Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts.
I want to state for the record what the summary of the two key points indicates this is all about. The summary of the bill states:
This enactment enhances the accountability of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police by reforming the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act in two vital areas. First, it strengthens the Royal Canadian Mounted Police review and complaints body and implements a framework to handle investigations of serious incidents involving members. Second, it modernizes discipline, grievance and human resource management processes for members, with a view to preventing, addressing and correcting performance and conduct issues in a timely and fair manner.
That sounds great in theory, but I have to remark that wonderful ideas do not always work in theory. I recall the government bringing in the Federal Accountability Act. This is much along the same lines. Indeed, I heard the parliamentary secretary talk about accountability and transparency. I remember the Federal Accountability Act well and the government talking about transparency and accountability. Anything we have seen from the current government is the absolute direct opposite: We are seeing the least transparency we have ever seen of any government in Canadian history. Access to information requests are taking longer and longer. We cannot get answers from the government. Committees are shoved in camera on simple motions that should be debated in public but are taking place in secret.
I wanted to outline that at the beginning because when the government talks about accountability and transparency in its own business, we have seen anything but that. I hope that with the changes to the RCMP we will see some transparency and accountability. However, the record of the government is the direct opposite.
Although we are debating the RCMP Act, I am concerned about this place because we are not seeing things happening at committee in the open and transparent way that we should. The way the government is operating is a blight on the Parliament of Canada. As a former solicitor general, I do not want to see that same blight apply to the RCMP, because it is our national police force and a recognized icon around the world. I want to see it improved. The best intentions laid out in this bill may sound great, but they need to come to fruition in the way they were intended to.
The Liberal critic agrees with the central premise of the bill, that the commissioner's capacity to deal with disciplinary issues should be strengthened and the process for dealing with them streamlined. In my earlier questioning, I outlined some of my concerns in that regard and I will get to those in a moment. That said, the bill certainly is a step forward. As with all legislation, it may need to be improved as we go down the road a piece.
The critic for the Liberal Party also says that some minor improvements could be brought to the powers and scope of the new civilian complaints body and notes that this body has been strengthened in keeping with previous Liberal positions. From the perspective of my party, we Liberals welcome the new legislation and the attempts by the government to address the current challenges facing the RCMP.
As has been expressed in this debate and will be in future debates in the House, there is no doubt that the RCMP is facing many challenges. We see the issue of sexual harassment in the press all too often. As I said a moment ago, the RCMP is a symbol of Canada around the world, something we are proud of, and we do not want to see this image tarnished due to the odd individual in the force who tarnishes not only the image of the RCMP but also the image of Canada. The corrective measures have to be put in place to allow the national police force to deal with these problems in an effective manner.
Bill C-42 aims to tackle these harassment and discipline issues by reworking the force's bureaucratic grievance system and by giving increased powers to the commissioner. The bill would also give senior managers a wider range of options to sanction members immediately, such as by suspending pay.
I raised some concerns about this point earlier, not so much with the additional authority of the senior managers as a management team, but the power of the commissioner and the power surrounding him. As one member I talked to this morning said, it gives the commissioner the power to “hire, fire or boot and all the rest”. That is a pretty substantive statement, and there is no question that on disciplinary issues, the commissioner does need the power. However, having been there as a solicitor general, I think there is a dilemma.
The commissioner is in charge of all things RCMP. The Minister of Public Safety is responsible for the RCMP and for policy. It is so different from many of the other ministries. If another ministry has a staffing problem, the minister can step in. That cannot be done with the RCMP because there is a space there that the minister cannot influence. Therefore, the rank and file of the RCMP do not really have the ability to go to the government or the minister if they are having problems with the commissioner. Much in the RCMP therefore depends on the individual, the man or woman who may be the commissioner of the RCMP, and how much power he or she has and how they use that power. They can use it to either good or bad advantage.
Whether we like it or not, there is politics in all organizations, including the RCMP. It is a command system where people eventually move to the top and are appointed by the Minister of Public Safety and/or the Prime Minister to the position of commissioner. There is always that internal political dilemma. My colleague from the NDP spoke to this earlier, noting the legitimate concerns there.
