Mr. Speaker, there are times in debates in this House that speak to times and periods in our own lives. I was pleased to hear from the member for Kootenay—Columbia, who is an RCMP officer and who can bring to this debate a very clear perspective from inside the organization.
In my lifetime, as a young boy growing up in a town called Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, RCMP officers enforced the law in our province. My family had occasion to deal with them. When I was very young, my sister died at the hands of a person or persons unknown. It turned out to be a very ill family member.
For a long time afterwards my father talked about the investigators from the RCMP who handled that investigation. Initially he was taken in for questioning, and he talked about how professionally he, a man who was broken-hearted, who had just lost a daughter, was handled. In fact, that particular incident would affect the rest of his life. He became an alcoholic.
Again my family would interact with RCMP officers, who would pick him up from time to time, as they should and as they needed to do, but there was always a sense that they handled my father with a kind of dignity that perhaps they might not have under other circumstances. I do not know.
For a young boy growing up, my ideal was to become an RCMP officer. Well, if members look at me, I am wearing glasses and I am too doggone short to be an RCMP officer, so I had to forgo that, but I had this great interest in the RCMP, and a great respect for them, for an awful long time.
I still respect the RCMP, although they have fallen on difficult times. There is a cultural change that has happened, at least in my view, over the last number of years, relative to how they treat one another. We have heard those reports.
I recall, I believe it was in the 1970s, a group that was referred to as the "dirty tricks" squad. There was an investigation, and as I understand it, that particular group was disbanded.
The warning signs were there for some time about things that would later become almost institutionalized within the RCMP. Going back to Justice O'Connor in the Maher Arar case, Justice O'Connor made some very significant recommendations to the RCMP at that time, things that they needed to address, things that the government needed to address. That has gone wanting, as far as I am concerned.
Members will recall Bill C-38 in the last Parliament. It started to address this issue, and of course it was lost to the election cycle, as so many things are.
Going back to my friend from Kootenay—Columbia, who brings to this place a particular view of this institution and perhaps of the problems and of some solutions, I am looking forward to listening to his commentary as the day unfolds.
In my previous life as a union leader, one of the things that we had to deal with quite often was harassment in the workplace. We would get together with the company and work on strategies for education of the members who were involved with such things.
Within the union movement itself, I can recall that in the 1980s we worked hard dealing with our own conferences and doing our own internal work on the respect that needed to be paid to one another.
The key to it, in both of those cases, was education. I have a little saying: “With knowledge comes responsibility”. We have the knowledge today of the accusations and abuses that it is suggested have happened within the RCMP. We have enough knowledge to know that something of significance has to be done.
Our party was concerned about this bill because we felt it did not go far enough. During the committee stage, we made proposals for changes to the bill. For instance, a change that is needed is to add mandatory harassment training for RCMP officers.
Every single individual who works with the public and who works under the kind of pressure that these officers work under needs to have that training.
Again reflecting back on my own life, there was a time I worked for the Canadian National Railway as a signal maintainer. In Niagara Falls there was a place called Thorold Stone Road that some members here will know of. Four people were killed there, struck by trains while driving through.
My point is that day in and day out, our RCMP, our police officers and our fire departments deal with the aftermath of horrific events. Today I read in the newspaper that there was a six-car pileup in Hamilton because of the storm. Quite often the first on the scene is a police officer, who has to deal with the pressures that come from those situations. If we consider that pressure for a moment, it does not justify harassment, but in some cases it might help to explain it. It might help us to understand what officers' lives are like and the problems that they take home with them.
In any situation in the workplace, we have to give employees the tools they need to deal with those situations. In the case of the RCMP, I and our party have stressed the need for mandatory training. We also believe there should be a civilian body involved, someone at arm's length. Often we are too close to issues and problems ourselves and keep repeating the same mistakes and not addressing them in a fashion that is helpful to the situation, whereas a civilian board at arm's length would have the capacity to bring a different perspective to the situation. It is really important that the government should pause and look at this idea and give serious consideration to implementing civilian oversight.
In our view, some of the human resources policies we see are overly dramatic and perhaps even draconian in what they offer, but I am not going to dig too far into that because I do not want this to become a bashing of the RCMP. My party and I have great respect for this organization, but part of our responsibility in this place is to do the right thing to help that organization make the corrections deemed necessary by the government.
The government has made an attempt with this bill to start a process, but we do not think it has gone far enough. Witnesses at the committee made recommendations that the government did not see fit to follow through on, any more than it did for things proposed by our party at committee.
As I recall, the bill was put forward in June 2012. It referred to enhancing trust and restoring accountability to the RCMP. Accountability will need the oversight that was talked about. It will need someone at arm's length.
There are proposals in the bill to give more power to the superintendent in charge. The number one officer is going to be given authority where what I would call due diligence should come into play.
