House of Commons Hansard #277 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was firearms.


The House resumed from March 27 consideration of the motion that Bill S-232, an act respecting Canadian Jewish Heritage Month, be read the third time and passed.

Canadian Jewish Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at third reading stage of Bill S-232, under private members' business.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #646

Canadian Jewish Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I declare the motion carried.

(Bill read the third time and passed)

Canadian Jewish Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

It being 6:13 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Rural CrimePrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Shannon Stubbs Conservative Lakeland, AB


That the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security be instructed to undertake a study on rural crime in Canada and consider factors, including but not limited to: (i) current rural crime rates and trends, (ii) existing RCMP and other policing resources and policies in rural, remote, and Indigenous communities, particularly in relation to population density, policing geographic area, and staff shortages, (iii) current partnerships with provincial, municipal, and Indigenous police forces, (iv) possible recommendations to improve rural crime prevention and to curb emerging crime rates, and that the Committee report its findings to the House within six months of the adoption of this motion.

Mr. Speaker, today, I am honoured to speak to Motion No. 167, which urges the public safety and national security committee to convene a comprehensive and current assessment on rural crimes in communities across Canada.

I want to acknowledge the work of the Alberta rural crime task force for all of its advocacy.

Rural crime affects constituents from across our ridings. Rural Alberta MPs have been working with provincial and municipal representatives and citizen groups to hear from victims of crime, law enforcement, and sometimes even offenders, to identify concrete actions to reduce rural crime and to protect the rights of victims. I know rural MPs across all of Canada, and of all parties, hear the same concerns from their constituents.

Lakeland constituents feel unsafe in their homes and at work because of escalating robberies, thefts, and break-ins in small towns, family farms, and businesses. The motion is a first step to making concrete recommendations to improve rural crime prevention and to reduce escalating crime rates.

Motion No. 167 calls for an assessment of those trends of crime rates in rural Canada, because 2015 was the first time police reported crime in Canada went up in over a decade, the first time in more than 12 years. It increased again in 2016. Therefore, the experiences of our constituents in rural Alberta, and of people across Canada, are clearly reflected in the official statistics. Many are frustrated and rightfully angry. Many have been victims repeatedly and with increasing violence.

My constituent Barbara said, “Once you tell your personal story of a break-in almost everyone you meet can offer up their own, so you're right when you say there has been a substantial increase in these incidences, and we're all scared and frustrated.”

Canada is clearly in need of a formalized, in-depth assessment on rural crime in order to get the statistics to make tangible recommendations for concrete action to combat this crisis. Both the analysis and the action must be swift because it is urgent.

My constituents do not want studies or reports forever; they want action. However, because the notable escalation of crime is relatively recent, it is a fact that a comprehensive investigation of all factors has not actually yet been undertaken federally. Motion No. 167 is at least a measure I can suggest as a private member to get rural crime on the federal agenda.

One of my constituents, Colleen, says, “Everyone in our area is very, very concerned about rural crime and personal safety.... Neighbours all around us have had vehicles stolen or their houses broken is an epidemic.”

From central Alberta, Rose says, “If we do not feel safe in our own homes, then there needs to be an establishment of why we do not feel safe.”

Ben told me, “As a rural property owner, we are completely frustrated. To date we have lost three vehicles, huge amounts of diesel fuel, several batteries, tools, money, credit cards and precious family heirlooms”.

Feedback from some RCMP members in Lakeland reported increases of 80% in property crime, 58% in vehicle theft, and 105% in property theft under $5,000. In fact, property crime in rural Alberta alone increased by 41% in the last five years, while the population only went up 8%.

Kevin in Lakeland says, “Unfortunately, there are a lot of people in our area who have personally been impacted by thefts, break and enter, and damage caused by those who would seek to take things that do not belong to them”.

Jennifer says, “I know more people who have been robbed than who haven't. It is beyond disheartening and unbelievably unfair. We are sitting ducks due to our location and an understaffed detachment.”

Brad, describing an incident near his farm, says, “The police came up the next day to take a report...moral of the story is that I came to the conclusion that the only one who can protect my family where we live is me, and after my neighbours are phoned I might call the police. And unfortunately I will be the 'bad guy' when they finally arrive here.”

This is happening all too often. Rural crime across Canada was led by a 10% spike in Alberta, but it increased all across western Canada, in New Brunswick, and the Northwest Territories. A recent RCMP report said that property crime in rural Alberta had reached levels never before seen in recent history.