In fairness to the government and to my own party, I believe we need to move ahead. I wish the government had accepted the reasoned amendments by opposition parties, although it tends not to do so, because these could have been made it a better bill. That is why I brought up accountability and transparency earlier in the context of the accountability act. This place is not working because the government just does not accept amendments from others, no matter how well reasoned they are. That could be a problem in this case.
We have to move forward with the bill, but it could have been improved. I admit that openly. Part of the reason for this legislation not moving forward is that this place and its committees are not working as they ought to work any more, because it is the government's way or no way. It is that simple, and that is a sad commentary on how our Parliament is working.
With respect to the power of the commissioner, yes there needs to be power to discipline. Having a rank and file member just go to the other review agency to protect himself or herself may or may not work, in my view. The RCMP is a command structure. Intimidation from the leader can be a strong and powerful thing. What tends to happen is that people who disagree may just step aside and go into another occupation, such as security, a local police force, or whatever. I am being quite open here. There is some reason for concern. It is too bad that aspect could not have been improved.
Given the incidents that have happened in the RCMP and the force's image and uniqueness in this country, we have to move ahead with Bill C-42, but we have to be wary of the problems that could appear. The minister, the government, and all of us as parliamentarians need to be watchful of that and not be afraid of bringing in corrective measures in the future if it seems necessary to do so. I would suggest that the government be wary of that point and be watchful.
It is true that we need to find ways to exercise discipline and to deal with some of the unique internal problems within the RCMP. We need to deal with those problems. We need to be absolutely confident that if we create some other problems along the way for the rank and file in terms of their interests and their maybe even challenging a commissioner for legitimate reasons, that their ability to do so would not be undermined by the additional power to be given to the commissioner in this legislation. I would therefore suggest that we all be watchful of that fact. If it becomes a problem at some future point, we should be willing to act quickly to address it.
Bill C-42 would replace the existing watchdog agency, the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, with the new civilian review and complaints commission.
Paul Kennedy was a witness before the committee. He was chair of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP. He did a very remarkable job. He was not afraid to challenge the RCMP, or indeed the government. He is one of the ones who lost his job, as did Adrian Measner and others over the last six years, for being brutally honest and challenging the Government of Canada. That should not have happened.
It is one of the reasons that the new body has been brought into place. We need these independent officers. He was not as independent as he had hoped. He was not reappointed, and the reason he was not reappointed was because he had done his job and challenged the system.
In terms of what is now going to be called the civilian review and complaints commission, I will only say, will it be independent enough? Will it have the authority? Will it have the backbone to challenge the system, as Paul Kennedy did when he was chair?
There are a lot of complaints. We do not hear many of them. However, I expect members on the committee have, though I am not a member of the committee. There are all kinds of complaints that come in against the RCMP, for many reasons. There are the complaints in the rank and file, sexual harassment and other things. There are complaints from the public in terms of how their particular case was handled, whether it was fast enough or they were elbowed during an arrest, or whatever it may be. The Arar issue went to the commission for public complaints at one point. There is a range that is all over the map.
In my view, that review body has to have the ability to deal effectively with those complaints, to be willing to listen, to receive complaints from the rank and file. I believe that is under this new proposal as well. They have to have the ability to challenge the system and to work in the interest of the public in terms of their answers to these complaints. It is a very important body. It needs to be there. We absolutely need a way for the public to be heard on issues, whether it is a small or big complaint, and to challenge the RCMP on how an issue was handled.
My key point is that given the experience with the government and its removal or not making an appointment—we are going to see the same thing with the Parliamentary Budget Officer, no doubt—an individual and a body who have the backbone to challenge the government are critical. They absolutely must have that independence and they must be made of the character to challenge them.
I have raised some issues. There is no question that we are going to support this bill moving forward because I believe decisions have to be made. I believe the bill could have been improved. It was not because the government does not allow anybody else's thoughts to enter its jurisdictions. Unless it is its own, it thinks it has no merit.
Let me close by saying there does need to be some changes within the RCMP. It is our national police force. It is unique around the world. People look to it as a symbol of Canada. This bill is a step forward in terms of regaining that reputation.