Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-42 at third reading today.
First, I want to begin by paying tribute to the women and men of the RCMP who work every day to help keep our communities safe. Often we talk about the wondrous blessings of this very large and diverse country, but I would also add that sometimes it can be a large and cold country, which can be a curse as well as a blessing. With the conditions we faced in most of the country over the last week, I think we need to remember that the emergency services people, the RCMP and all those other front-line people, are still out there working in the cold, keeping us safe despite the harsh weather conditions that keep many of the rest of us at home.
I think that the opening of the third reading debate is a good time to remember why the bill is before the House. The government likes to emphasize the word “modernization” and say that it is time to review the act, that this is the first major revision over 25 years and, therefore, that we can bring things up to date since we last debated this in the House in 1988.
I would like to argue that it is before the House not just because time has elapsed and it is time to look at it again; it is before the House because we have very serious concerns to address regarding the RCMP.
I do take exception to the position that has been stated this morning, that somehow the NDP has an interest in this. What we are talking about is what we heard from witnesses and from stakeholders about some things that needed to be in this bill and were not there. We did propose amendments at the committee stage, and again at report stage, to address the serious concerns. I want to just remind the House what those are.
First, there is a declining confidence in the RCMP, despite the fine work done by women and men on the front lines every day. Overall, we have seen the public losing some of the confidence it has had over the years, which confidence has made the RCMP a national symbol in many ways.
Yes, the public still has confidence in the RCMP, but that decline in confidence, no matter how small, has to be a concern for members in this House.
Second, we have a clear problem with sexual harassment within the RCMP. We also heard in committee that we have problems with other kinds of harassment. Therefore we have to address that problem directly. It is not just updating the bill; it is dealing with something that has happened inside the RCMP over time that has led to 200 women bringing a lawsuit against the RCMP for the damage to their careers that happened as a result of sexual harassment in the RCMP.
Third—which the government focuses on almost exclusively, and I would agree—there is a need to deal with serious concerns about management of human resources and labour relations inside the RCMP.
Let me talk about each of those in a bit more detail and start with the declining confidence.
Obviously, we have had a number of unfortunate high-profile incidents over the last few years involving the RCMP, which resulted in deaths and serious injuries to the public. Some of this loss of confidence is to be expected whenever there are serious incidents of this kind.
However, in large part, I think the loss of confidence is attributable to the police investigating themselves. In these cases that involve, as I said, serious bodily harm and/or death, the public worries that somehow when police investigate police there will be a tendency to take care of one's own and to perhaps not pursue the investigation to its full length.
I believe that the police, generally, do a good job investigating themselves. However, if the public does not have confidence in that investigation, then we need to proceed in a different way.
Some of that loss of confidence is a direct result of public concern about the structures we use to hold the RCMP accountable.
Yes, the hon. member who is the parliamentary secretary talks about a very confusing set of overlapping jurisdictions, and we would agree with her. That is why we proposed, in committee, that there be one clear independent body that is able to investigate in these kinds of incidents; not adding that as another layer on top of existing bodies, but having one national civilian investigative agency in which both the public and the police could have confidence in the investigations that take place in these very serious cases.
Second, I talked about the problem we obviously have with sexual harassment within the RCMP. We cannot just brush this aside, saying the RCMP will deal with it, because obviously it has failed to do so. Anytime, as I mentioned, 200 members of the RCMP, for any reason, go outside the normal RCMP processes and ask the courts to intervene because of what they see as very damaging policies and practices within the RCMP, then we have a serious problem—and it is not a problem of just a few bad apples, but it is a systemic problem within the RCMP.
We on this side have a serious concern that there is a flaw in the culture of the RCMP, which is now deeply ingrained. It is a culture that all too often tolerates harassment in the workplace, specifically sexual harassment. Therefore, we put forward an amendment to the section that lists the responsibilities of the commissioner of the RCMP. This section outlines certain things that the RCMP commissioner must do, but does not list everything the commissioner does, as the hon. member on the other side implied. It establishes some clear responsibilities.
In committee, we heard from representatives of women who are bringing forward law suits. We also heard from experts on sexual harassment that, instead of trying to deal with the problem at the back end using discipline, there is a necessity to change the culture of the RCMP through training at the front end and make people aware of what they sometimes do not even perceive as harassment.
I know this from serving on a municipal police board. Some 10 years ago, we required all employees on the police board to go through harassment training. At the end of that training, some officers whom I respected said they had done some things over time that they had not realized had an impact on others within the police force.