Policing in rural areas is vastly different than urban centres. The St. Paul region in my riding has been hit hard with crime, and it has the highest number of cases of any crown prosecutor office in Alberta, with 2,000 cases back-logged, compared to an Edmonton office with 800.

Just as there are unique challenges with the court system in rural Canada, so too are there challenges with policing rural crime. The committee would examine RCMP staff resources and policies in rural, remote, and indigenous communities in relation to population density, geographic area, and staff shortages.

That is why Motion No. 167 also calls for an examination of current partnerships with provincial and municipal police.

Currently, most rural areas across Canada are policed by the RCMP, except in Quebec and Ontario, which have provincial police forces. The RCMP provides specific federal policing services there as in the rest of the country. Many larger cities and districts have their own municipal police forces. However, more than 150 municipalities, three international airports, and 600 indigenous communities have contracts with the RCMP for local services.

The RCMP has thousands of kilometres to cover and very limited resources. Even a lack of cellphone coverage and road conditions with no street lights over great distances impact response times. As a result, constituents are left vulnerable.

Candace says, “We operate a substantial farm which is our livelihood. Our shop was broken into. The tractor trailer cab interiors messed. Registrations, glasses, CDs, paper files etc. There were excellent footprints and the RCMP showed up a week later.”

A member of that same family down the road just this weekend had his truck stolen by three criminals while his kids were in the yard. It is scary, because if anything had happened, the RCMP to be dispatched are 60 kilometres away.

Across Canada, RCMP members themselves say they are concerned about their own safety and about the safety of the communities in which they work across Canada.

For example, in Lakeland, one detachment has only four RCMP members to cover 2,200 square kilometres and 8,300 Albertans. The reality is that two of them are rarely on duty at the same time and one often is in the office doing administrative duties.

Nationally, more than one in 10 RCMP positions are vacant. As of April 2017, 230 positions are unfilled in Alberta.

Caroline says, “I had a neighbour who called the RCMP after they had a break-in. RCMP never came that day. Never came the next day. Never came at all.”

Currently in Saskatchewan, the RCMP has approximately 925 members working out of 87 rural detachments under community policing agreements. Another 250 officers are based at larger municipal RCMP detachments and 33 are involved in community policing arrangements with Saskatchewan first nations.

In Manitoba, RCMP detachments have been struggling for years with vacancies that have constrained policing services to rural and indigenous communities.

The problem of employment fatigue in the RCMP is a national concern and it is particularly acute in Manitoba. The result is reduced safety and protection to rural and indigenous people, eroded morale, and increased stress for RCMP members.

RCMP members express significant concern for the mental and physical well-being of their colleagues. This highlights a key concern identified by law enforcement stakeholders that a broad public awareness of dwindling policing resources can reasonably generate public unease and embolden criminals.

All of us here today respect the hard work and sacrifice of the RCMP. A thorough and up-to-date assessment will help determine specific resource requirements and actions needed to serve and protect rural communities and about whether recent announcements have made measurable differences.

Residents and businesses in small towns and rural areas across Lakeland say that they expect break-ins and robberies. They are taking action to protect themselves, setting up buddy systems with neighbours, rural crime watches, and citizens on patrol.

One resident said, “We have a security system, but that doesn't help much when it takes the RCMP too long to get there.”

Small business retention is becoming a major challenge in rural communities plagued by rampant crime. Small businesses are vital to Canada's economy, especially in rural areas with limited employment.

For years, small businesses have been broken into and with escalating violence like armed robberies of the Boyne Lake General Store, the Vegreville Hotel, the Bonnyville liquor store, the butcher shop in Eckville, and a sporting goods store in Caroline. Businesses are contacting their counties because they have been broken into so many times that their insurance companies are now refusing them.

On January 28, The Globe and Mail reported on small business retention in rural Canada. It said:

Farmers and business owners who've been hit multiple times say they are surprised by the brazenness of recent property crimes--thieves come looking for electronics, farm equipment or guns, even when someone is home.

However, the question is clear. What incentive is there for business owners to remain in rural areas? It may now be costing them more to stay open than not. Businesses and employees must be able to thrive in rural Canada, not be driven out by criminals and repeat offenders. The rights of law-abiding business owners and residents everywhere must be prioritized over the rights of criminals.

The analysis mandated by Motion No. 167 can deliver the statistics and context to clearly establish all the factors behind the increase in rural crime.

Many municipal associations and municipalities across Canada want action. The Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities recently called for stiffer penalties for those convicted of rural crimes, restrictions on access to rural properties, increased RCMP resources to deal with agriculture-related thefts in rural areas, and expanded rights and justification for individuals to defend or protect themselves, their family, and their property.

