend the government for coming forward and strengthening the powers of the commissioner to address discipline and potentially discharge RCMP members. However, there have been valid concerns raised that to give complete wide open discretion is perhaps not the route to take, and that there should be very clear criteria laid out and disclosed so that all officers and the public know the reasons for taking disciplinary action.

Of equal concern is the fact that the legislation does not actually stop with giving the commissioner that totally discretionary power. He or she can in turn delegate that down and in turn sub-delegate it. We do not know from one day to the next who will actually be taking disciplinary action, including releasing officers from duty.

In addition, on the RCMP oversight and investigation of complaints, there have been many calls for an independent oversight body which exists in many of the provinces. It is time for the federal government to step up to the plate and institute an equally credible process. That is not only important for the purposes of the public, which has been raising a lot of questions about the way that some of the RCMP officers have been conducting their affairs and exercising their powers, but it is also important for the morale of the officers themselves. They need to know that there will be a process where the review is done in a fair, open and independent way, that the findings will be final and that measures will be taken. Instead, the government has chosen to do the same thing it is doing with regulatory environment agencies, which is having well-informed independent officers appointed, hearing witnesses and then saying that it will make the final decision based on, what, we do not know.

It is very important that the bill also limits the powers of this supposedly independent commission to initiate reviews. That needs to be strengthened. The decisions are not binding. The final decisions are vested in the political order and that is not appropriate. People are calling for independent scrutiny, like other jurisdictions.

We would prefer that they continue to report to Parliament and not only to the minister. That would enable all members of Parliament to hold the force accountable and ensure that any recommendations move forward.

Also, there has been a call from a number of bodies, notably Paul Kennedy, the former complaints commission, that there is a need for specific deadlines for response by the RCMP to commission reports. This is all good, sage advice. The bill could be embellished by adding these kinds of reforms.

In the area of response to complaints of sexual harassment, it is good that a new process is being put in place but we need more than legislation.

In April of this year, when Mr. Robert Paulson, the RCMP commissioner, appeared before the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, which was studying the role and challenges to women employed by the RCMP, he said:

It's the culture of the organization that has not kept pace. ... We haven't been able to change our practices and our policies, or provide systems that would permit women to thrive in the organization and contribute to policing, which they must do. ... I've said it publicly, and I'll say it again. I think the problem is bigger than simply the sexual harassment. It is the idea of harassment.

We commend the commissioner and we hope the government will also listen to his sage advice and take this further than simply bringing forward legislation. We look forward to potentially his testimony in committee where he could embellish on his recommendations.

Surely it is the responsibility of Parliament to be instituting the measures that ensure our federal law enforcement agency is protecting the rights of its officers and is able to take action to actually prevent harassment and ensure a healthy working climate.

I do not think it is sufficient for us simply to have provisions where a brave member of the force might actually come forward and file that complaint. What is important is that measures be taken upfront to prevent this kind of harassment, so that we actually have a climate with high morale and equal opportunity for both men and women and people of different backgrounds to contribute to law enforcement.

I will just repeat my high level of respect for our federal enforcement agency and I look forward as a member of Parliament to try to bring back improved processes to strengthen its ability to protect our communities.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague's comments on the bill and she has really pointed out some of the areas in the bill that need to be strengthened and improved.

I would like to give her the opportunity to talk a little bit longer about those suggestions for improvement and why she thinks it has taken the government so long to get the bill before the House.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his incredible work in this area. He makes a fantastic critic in this area, both for the RCMP and for the Canadian public.

I do not think I have much chance to elaborate. Many who have spoken in the House have raised the issues very thoroughly. I just want to reiterate that bringing forward these measures is not just for the benefit of the public, nor is it just for the benefit of some of the officers who may be feeling harassed. It is very critical that we have solid foundations for our federal enforcement agency.

There are many isolated communities in Canada. I think of those along the highway between Edmonton and Fort McMurray and the major accidents that are occurring that various levels of government are trying to address. Those officers need to go to the scenes of those very gruesome accidents time after time and are sometimes deployed on their own.

It is very important that we work together to get the strongest measures in place to protect our forces and the public.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to follow up on the comments by my colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.

As the member for Edmonton—Strathcona has said, for an institution as important as the RCMP, it is so important that the members within that force know they can rely on proper procedures around sexual harassment.

I, like many others, have a lot of questions about why, with so many incredible and disturbing cases that female officers of the force had to experience, it took so long before any action was taken. It seems to me that when we look at the RCMP, surely the most basic right is for the members to work in a harassment-free environment. As the member for Edmonton—Strathcona has pointed out, often those members are working in very difficult conditions in isolated communities.

It is really just a comment to underline what the member for Edmonton—Strathcona has said about these measures being incredibly important. It is disappointing that the government, even though I heard the minister many times say that he was concerned about it, basically did nothing about it, so it is long overdue.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is absolutely critical for the morale of our federal enforcement agency.

