Mr. Speaker, on days like today it is discouraging to listen to what our adversaries opposite have to say. That just cannot be.
I am very disappointed, but not surprised by this government's approach, which is unproductive, indifferent and unfocused and whose failings have been laid bare. Today, the government is on the defensive because of its indifference. It is very evident this morning. Amendments put forward by the NDP included mandatory harassment training for RCMP members, a civilian body to investigate complaints against the RCMP, and an independent review body to avoid police investigating police. All these amendments were very reasonable and in keeping with what the many witnesses said. All these amendments were rejected.
Contrary to the recommendations in the O'Connor report on the Maher Arar case and the many witnesses who appeared before the committee, the government rejected the amendments and continues to favour an internal, perhaps even arbitrary, approach at the RCMP, as we would unfortunately expect, rather than an independent, external and transparent approach.
Unfortunately, Bill C-42 will not resolve the very serious problems that will continue to plague the RCMP. In the meantime, many people will suffer. We are obviously thinking of the women who experience sexual harassment.
Therefore, it is with great regret that we must oppose this bill for all the reasons mentioned and especially because of the lack of transparency and the government's blinkered approach to official opposition amendments.
The people in my riding of Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher sometimes ask me whether I am fed up with Conservatives' behaviour. Of course we are fed up. We cannot take any more of this closed-mindedness, this sense of divine authority and omniscience, the way the Conservatives do not want to listen to and consider other points of view, the bad faith. We are fed up with how the Conservatives always make their ideological agenda a priority, but especially with how, particularly lately, they are always using the buzzword “transparency” and talking about accountability when they are the champions of silence, the champions of working behind closed doors.
I cannot help but see something that is very suspicious in the Conservatives' attitude. What are they hiding by always calling for transparency and officially talking about accountability, when they have an agenda that they will never reveal?
This is very disappointing for us, particularly for those of my colleagues who have been asking for reforms for a long time, such as the member who is sitting right beside me. It seems that we are still working on the issue of harassment within the RCMP. The NDP has been asking the government for ages to take care of this situation, which affects many people, particularly women. It is a governance problem within the RCMP, a problem with the internal culture.
The bill that the government put forward is not a solution at all. We were hoping for a proactive approach and a strategy to prevent these regrettable situations from happening again, but unfortunately, the outcome we are seeing today is a dry, disciplinary, impersonal and ill-considered bill in which the word harassment appears only once. It is unbelievable. As I was saying earlier, although the amendments we proposed in committee were very positive, they were rejected, and the opinions of many witnesses and experts were ignored.
Once again, as is often the case, the Conservatives took a serious, systemic problem affecting the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and addressed it in a simplistic and—quite frankly—lazy manner. What is needed today to change the RCMP and reassure the public is a major change to the culture of this organization, something that this bill does not allow for. On the contrary, in a few years, we will once again be faced with the same problem because harassment will continue to be a serious problem within the organization. This bill does not reassure Canadians that their formal complaints will be examined with the attention they deserve.
Robert Paulson, Commissioner of the RCMP, has repeatedly said that a cultural change is needed. He said the following before the Standing Committee on the Status of Women:
It's the culture of the organization that has not kept pace... We haven't been able to change our practices and our policies...
[T]he problem is bigger than simply the sexual harassment.
David Brown, who led a working group on the issue in 2007 at the request of the federal government, also said the same thing. The name of that group was the Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP. It could not be clearer than that.
And yet rather than a real change of culture on the inside and outside, through unambiguous leadership and listening on the part of the minister’s office, we have been treated instead to a sort of “light reform”, which ultimately will do nothing to solve the fundamental problems we have been raising in the House for several months now, if not several years. It will do nothing to change the problems that have brought us to where we are and that this bill is supposedly intended to solve.
The system proposed in this bill for investigating the police completely fails to meet the test of logic and common sense. Bill C-38, which was cloned to produce the bill that is before us today, had provided that the RCMP would investigate itself in certain cases.
The strange structure we are presented with in this bill provides that in the case of serious incidents involving the RCMP—deaths and serious injuries—the provinces will step in and assign the investigation to an investigative body or police service. Otherwise, the RCMP may assign the investigation to another police service, and if that option is not available, the RCMP will carry out the investigation itself.
This means that the job of overseeing the RCMP is assigned in the first instance to provincial bodies, in spite of the fact that such bodies exist in only four provinces: British Columbia, Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Ultimately, and unfortunately, oversight of the RCMP is too often shifted to the provinces. This amounts to the federal government abdicating its responsibility and once again downloading the federal government’s costs onto the provinces.
I thought that the Conservatives wanted to reduce the size of government, since they told us they did, but that cannot mean that responsibility for the oversight of federal institutions has to be shifted to the provinces.
We are opposed to this Byzantine system because it can be simpler and more effective. We tried to do this through an amendment in committee, proposing that a national, independent civilian group be created that would systematically handle this and report to Parliament. Obviously, that amendment was rejected. We have to put an end to this system of the police investigating the police. Even the mayors of some municipalities are opposed to it.
We made proposals here and in committee to that effect. Our amendments and the recommendations from reports, task forces, commissions and witnesses have been waved off by a government that is running headlong toward disaster. Its stubborn insistence on doing nothing of any real effect is astounding, and we find it particularly tiresome.
The bill before us is also an abdication of the minister’s responsibilities. The proposal to significantly increase the powers of the commissioner of the RCMP amounts to running toward the nearest exit; it is the easy solution.
This is another abdication: the government should have led the charge against harassment inside the RCMP with a vigorous reform. Instead it is choosing to set up and endorse a system that massively increases the commissioner's powers, in the hope that this will change something.
All the witnesses and experts who are familiar with this issue say that we do not need more powers concentrated in the hands of a single person and that what we really need is a new system of transparency and independent oversight.
The Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP, which the government created in 2007, had another idea in mind. It proposed reforms that would bring the RCMP into line with the internal governance methods and structures used in civilian bodies, with a board of management that would oversee and could challenge decisions of the commissioner, that would require accountability, that could hear complaints from employees and that would exist within a transparent structure.
Unfortunately, what the government is proposing is, once again, the complete opposite. Clearly, the solution in this bill, which is to put more powers than ever in the hands of a single person, when what is needed is to overcome an organizational problem, will solve nothing. In fact, it may well create more internal problems and discontent.
This is a clash between two different philosophies. When the Conservatives are faced with a complex problem, they propose more powers in the hands of a single person, more order, more hierarchy, more unchallengeable or arbitrary decisions and more discipline. When we look at the same problem, we call for a system that is structured, transparent, well thought-out and systematic and that will act in the public interest and respect the rights of RCMP members, certainly, but most importantly the rights of the public.
In this bill, what the Conservatives are proposing is unprecedented: an enormous reform that will replace the existing commission that examines complaints against the RCMP and reports its findings to the minister with a commission that will examine complaints against the RCMP and report its findings to the minister. That is very impressive.
In conclusion, the people in my riding are not taken in by this kind of obsession with the rhetoric of transparency and accountability, and they hope that we are going to oppose this sham as long as we can.