My constituents want stronger penalties to stop the revolving door of repeat offenders. Because they are left without RCMP able to get to them fast enough, they fear they are in a no-win situation if they are forced to defend themselves, their family, their homes, property or businesses.

Silke said, “With every strange noise we look out the window and a false alarm from our shop sensor gives us adrenaline overload. Every slow-driving vehicle makes our hairs stand up and in general everyone in the neighbourhood is on edge.”

Caroline said, “I had a neighbour who was at home with her five children. There were people in the yard and all she could do was let them snoop. They had a vehicle waiting on the other side of the treeline. This sort of thing has been, and in my opinion, will continue to escalate.” She asks what our government's first job is, if not to protect its citizens.

Monique said, “Any time I am returning home, kids are in school, husband is at work, I'm nervous, cautious, and scared. Will I drive up to find we are the next victims, and worse yet, will I catch them in the act? That puts me in between them and their escape route. Then what? It's flight or fight for both of us. Guaranteed I will be unarmed. Never in my life did I think that things would shift from urban being safer than rural. We chose rural to feel safer. Now we are targets, sitting ducks so to speak.”

The rise in rural crime has coincided with the escalating opioid crisis in Canada. In 2016, Alberta, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories, and Yukon rated among the highest in the country for apparent opioid-related deaths per 100,000 people, and exceeded the rest of the provinces in terms of fentanyl deaths. That coincides with the increase in rural crime. Multiple first nation communities have declared states of emergency in response to the uptick in opioid overdoses, during which crime rates began to soar.

All members and parties have been strong advocates for action on the opioid epidemic in Canada, and while there are many related factors to ponder, this motion will be an opportunity to enable the appropriate committee to assess this urgent issue in that context: the concurrent increase in opioid use and rural crime.

Some law enforcement officials cite the challenges and resourcing of RCMP in rural areas as a factor in escalating drug-related crimes, and of increasing activities of organized crime in rural areas. Overall, a major problem is that there are so many unanswered questions. This motion is a first step for the federal government to explicitly acknowledge this urgent issue, and to start moving the levers to address it and take action.

Kevin said, “This experience really traumatized me, as well as my wife Lexie, who was at home only a hundred feet from the shop with our four young children when these individuals were here. We don't live close to neighbours, about two kilometres, and for the last two years we have had to change much about how we live out here. It really impacted us and has made us wary about living in an isolated area, even now two years after the incident”, when they were robbed. He continues, “Some of the items stolen were irreplaceable, and the loss of security we feel has certainly been felt by our whole family.”

Sharon said, “I have never been afraid to stay alone on our acreage and hardly ever locked a door. Now all doors on this property are locked, we have yard lights, motion alarm system. Still, I don't feel safe. The police are so thinned out for this big country that they can't help taking sometimes a couple of hours to respond to a call. I am a 75-year-old woman and it is just wrong that I should have these fears as a free Canadian.”

Judy said, “This is not fair that I have to live in fear with gates locked, phone by the bed, and awakened at every noise! This is not the Alberta I know and love.”

These voices are echoed by thousands in rural communities across Canada. It does not discriminate between regions or party lines and it affects everyone. A core duty of government is public safety and security. Constituents should get the safety they deserve.

The results of this assessment would directly affect all rural communities across Canada and benefit every rural constituency should this motion be adopted. Therefore, I urge all members of the House to pass Motion No. 167. As Darcy from Lakeland said, let us make rural life safe again.

Rural CrimePrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Spadina—Fort York Ontario


Adam Vaughan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families

Mr. Speaker, one of the privileges of sitting in the House is listening to the experiences from different parts of the country that are quite clearly different from the experiences we may have in our own home ridings. To hear documented the very real concerns, the very real needs of communities in rural Canada enlightens us all. I want to thank the member for raising the issue and bringing it to the attention of all parliamentarians. We have a shared responsibility in this country to make the streets of my riding as safe as the back roads of my colleague's riding. I assure her that she does not stand alone in the desire to change this circumstance.

As a former member of the police service board in Toronto, and as someone who has been involved in the municipal sector for quite some time, my question to the member is this. As the cities, towns, and rural municipalities speak about this issue, what resources are they prepared to partner with us? Has she canvassed the rural municipalities and the associations, like the ones in Alberta and Saskatchewan, to see what kinds of partnerships are possible around data collection, the studying of this issue, and making sure that our response is as robust as it could be?

Rural CrimePrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


Shannon Stubbs Conservative Lakeland, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's question, and by his question, I am hopeful about the potential for this motion to pass and for this critical assessment to be undertaken.