As one of our colleagues mentioned earlier in her speech, it is not just the female members of the RCMP who are resigning because they are concerned about the way that female officers are being treated. There are a lot of great men and women in the force.

I think particularly of some instances of hearing concerns about some of our first nations members of the RCMP who are feeling that they are being treated in a discriminatory fashion.

It is absolutely critical that. if we are going to recruit the best of our youth into this important agency, we stand up for them and encourage them to enter these enforcement agencies.

We are a democratic nation. We operate by the rule of law. We need to ensure that all those mechanisms are in place and that we are putting that into effect, which means staffing, support and, frankly, giving the forces a union.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Independent

Bruce Hyer Independent Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the member for Edmonton—Strathcona, as I asked the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, whether it is perhaps time now, as part of a review, to think about what we really want as a national police force rather than one that also tries to serve many provinces and municipalities in a more day-to-day policing operation.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure that I am the one to venture into that. It may well be an activity that the parliamentary committee reviews. I know that some jurisdictions prefer to have their own provincial force. My province is beginning to have sheriffs supplementing RCMP. The national police is still valued very much and the police in the city of Edmonton. I am not necessarily convinced that the forces we have right now should be replaced. It would certainly be the kind of thing that we would refer to the committee or to the various associations of police chiefs to review.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Resuming debate. Is the House ready for the question?

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The question is on the motion that the question be now put. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

All those opposed will please say nay.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Call in the members.

[And the bells having rung:]

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I ask that the vote be deferred until the end of government orders today.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Accordingly, the vote stands deferred.

The House resumed from September 18 consideration of the motion that Bill C-37, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the motion that this question be now put.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I welcome you back after our recess over the summer. This is the first time I have had an opportunity to rise in the House and speak since we came back and I hope everyone had a good summer. I know that we were all busy in our ridings taking care of constituents and constituency business. I certainly was and it was very good to connect with people because we are so often here in Ottawa in the House. We are nevertheless glad to be back in the House debating various pieces of legislation again.

As was just pointed out, Bill C-37, proposes to amend the provisions of the Criminal Code on victim surcharges, namely section 737 in the Criminal Code. It would double the amount that offenders must pay when they are sentenced. It would also make the surcharge mandatory for all offenders.

By way of background, we know that a victim surcharge is an additional sanction imposed at the time of sentencing on offenders who are found guilty. It is collected by provincial and territorial governments and is used to provide programs and services for victims of crime in the province or territory where the crime was committed.

Obviously that is a very important service provided and I am sure we are all aware of situations where people or their family members have suffered as a result of their being a victim of crime. It is very important to have the support services and programs in place. This kind of program is something that is very important in our society.

We know that the bill being debated at second reading proposes to amend the provisions of the Criminal Code relating to the amount of the victim surcharge, which the bill would in fact double. The proposed surcharge would be about 30%, or higher than the current 15%, of any fine imposed on the offender. Where no fine is imposed, it would be $100, again representing a doubling because it is currently $50 for summary conviction offences, and $200 for indictable offences, from the current $100.

That sounds reasonable and is something that we have supported in principle. However, we do have some concerns about the bill that some of my colleagues who have spoken previously have put forward. I wish to put them on the record as well.

One of our concerns is that the bill removes the ability of the court to waive a victim surcharge if the offender can show that paying the surcharge would result in undue hardship to either himself or herself, or to his or her dependants. This is now contained in subsection 737(5) and would be repealed by the bill.

The second concern we have is that while on the one hand judges would retain the discretion they have to increase the victim surcharge if they believe the circumstances so warrant, on the other hand their discretion would be removed as to whether or not there was some undue hardship. This is quite problematic and part of a pattern that we have seen in many of the so-called law and order bills the Conservative government has brought forward. The thrust of these bills, and certainly this one is now another example of this theme, has been to undermine the discretion of the court system, and judges in particular.

We have a lot of concerns about the bill. We believe that it needs to be studied at committee, particularly with regard to the decreased discretionary power of a judge to decide if paying a surcharge would cause undue hardship. Why do we believe that? It is because we believe very much in the importance of discretionary powers of a judge and the autonomy of judges within our judicial system. That will be restricted by the bill.

The withdrawal of the undue hardship clause and the provision seeking to double the surcharge could be problematic for low-income offenders. It would not always be the case, but certainly there are situations and experiences where this would be a consideration.

Therefore, it seems very puzzling that we have a government that would bring forward yet another bill that would seek to restrict the scope and discretion of what our judicial system can take into account at the level of the decisions that judges make and what information they can look at.