That is the importance of stressing that putting harassment training into the responsibilities of the commissioner would help change the culture that results in the limitation of careers of women within the RCMP. We spend a lot of money training these officers, they gain a lot of experience, and they find their careers blocked or frustrated by a practice that is unacceptable, which is sexual harassment.
As I have said, when we have so many instances come forward, we have a systemic problem. This not an NDP proposal that would benefit the NDP, but most organizations have dealt with sexual harassment at the front end through training. Therefore, it is beyond me why the Conservatives fail to accept at least this one amendment, which is a very simple amendment, to add harassment training to the specific responsibilities of the commissioner.
Also, adding this specific responsibility for training would create accountability. When the commissioner comes before the House at the public safety committee, if there is a specific responsibility listed in the act, then it makes it possible for members of Parliament to ask questions on how that responsibility is being carried out, what the commissioner has done in this area, and how he or she has met the statutory responsibilities, instead of leaving the act silent on the question of sexual harassment.
As my hon. colleague said in his question, the words “sexual harassment” do not even appear in the bill that is put forward as a solution to the problem of sexual harassment. I will accept the parliamentary secretary's argument that harassment is not just sexual in nature and that there is a larger problem in the culture of the RCMP. However, that is why we put forward the amendment, which was rejected by the Conservatives, to make the bill something that would be part of the up-front efforts to change the culture of the RCMP. I believe this is a measure that would go a long way, along with independent oversight, to help restore confidence in the RCMP.
Our third concern, the management of labour resources, I think really comes down to what the parliamentary secretary raised. It is a discipline process that seems convoluted, sometimes arbitrary and often ineffective. We have had some egregious examples, especially in dealing with discipline regarding sexual harassment.
For example, a senior officer in one of the provinces was found guilty through the internal process of numerous incidents of sexual harassment of his female colleagues. The punishment that came out of this disciplinary process was to transfer him, near the end of his career, from a posting in a very cold part of the country to a posting in what I, of course, regard as one of the best parts of the country when it comes to climate. It did not seem like much punishment. It did not seem like very effective punishment to simply transfer the person, with no training required, and without any remedial work being done with the person. It was to simply transfer the person to another jurisdiction, and those problems may in fact have been transferred with the individual.
Therefore, we agree that the discipline process is sometimes convoluted, slow, arbitrary and ineffective. Of course, if the discipline process is not effective, it does make it difficult to deal effectively with all of those other challenges the RCMP faces.
Bill C-42 is before the House this session, and we on this side supported it at second reading because we acknowledge the seriousness of these challenges currently facing the RCMP, and we hoped to have a dialogue at committee that would result in a stronger bill. We heard from many witnesses and, as I said in my question to the parliamentary secretary, we heard from no one who was an independent witness, who was not an official of the RCMP, that he or she actually supported this bill.
I have talked at great length with the president of the Canadian Police Association, and he does have reservations about this bill despite the comments of the parliamentary secretary.
The Conservatives presented this bill to the House last summer, just before the break, and on this side we responded with the serious set of hearings of witnesses in the fall. I would argue we had a good set of hearings. We dealt with the issues substantively.
However, what it demonstrated was there was lots of room for improvement in this bill. Again, we put forward a package of amendments that we believed would serve to strengthen the bill and address those serious problems. All of those amendments were rejected. We also put forward amendments at report stage, and once again they were rejected.
It should come as no surprise to the government that on this side of the House we have found that we cannot support the bill at third reading. It leaves those major issues unaddressed.
It really exacerbates the problems that result from the paramilitary model that the RCMP initially adopted. When the RCMP was set up, the Government of Canada looked to the Royal Irish Constabulary, which had been established in Ireland in 1822. This was a paramilitary model that was designed to help police an Irish population that was hostile to what it saw as the British occupation.
There is another model from Britain, a model that I believe would better serve the Canadian context. That model is nearly as old. It was set up in 1829 for the Metropolitan Police of London based at Scotland Yard. Instead of being a paramilitary organization, the Metropolitan Police was set up on a community policing model and a model of shared governance, where there was more consultation with the cop on the beat about how to do policing and less of a top-down structure.
The solution in terms of administration and labour relations that the government has adopted here is to give the commissioner more power. To me, a lot of the problems we are facing result from that concentration of power in the hands of one person. What we suggested were some amendments that would help spread out that power, increase the authority of the external review committee, increase the confidence that rank and file members would have in the internal discipline process in the RCMP and, therefore, also increase public confidence in the RCMP.
We are opposing this bill because we believe that in the House of Commons we have a duty to do the best we can in terms of reforming an act, especially when these kinds of issues only come before the House once every 25 years.