I can speak with respect to the municipal councils in my riding. There is one county council that has one of the detachments with the most severe shortages. They have been working both with the provincial government and with the umbrella municipal association to find ways they can contribute. They have offered to invest in additional staffing to add administrative support to the detachment so that officers could potentially be on duty together covering their large areas. I think that my colleagues in the Alberta rural crime task force, through their work across the province, have heard similar kinds of intents from municipalities, because everybody just wants to work together to find solutions and take action against this crisis.

Rural CrimePrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would ask my colleague to comment on the recent announcement of investment from the Alberta provincial government by the justice minister, Kathleen Ganley, of $10 million to fight rural crime, and she announced a seven-step plan at the same time.

Rural CrimePrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


Shannon Stubbs Conservative Lakeland, AB

Mr. Speaker, any action to combat rural crime and increase police resourcing in rural communities is welcome.

This motion, if it passes, comes at an excellent time, because the NDP government of Alberta did announce a $10 million investment and 39 additional RCMP officers. If this assessment can be undertaken, then six months from now, we should be able to review that investment and see if it has resulted in additional officers in local detachments. I would say that is exactly the kind of thing that this motion would enable to be reviewed to see if there is actually a measurable outcome or difference in combatting rural crime. As well, there is the federal Liberals' recent announcement of increasing funds for indigenous policing in rural communities across Canada. These are exactly the kinds of things that this motion would allow the appropriate committee to look at and to assess for real action.

Rural CrimePrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


Kevin Sorenson Conservative Battle River—Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for bringing this motion forward. I have served on the Alberta rural crime task force. The member has worked very closely with us, and I appreciate that.

On the stories the member has shared today here in the House, all members of Parliament, especially rural members from Alberta and Saskatchewan, can share similar types of stories. However, as we conducted our meetings throughout the riding, I realized that many of my constituents were living in fear, and she brought that out very well in her speech.

Also, many of my constituents were uncertain as to what their response should be when, not if, they were broken into. Living on a ranch and a farm, I have been a victim to a very small degree with having fuel stolen. Someone came in and ripped a line off of a piece of equipment, broke the fuel pump, and did other things.

I wonder what the member has heard from the government. Are government members going to be supporting her bill? What timelines would be involved in this study? What could go on after the study? Is this the type of recommendation that could work together with provinces, as the member from the NDP shared, or is this something that would eventually come back to committee and be studied?

This is a non-partisan issue. Can the member share on that?

Rural CrimePrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


Shannon Stubbs Conservative Lakeland, AB

Mr. Speaker, I do not know yet whether the Liberals will be supporting the motion, although I have sent out a package and talked to many of the rural members. I know that they are as concerned about these issues as we are.

Part of the reason the motion has a six-month timeline is that I am hoping the committee can assess all of these areas and then come back with recommendations in a timely way so that action can be taken immediately. I know that my constituents, like all of ours, do not want to see government just meet forever, write reports, and do studies when they face this urgent crisis in their lives every day.

Rural CrimePrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Ajax Ontario


Mark Holland LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Lakeland for her important motion. Certainly there is no question that crime wherever it happens is unacceptable and that those who are the victims of crime suffer enormously. One of government's main responsibilities is to stop that suffering in any way that we can.

The point that is made around the rural context is one she is absolutely right about. We know that rural areas are often near the top of Statistics Canada's crime severity index and across the country in rural communities property crimes are plaguing these communities in a way that is utterly and totally unacceptable.

We agree fully and we think this is an area where it is essential that we have bipartisan co-operation to find ways to reduce this scourge so that we do not hear the kinds of stories that the member is talking about. There is no one in any part of this country who should feel scared in their home. There is no one who should feel that they are unsafe. Certainly it is our responsibility to make sure that happens.

We recently had a very good and effective session at the guns and gangs summit held in Ottawa where we heard from experts from across the country, with a very heavy preponderance of those coming from rural communities, to talk about some of the solutions that we need to bring to bear. One of the things that was evident from that was the imperative nature of understanding the needs at a local community level and funding those.

In other words, when I was on council, or when I was on the Durham Regional Police Service's board, the needs in my district of Ajax or the broader Durham region, would not be the same as the member's for Lakeland. The community at a ground level understands what they need to curb crime and make a difference, and how they can build community capacity to create the kinds of safe environments that we mutually desire.

It is one of the reasons we put forward the money in the first year of $32 million growing to $100 million a year in order to build that community capacity and to deal with helping communities curb this type of problem.

