Mr. Speaker, I want to inform you that I will share my speaking time with the member for Sudbury.
I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-42, which would strengthen discipline in the RCMP following numerous cases of harassment, intimidation and serious misconduct.
The NDP supports the principle of this bill. That is why we supported it at second reading.
During the parliamentary committee's proceedings, however, we heard from witnesses and experts who confirmed our first impression that Bill C-42 has some serious deficiencies and would not improve oversight of the RCMP.
The Canadian public's trust in the RCMP has been put to the test in recent decades, given the many scandals in which the force has been involved.
Consider, for example, the Maher Arar affair. That Canadian citizen was deported to the United States and then tortured by the Syrian government based on false information conveyed by the RCMP.
Consider as well the RCMP's bungling of the Air India affair, a pathetic case of incompetence and negligence. In addition to failing to co-operate with CSIS, the RCMP was unable to prevent the incident, even though it was warned of a direct attack on flight 182 three weeks before it occurred.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the Airbus affair. The RCMP's incompetence in that matter forced taxpayers to pay Brian Mulroney $2 million in damages.
There are also the many criminal and political cases in which charges were never laid. Consider the sponsorship scandal, for example, and the disappearance of hundreds of thousands of dollars from the transitional jobs fund.
There was also the major fraud involving the RCMP pension and insurance plans. The Auditor General of Canada uncovered numerous cases of cronyism and reported that RCMP operating expenses had been charged to the employee pension and insurance plans.
Many cases of psychological and sexual harassment have been made public over the years, but authorities have not taken steps to address them. For example, Victoria Cliffe and three other female RCMP officers in Alberta accused Sgt. Robert Blundell of sexually assaulting them during undercover operations.
Ms. Cliffe stated that the RCMP commissioner was the person responsible for making the final decision on all internal investigations, every investigation conducted within the police force and every disciplinary problem. She added that all matters were referred to the top, to the big boss.
Remember that, following that disclosure, Victoria Cliffe lost her position as a negotiator and Sgt. Blundell lost only one day's leave.
We could also talk about all the police blunders that might suggest there were shortcomings in RCMP officers' training and supervision. Much of the problem stems from the fact that the RCMP enjoys special status, untouchable status, within the government.
For example, the RCMP is not subject to the Access to Information Act or covered by the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act.
Members will recall that when the Conservatives introduced the government accountability bill in 2006, they maintained most of the exemptions for the RCMP. Furthermore, unlike officers in other police forces, RCMP officers still have no right to unionize, which would put them in a better bargaining position that would facilitate the disclosure of wrongdoing.
In short, the RCMP is out of control. In 2007, the president of the Canadian Police Association even said he thought all parliamentarians should be concerned about the fact that an organization of the RCMP's size and power had little or no accountability.
Shirley Heafey, the former chair of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, spoke out on several occasions about the organization's cover-ups and lack of transparency:
[The commissioner of the RCMP] does not understand the accountability system, he does not understand the complaints system. It was very difficult for him to accept that he was accountable to a civilian agency.
She added that there was no way to make the RCMP accountable.
She also said that she believed it was going to explode at some point. She said that they could not continue covering up and downplaying the problems forever. Every time something serious happened, it was often impossible to obtain the documentation. Finally, she mentioned that she found it difficult because she was constantly spending a lot of energy trying to do her job.
Despite these shocking comments, the Conservative government continues to drag its feet. Bill C-42 will not really make much of a difference to the RCMP because the proposed measures do not go far enough. Nevertheless, the NDP has worked hard to improve the bill. We proposed a series of amendments to make Bill C-42 respond to the challenges that the RCMP currently faces.
The NDP amendments include requiring all members of the RCMP to receive harassment training in accordance with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act, establishing an independent body to examine complaints against the RCMP, adding a provision to create an independent national civilian investigative body in order to prevent police from investigating police, creating more balanced human resources policies by eliminating some of the new draconian powers of the RCMP commissioner, and strengthening the RCMP external review committee in cases where dismissal is being considered.
As is often the case, the Conservatives rejected all the NDP amendments. However, most of them met with the approval of many of the witnesses who appeared before the committee.
I would now like to deal more specifically with two major problems with the bill. As my colleagues have already mentioned, there is no proactive measure against sexual harassment. For a long time, the NDP has been asking the government to make dealing with harassment at the RCMP a priority. Bill C-42 does not directly attack this scourge, which has become a systemic problem.
Although the bill gives the RCMP commissioner the ability to create a more effective process for dealing with sexual harassment complaints, we believe that a more proactive training course should be included in order to address the issue of harassment, particularly sexual harassment, within the RCMP. The Conservatives refused to take this approach.
I read Bill C-42, and I noticed that the word “harassment” does not even appear in it.
We had also hoped that a clear policy on harassment within the RCMP would be adopted that would contain specific standards of conduct and criteria for assessing the performance of all employees. Such a policy would serve as a basis for a fair disciplinary process.
In short, the bill does not go far enough and does not address the concerns of the women working for the RCMP, who are calling for immediate action in order to create a safer and more open work environment.
What is more, the bill was introduced before the findings of the internal audit on gender equality within the RCMP were submitted.
In our opinion, it is essential that the RCMP be subject to civilian oversight. However, the new civilian complaints commission introduced in Bill C-42 has the same problem as the RCMP Public Complaints Commission because it would report to the Minister of Public Safety, rather than to the Canadian public through Parliament.
Furthermore, it is important to note that the new commission would not be completely free to undertake investigations and would not have any binding authority. The new commission will not have the power to investigate accidents resulting in serious bodily harm or death. These investigations will mainly be assigned to municipal or provincial police forces or will continue to be carried out by the RCMP itself.
In conclusion, the Conservative government will not subject the RCMP to an independent investigative body that would report directly to Parliament. Until the Conservatives implement a strong mechanism for eliminating harassment, I cannot believe that the government is committed to modernizing the RCMP.