To repeat, sexual harassment is still not in the bill. Our solution to tackle sexual harassment at the front end through training and a change in the culture rather than simply the disciplinary end was rejected by the Conservatives.
In terms of oversight, what we suggested in our amendments was a fully independent complaints commission reporting to the House of Commons. What do we have in the bill? We have a complaints commission that continues to report to the minister, and a commission that cannot make binding recommendations; it only can make non-binding recommendations to the minister and the commissioner.
To have a more fully independent commission, we thought some changes were needed: to report to the House of Commons, to allow binding recommendations. Those suggestions were rejected by the Conservatives.
Even the parliamentary secretary mentioned that there are four provinces, and of course the three territories, where there is no provision for independent investigation of the police. In those serious incidents involving serious bodily harm or involving death, in four provinces, even after this bill passes, we will still have police investigating police. This remains a serious confidence problem for the public.
The minister and the parliamentary secretary have both mischaracterized our proposal as one of adding to bureaucracy. Instead, what we were suggesting is an independent, civilian, national investigation organization that could replace some of those other organizations, replace some of the duplication, but most importantly would establish public confidence that when there are unfortunate incidents, they have been thoroughly investigated and will result in an outcome that has the appropriate consequences.
I want to take a couple of minutes to talk about two statements made by witnesses at the public safety committee. They both spoke about the solution of giving additional powers to the commissioner. One of those was Mr. Tom Stamatakis, president of the Canadian Police Association. In committee, on October 29, this is what he said:
Bill C-42 provides the commissioner with extraordinary powers in this regard, powers that go beyond what one might find in other police services across Canada. For example, in Ontario, a police officer who is subject to a disciplinary process retains the right to appeal the decision to the independent Ontario Civilian Police Commission, a quasi-judicial body that provides an impartial review of the process and ultimately a decision. Without any additional, and most importantly, independent avenue for appeal, I would suggest there is a possibility that RCMP members could lose faith in the impartiality of a process against them, particularly in situations in which the commissioner has delegated his authority for discipline.
In short, what Mr. Stamatakis was saying was in line with the amendment we proposed. We have an external review committee that looks at disciplinary decisions within the RCMP, but it only makes recommendations to the commissioner. If a rank and file member appeals his or her discipline, it goes to the independent external review committee, but the commissioner does not have to pay any attention to its decisions. Our amendment suggested that we could have greater independence for the external review committee, and that was supported by the Canadian Police Association.
Other witnesses at the public safety committee also spoke out against the power imbalance, in terms of labour relations, within Bill C-42. Most recently, we heard from Rob Creasser, media liaison in British Columbia for the Mounted Police Professional Association. It is sometimes called the non-union union, since the RCMP is prevented from unionization. What he said in committee was:
One major problem that exists in the RCMP is the tremendous power imbalances within the organization. Bill C-42, rather than mitigating these issues, will only make them exponentially worse.
If Bill C-42 is passed in its current form with the charter violations and avenues for continued abuse of power by managers, rather than correcting the issues that have plagued the RCMP, our Parliament would be promoting the bad behaviour and cronyism by legitimizing this type of behaviour.
That is a somewhat stronger statement than I might make on this issue, but it points to the direction of our amendment, which is that we need a more collaborative management structure, not a strengthening of the powers of one person and not a concentration of those powers in the hands of the commissioner alone.
It became apparent to us, after hearing witnesses and experts at committee, that the bill has deep flaws that will not fix the concerns the public and the rank and file members of the RCMP have.
Since Bill C-42 was passed in committee, 2,000 members of the RCMP have signed a petition stating that they were not properly consulted on the changes in the bill and that they do not believe the government is representing their best interests in this bill. Two thousand serving RCMP members signed the petition opposing this bill.
Bill C-42 still allows, in four provinces, for police to investigate police. Really, the solution adopted by the Conservatives is to dump responsibilities onto provincial investigating agencies rather than to guarantee that there is one high-quality civilian agency at the national level.
The NDP has put forward its package of amendments reflecting what independent witnesses said in the committee and reflecting the things we believe are necessary to address the three main concerns I talked about earlier in my speech.
Measures to address harassment training at the front end are critical to changing the culture in the RCMP. Measures to strengthen the independence of review bodies are critical to restoring public confidence in the RCMP.
The Conservatives are standing by their argument that putting more power in the hands of the commissioner to fire individual officers will curb all the ongoing issues in the RCMP. Giving the commissioner this concentration of power, we believe, would contribute to ongoing problems and not solutions.
I would conclude by saying that the NDP wish we could have supported the bill at third reading, but the government was not able to see its way clear to accepting any of the amendments that would have addressed these serious concerns.