I also want to point out that in first nation communities we recognize that they too have also been under-resourced. That is why we were pleased to sign new agreements with first nation police forces that saw an increase of $291.2 million for first nations policing and that included $144 million specifically for officer safety, police, equipment, and for salaries. Starting in 2019, we will see 110 new positions at a cost of $44.8 million.

There are 450 first nation communities across the country and many of the issues we are talking about affect those first nation communities as well. When we are looking at what we can do to restore funding to the RCMP and build up their capacity, similarly we also have to take a look at our first nation communities.

I know the member did not specifically talk about gun-related crime, but I would also make mention of the fact that we are seeing a very disturbing trend in firearms-related victims. We have seen a one-third increase across the country and that is also reflected in rural communities. It is not just victims who are involved in gang-style shootings. We are also seeing it in domestic violence and tragically also in suicides.

The crime element as it pertains to guns is one that is very concerning to us because it bucks the overall trend line down that we see in crime. We see that increase being quite pronounced over the last five years. That is one of the reasons why we had Bill C-71 in front of the House today, not as a panacea but as part of a broader solution in how we can deal with this escalation of gun crime that we are seeing in the country.

While we often see gun crime as an urban phenomenon, we know that roughly three in 10 crimes that happen in relation to a firearm happen in a rural community. In both Saskatchewan and in the Atlantic provinces, firearms-related crimes are higher in rural communities than in urban settings. The firearms legislation is also an important step.

The work the RCMP conducts is mostly rural.

I will talk for a second about some of the initiatives that are happening at the local level with the RCMP to try to address this problem, and hopefully we can look at furthering some of them.

The crime reduction strategy implemented by the RCMP in Alberta, for example, helps police resources target the small percentage of people responsible for a great deal of the criminal activity in the province. That is one of the disturbing trends we often see. The crime we see, which impacts so many of the different stories we are talking about, is committed by a very small number of individuals. By targeting those individuals and going after the ones who are responsible, we can have a much greater impact.

The Alberta RCMP and the Alberta Rural Crime Watch Association recently signed a memorandum of understanding to help citizens take an active role in crime prevention, through patrol programs and police liaisons. There are also four crime reduction teams in Alberta, led by the Alberta RCMP, spread out to focus on rural crime concerns, such as breaking and entering, and property theft. These teams have led to more than 200 arrests, new criminal charges, and recovered stolen property.

I think the key here is what happens when we work as partners with provinces, the federal government, and municipalities. I thank my hon. colleague from Toronto, who got up to speak about the importance of working with local municipalities. It is that intersection of the different levels of government working collaboratively to come at this problem that is going to be absolutely key to our success.

At the same time, we recognize that the number of RCMP officers is absolutely essential. We know that the RCMP cadet enrolment is up 175% over the last couple of years. We are increasingly reaching out to make sure that the RCMP is reflective of the communities it represents, so that when the RCMP is in a rural setting, ideally there are people who have come from that community, know its local circumstances and challenges, and are able to respond accordingly.

As another example of that intersection of different elements working collaboratively to build community capacity, I would point out that in Saskatchewan the province's community safety officer initiative helps address high-priority but low-risk policing needs, including traffic and liquor bylaw enforcement, freeing up the RCMP and municipal police forces to focus on higher needs and more serious crimes. There are other ways of looking at this in terms of resource allocation, to make sure that the RCMP can focus on some of these larger issues, some of the ones that are more severe and causing communities more of a challenge.

The broader message is that the member for Lakeland is 100% right that we have a problem that is utterly and totally unacceptable. We need to bring the full force of government to bear, and that includes not only the RCMP but looking at all the interrelated elements of government that could help solve this problem, to partner with provinces and municipalities, and to do so as much as possible in a bipartisan way.

While we may not completely agree on the solutions, while we may look at it and think that we should do this or that, we both fundamentally agree that it is unacceptable, that it has to be fixed, and that we need to do everything in our power to accomplish that.

On that basis, I am pleased to work with the member opposite on this motion and, in a broader context, on this issue generally.

Rural CrimePrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.


Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is especially important to me because I still live in the rural area where I was born and raised.

I sometimes have the impression that people do not really understand our reality. One-size-fits-all policies are often imposed without a proper understanding of our reality.

In my region of Abitibi West and, really, any time police are responding to calls at night, there are about two teams on patrol. This means that we count on four police officers to cover a territory larger than some countries. This presents specific challenges. For instance, a traffic accident involving two vehicles can block traffic, which would require our entire police force to mobilize for a car accident, so those officers would not be available to respond to other calls. This can cause some rather difficult situations, since crimes are sometimes committed and people are sometimes injured. In such situations, an ambulance might not be available to get that individual to hospital, because there are only so many ambulances at night. This is just part of rural life.