I am a great believer in people's right to be heard. People in the workplace, whether they are RCMP officers or regular workers in a plant, make mistakes and do things wrong, and there may be an arbitrary situation in which an employer says, “You're fired”. I worked for Bell Canada, which many times, in my opinion, fired people too quickly. Bell did not even listen to the story in those days. Hopefully that has changed—it has been almost 20 years since I was there—but the reality was that workers would be called on the carpet, the accusation would be made, and they were fired. Then, along with the union, they had to prepare a case to come back to correct the accusation. It is very concerning when that kind of power is vested in one manager or one superintendent in a workplace.
When there is a situation like with the allegations about the RCMP, which talk about a systemic problem that has had to have developed over many years, I remind members again of the pressures that these individuals live under. I want everybody to pause and think about it. It does not justify misbehaviour on the part of workers or officers, but we need to have a trail of due diligence that allows people to look at and understand the situation and help the officers retain their position and correct the behaviour with which people have problems.
As I look through some of the statements from our party and our view of things that could happen, we need the minister to prioritize the issue of sexual harassment. This is the part of the story that has received a lot of media attention. In my experience, the media sometimes make a flashpoint of an issue in which other underlying related or cultural issues in an organization are overlooked because the focus is drawn so heatedly on that point. Sexual harassment in any form in any place, workplace or otherwise, is certainly not acceptable and must be addressed.
However, we can look at the existence of police officers in general and the military-style training they have. Again, I refer back to 1963-1964 when I was a sapper apprentice in the Canadian army. At that time hazing took place. It was considered part of becoming a soldier. We had to be tough enough to put up with whatever happened, whatever was done. Fortunately, the environment I was in did not contain any sexual harassment, but there were other forms of it. Over time, the military dealt with that.
My understanding is that the world today in the military is entirely different. In the military-style training that police officers receive, the environment for that kind of culture is there, and it is just a very short distance between harassment or the buddy-buddy system where people are harassed in good-natured fun.
When women are introduced into the force, their sensibilities relative to what men consider jokes are often greatly different, in most instances. What a man may think is very humourous may tragically hurt a woman. Women live in an environment where the males in the environment have the perceived power in many instances, and they perceive themselves as not having the power to push back. If we listen to the accounts that have been made public by women officers in the RCMP, we hear that is exactly what they have felt happened. They were marginalized, troubled by what happened to them. When they went to superiors for assistance, they felt they did not receive the respect they deserved.
However, I go back to the question of whether the people they went to really had the training, understanding and development of sensitivity for what the women faced. Did they really and truly understand? It is easy to say that they neglected and ignored, but maybe they did not have a true understanding of the damage being done.
We have to go back to education and to changing the system that has evolved in such a negative way. We have to give the tools to the RCMP as a whole to begin to address this problem. We cannot fix these things from the outside. We can start doctoring and putting band-aids on it, but the culture needs to evolve itself. Again, we need sensitivity training of relationships between men and women in the workplace, and as well visible minorities, because that is another new thing within the RCMP. All of these things are added to the day-to-day pressures that these good officers live under and the culture that has sadly reached the point it has, a point where we have lawsuits and individuals going very public with their stories.
From my own experiences as a representative in the trade union movement, the last thing harassed people want to do is to make that public. In their minds, they look at it just like bullying in a schoolyard and the people will do it again, or they will lose the respect of their co-workers. All of those things need to be addressed.
When the bill went before the committee, the NDP went to committee in good faith. We understood that the situation had to addressed. We cannot support the bill in its present form because it does not go far enough.
The government has the idea that power can be vested in one person, that person being the head of the RCMP. The government believes that individual will create the environment. That individual is going to need exterior help, such as experts who deal with harassment situations and training experts to assist the people in charge of individual departments. A comprehensive training cycle has to be put in place or this will not work.
It has taken many years for this to evolve. We never heard stories like this before, and it is not because people were silent. We never heard about it because it was not happening. The pressure on modern-day police forces is beyond anything.
Being a child of the fifties, I am from the days when we did not lock our houses or our cars. Police officers in those days very rarely faced somebody with a firearm. The environment we lived in was different. Again, I want to stress that I am not justifying what has happened, but stress has to be part of the equation so we can understand what is happening to these officers and the spillover effect of that evolving negative culture. It totally is out of hand.
Many women RCMP officers have come forward, and I encourage all of them to come forward. They need to understand that there are people who sincerely want to see change. We want to correct the tarnished record of the RCMP. We also want those in charge of the RCMP to have the tools they need to create and sustain a healthy workplace, and I cannot stress that enough.
Members can probably tell that I speak with a great deal of sadness and that is because, as I said earlier, I wanted to become an RCMP officer, but that was a long time ago. I am talking the fifties.
The NDP went to committee in a sincere attempt to make the bill better. We can do better for our RCMP so that we can remain proud of the people who work so hard for us and put their lives at risk, but work in a difficult environment. There is a culture in the RCMP that has been tainted, and we have to do everything we can to fix that.