That has a lot of consequences. When we look at this particular bill in the context of all of the other bills we have dealt with that also have the same kind of purpose in restricting judicial discretion, then we can see that we are fundamentally changing what our judicial system is about and how it operates. As legislators, members of Parliament representing our constituents across the country in so many diverse ridings, this is actually something that we should be concerned about. It is very easy to look at legislation one by one and say it is not a big deal, that maybe we could live with it. However, when we begin to add it up and we see the incremental changes in a more comprehensive way, we begin to realize that there are some fundamental changes taking place.

That is something that concerns us. We believe there should be proper analysis. We should look not just at this piece of legislation but at all kinds of legislation to see what those impacts on the judicial system are.

For example, the Elizabeth Fry Society is very concerned about the impact of these additional fines on, for example, aboriginal people and people who do not have the means to pay. The John Howard Society has also expressed concern that the fines could be disproportionate to the crimes committed. These are two very notable, hard-working, credible organizations in our society. They operate across the country. They know the system first-hand from the ground up. They deal with offenders as they come out of the system and are making a transition back into society. When we hear organizations like the Elizabeth Fry Society and the John Howard Society express their concerns based on their real experience in dealing with offenders in a community setting, this is something that we should take note of. It really worries me when Conservative members will just sweep that concern under the carpet and say it is of no consequence. Someone in this place has to take note of what the impacts and consequences are.

What I am trying to argue here is that the principle of sanctions against offenders is a good principle. It is something that we have supported. We have supported the ombudsperson's report on this matter. However, we have to look at the very fine details of this legislation and examine whether or not it has gone further than it needs to go and cause more negative impacts by removing the discretion we now have. This is something that we very much need to examine at the committee level.

Over the summer I had the pleasure of attending the Canadian Medical Association's general council meeting in Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories. We heard an extraordinary speaker, Sir Michael Marmot, one the world's renowned experts and researchers in the social determinants of health. He made a quite remarkable presentation to all of the doctors assembled there as members of the CMA. He spoke about how our society has moved so far away from establishing some of the basic foundations of a healthy society, like a decent income, a good education and proper housing. He was speaking about these matters as they related to the health of our society, not just in terms of our personal health but also our overall health. I wanted to bring this into the debate today because to me it is very pertinent to what we are looking at in Bill C-37.

Again, what really worries me about the government we have in power right now, which hopefully will not be there for too long, is its emphasis on punitive measures addressing issues after the fact. As Sir Michael Marmot said, we need to go upstream. We need to be developing much stronger foundations for healthy communities and healthy people, ensuring that people have proper education and decent incomes. The evidence is overwhelming that all of these things ensure that a society is more sustainable, not just in terms of the environment but also in social terms.

When we ignore those questions and focus so much on fixing everything with a new piece of legislation, or changing the Criminal Code and saying that somehow that is going to fix issues and problems in our society, we are under a terrible illusion. I know the members across the way in the Conservative government cannot look beyond that. They are very focused and driven by that simplistic approach. I am very glad to say that we on this side of the House in the NDP have a much more progressive, complex and intelligent analysis of what we need to do to make safe and healthy communities.

In speaking to this legislation today, I know we are going to hear a barrage of questions and comments, if we get to them, because if we dare to question any of the Conservatives' law and order provisions then we are said to be favouring the criminals. It is such a simplistic, ridiculous debate that they try to engage in. We do as much as we can on this side to resist that kind of ridiculous, absurd debate.

We are here to look at legislation based on its merit and its consequences for our society overall. That is a matter of balancing the rights of victims. This is something we believe strongly in. Victims have rights. They have the right to be supported. They have the right to know that a judicial system will work for them and that prosecutions will be dealt with in due diligence. However, we also have to ensure that our judicial system is balanced and ensure that discretion is there so that people are not penalized unfairly.

I represent a community that has many low-income people. Many of my constituents have been through the judicial system and have had horrible experiences. They would have been better out of prison. They would have been better with programs that might have focused on restorative justice. They would have been better in programs where there was attention paid to youth at risk, so that youth would not even get into the criminal justice system. However, yet again we see a government that has moved away from that kind of approach and has focused on the need for yet another law and punitive measure.

In conclusion, my colleagues and I have voiced our support at second reading for the principles in this bill. We have reservations and concerns and will take our responsibility to ensure that if this bill goes to committee, we will examine it clause by clause. We will look at it very carefully. We will propose amendments, I have no doubt. Our justice critic is very able in doing that. Our aim is to ensure that this bill becomes one that would not cause problems or unintended consequences.

I have been pleased to speak to this bill today. I look forward to its going to committee and the amendments that I know we in the NDP will propose to improve it.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Vancouver East will have five and a half minutes remaining for her speech, should she wish it when the House returns to debate on the question, and then of course the usual 10 minutes for questions and comments.

Motion No. 12Ways and MeansGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Haldimand—Norfolk Ontario

Conservative

Diane Finley ConservativeMinister of Human Resources and Skills Development

moved that a ways and means motion to amend the Income Tax Act and the Income Tax Regulations be concurred in.