Indigenous police forces face even more challenges because they have smaller staffs. If an officer is sick, someone else will have to work overtime, and it is complicated to find replacements. These police officers also face significant social challenges.

When talking about rural crimes, we cannot ignore the underlying social problems. Looking at these social problems is part of the overall solution, and it is extremely complicated.

In talking about indigenous police forces, I cannot ignore the death of Thierry LeRoux. His death sent shockwaves through my region. Thierry LeRoux was a police officer who was working in Lac-Simon when he was killed as he was responding to a person in distress.

I spoke to his father after the events. This is a very strong man. He told me that, even if it would not bring back his son, it was important to do everything possible to make sure that this never happens again.

This is why a motion like the one my colleague moved will help us find concrete ways to make indigenous police forces more tactically and operationally effective. These officers must have the necessary tools to better respond and serve the public.

Yes, we need to invest money, but we also need to develop a strategy and consider our thought process. We need to be open so that we can understand what police forces need, and then we can look at how much that will cost.

The additional funding has obviously been appreciated, but we must determine whether needs are still being disregarded, and we must give these police forces the appropriate operational capabilities.

I spoke to the chief of police in Pikogan, in my riding. I have known him since I was a little girl; his sisters babysat me. Now, we talk about what is going on. It is hard for him to respond, since the situations are so unique. This reality is often difficult to explain. We must obviously take a closer look at the operational capabilities of these police forces.

There is another specifically rural problem that has to do with rehabilitation. In a large urban centre, a person can get out of jail and choose to never again see the people who led him or her down the wrong path. It is easier to avoid former associates. However, when you come from a village of 300 people, how can you avoid seeing them or being around them? It is nearly impossible. The only choice is to leave town.

That is a unique problem because it is very difficult for people released from prison to avoid getting involved with the same people again. We need to make sure rehabilitation services available in prisons are effective so that people from rural areas who get out do not get drawn back in. We have to look at everything related to rehabilitation because persuading these people to avoid the bad influences that led them to crime in the first place is a major challenge.

The other big difference when it comes to crime in rural areas is the victims. Victims in rural areas are much more likely than those in big cities to encounter their aggressor again while doing things like grocery shopping. That is very hard for victims of violent crime. People who are unfortunate enough to be in that situation may experience chronic post-traumatic stress syndrome because they relive the events every day and cannot fully heal.

I should also point out that some women never come forward because they are afraid their aggressor will be released on their own recognizance and will remain in the community, which does not solve the problem. In many cases, it is easier to keep the incident quiet. That is a huge problem for victims who cannot move on with their lives because they are constantly reliving those experiences.

We are talking about violent crimes that take a tremendous toll on victims, but we should also consider the victims of minor crimes. How is a person supposed to react when they see the person who stole from them daily, but that person was not charged because of a lack of evidence and the police did not arrive on time? What are we supposed to do in that case? It is an extremely complicated matter. It is hard to know what that is like if you do not understand what rural life is like.

That is why I am proposing an amendment to Motion No. 167.

I move:

That the motion be amended by adding, after the words “emerging crime rates,” the following:

“(v) measures to increase the tactical and operational effectiveness of Indigenous police forces, (vi) strategies and resources dedicated to the judicial and rehabilitation systems in rural areas, (vii) improved support for victims of rural crime,”.

Rural CrimePrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

It is my duty to inform hon. members that, pursuant to Standing Order 93(3), no amendment may be proposed to a private member's motion or to the motion for second reading of a private member's bill unless the sponsor of the item indicates his or her consent.

Therefore, I ask the hon. member for Lakeland if she consents to the amendment being moved.

Rural CrimePrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.


Shannon Stubbs Conservative Lakeland, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her support, and I accept the amendment.

Rural CrimePrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.


Ted Falk Conservative Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise today to speak to an issue that is of fundamental importance to me, and also to my riding of Provencher. It is a predominantly rural riding, with a few larger urban centres and lots of smaller communities that would be considered rural. The issue we are talking about today is security as it relates to rural crime. I want to thank my colleague, the member for Lakeland, for bringing this very important issue to the attention of Parliament and requesting to undertake a study on rural crime.

In 2015, Canada's crime index rose for the first time in 12 years. The highest increase was in western Canada. In fact, Statistics Canada reports that crime is on the rise in many parts of rural Canada, led by a 10% bump in rural Alberta in 2015. My own province of Manitoba has also been affected, with an increase of 4.5%. For example, the border town of Emerson has been featured in national news as it is one of the major points where illegal migrants are crossing over from the United States. The CBSA and the RCMP in the area are already stretched very thin, and this extra workload has kept them busy processing migrants as opposed to policing in their communities.

As the member of Parliament for the area, it is my responsibility to represent the concerns many of the residents in this area have. I know these concerns are echoed by many of the other communities in my constituency. It is not only in my riding, but all over Manitoba, the Prairies, and Canada. The most fundamental role of a government is to provide security for its citizens.

I want to be clear from the start that I appreciate and respect the work of the RCMP, CBSA, and all our other security and police services. They execute their jobs with professionalism, diligence, and dedication. They work long hours, often in harsh and uncomfortable situations. Unlike most of us, the security services in Canada do not shut down for Christmas, will not shut down this coming weekend for Easter, nor do they get to cancel on snow or rain days. I want to thank them for their continued service. Their dedication and professionalism lets me sleep at night.

The purpose of Motion No. 167 is to commission a study on rural crime. As I see the matter, and particularly as the matter relates to people in my riding of Provencher, the issues of border control, and RCMP and CBSA staffing are of the utmost importance. Canada is a heavily urbanized country. Statistics Canada identified that, in 2011, 81% of Canadians live in an urban area. That means roughly four out of five Canadians live in a city. One out of five Canadians lives in a rural area that is sparsely populated. We are spread out over this wonderful, great, vast country of ours.

All that space is both a blessing and a hardship. It means rural Canadians have a lot of space and freedom, but it also means they are farther apart from each other than in urban centres. It means it takes longer to get from point A to point B. It takes longer to get the kids to hockey, to buy groceries, and to commute to school. It also takes longer for emergency personnel, including police services, to respond to an emergency.

The distance means that crime is a significant fear. When it happens, rural Canadians are often on their own. Help may not arrive until long after the crime has been committed. The isolation and distance from police means violent crime is extremely dangerous, and it is something many rural Canadians fear. Even property crimes like car theft, siphoning gas, and stealing tools, off-road vehicles, machinery, and equipment become serious issues. The loss of a car can be a troublesome thing, especially in a situation where one needs to respond to a medical emergency and is now unable to do so.

Another aspect that is often overlooked as it relates to crime is the whole aspect of unreliable cellular service in rural areas, and this is a real problem. If a situation arose, it would be difficult to get help without a vehicle, but without cellular service the sense of isolation is felt more strongly. The crime itself may be the same, but the impact of the crime on an individual can be very different in a rural area where cellphone coverage is minimal.

That is why in rural communities, a physical and visible police presence is critical. Knowing that there is an officer out on patrol provides peace of mind to many rural Canadians. If something were to happen, Canadians know that the RCMP is there to help. One of the biggest strengths of rural communities is the ability of the community and the police to come together and work together. This is a trait that is common to all Canadians, but it is especially noticeable in rural Canada.

In 2016, according to Statistics Canada, 67,136 incidents of property crime were reported in Manitoba. In 2015, there were only 60,863 incidents of property crime. That is an increase of over 6,000 incidents of property crime in one year, an increase of over 10% between 2015 and 2016. To add to that perspective, from March 4 to March 11 of this past year, there were 54 service calls made in Oakbank, which is one of the communities in my riding. Of those 54 service calls, 16 were for property crimes. That is almost 30%.

Property protection is important to rural Canadians. Chris Sobchuk, of Allen Leigh Security & Communications, in Brandon, Manitoba, said to the CBC that the demand for farmyard security makes up 50% of business at their trade shows, whereas previously it was only 5% to 6%. Mr. Sobchuk told the CBC that some clients have suffered home invasions where they were locked in parts of their houses while intruders robbed them.

The rural municipalities simply want more protection and to know where the line is on protection.

One of the significant challenges of policing in rural areas is a lack of police resources. This, of course, is no fault of the men and women who serve in our police agencies, but it impacts them and their ability to do their jobs and to do them well. We need to acknowledge this reality and do what we can to alleviate the strain rural police services face.

The influx of illegal border crossings we witnessed in 2017 provides an excellent example of how government rhetoric and policies have a real impact on the people on the ground, whether we are talking about RCMP or CBSA officers or Canadians living in rural areas.

Our police services are often overworked. In the visits I have made to the detachments in my riding, and I have six major detachments and some smaller ones spread around the riding, the common theme has been understaffing, which is caused by vacancies from individuals on various leaves. Staffing has been a huge issue for the RCMP. In my area, they do a tremendous job, but they are tremendously overworked, and a study is very appropriate.

I want to move to a few examples of some of the rural crimes that have happened in my area. There is a poultry farm in my area that was having a problem with the theft of gasoline, tools, and equipment, so the owner decided to get a German shepherd to help with the situation. They even stole the dog, so that was not a deterrent. Farmers in my area, and the folks who live in rural Provencher, are frustrated about rural crime.

I have spoken to many contractors who have had their tools stolen from job sites or the tool trailers they take to work as subtrades on building projects or housing projects. Not only are they out the tools, they have to make insurance claims. Sometimes the trailer is gone, so that is another insurance claim. Often they are not adequately covered by insurance. This creates a real hardship for these contractors who have to replace the tools but now are also unable to work.

There have been many instances of gravel and aggregate companies, which often work in rural areas, that have had copper thefts. Thieves come in and strip the equipment bare of all the copper wire, which is used to transmit electricity from portable generators to the equipment. The crews come to work in the morning and find that the copper has been cut and removed. That costs thousands of dollars.

I know of one gravel company where, for one of its spreads, the cost was $30,000 worth of copper stolen, and that was just the price of the copper and to get it reinstalled. The other impact is the loss of the use of that equipment, which runs at $15,000 per day. That means there are also employees who do not have a job for several weeks while the equipment is being repaired.

Therefore, I want to again reiterate the tremendous need for Motion No. 167 to be passed. There is an urgent need for rural crime in Canada to be studied.

Rural CrimePrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba


Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to speak about the motion from my colleague across the way.

What the member is trying to get across is very admirable. All Canadians should feel comfortable and safe in the communities in which they live.

In the past, particularly in the city when I would knock on doors, there was one door I was always interested in. When I knocked on the door, the elderly woman would ask me to wait a minute. I could hear some movement. She was literally moving a couch away from the door so she could talk to me. She talked about how her life pattern had changed when. At one time, she would sleep at night, as most people do, but she chose to sleep during the day because she felt safer. There was a fear factor.

Whether it is urban Canada or rural Canada, it should not matter. People should feel safe in the communities in which they live. However, there are certain challenges rural communities need to overcome and they are truly unique to them. We could talk about things like population density and the vastness of rural Canada today. We can compare the city of Winnipeg and its related issued. We can talk about the advantages of having a higher density, although at times there is a disadvantage to that. All sorts of factors need to be taken into consideration when we consider why certain things take place in our communities.

However, it does matter who we talk to, whether it is someone in rural Saskatchewan, or downtown Toronto, or any other municipality. There is the general belief that people should respect property, that violence should not be tolerated, and that government has a role to to play.

I find it interesting that the member is recommending that the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security study this and then report back. I have had the opportunity to sit on a number of standing committees, as have all members. Standing committees can do an outstanding job, especially if they are prepared to put Canadian interests first and foremost and study a particular issue. I am not now and have not been a member of this committee, but I would have thought this motion would have been a nice discussion point at the committee itself. Representatives of the committees could sit down and talk about what they should look at in future committee reports.

Therefore, I am bit surprised. Maybe the committee has had the issue, but I do not know. Maybe it actually has done a study on the issue, but I do not know. Having these types of questions answered would assist members on all sides of the House to determine how they might want to vote on this motion.

Let us not underestimate how important it is to do what we can as a legislative body to address this very serious issue that rural Canadians face today. There is very much a growing concern about the amount of violence or property crimes that take place in our rural communities. We need to concede that there are many different stakeholders, and some of them are fairly significant. However, I was encouraged by the sponsor of the motion accepting the NDP amendment.

The NDP amendment addressed a very important component. We talk about the importance of our RCMP and how important of a stakeholder group that is. We know that we have indigenous law enforcement out there as well. Equally, this is a group that needs to be engaged in the process. There are certain factors that need to be taken into consideration. As a stakeholder and as a partner, we need to ensure that we are reaching out as much as possible, recognizing the critical role they have to play.

Our provinces also play a very important role in this. In previous years, under Stephen Harper, when I was in the opposition, there were actually cutbacks to the RCMP. In the last couple of budgets, there have been some improvements to the RCMP budget. However, to get a better sense, in terms of the financing of our RCMP today, there is an argument to be made, and I would suggest that we need to have that debate. When we take into consideration all the different factors at play, that could very easily justify a study.

The Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness has done an outstanding consultation job in regard to a bill that we actually passed just an hour ago. It is now at the committee stage. I suspect we will be hearing many ideas and thoughts out of rural Canada when Bill C-71 goes to committee. It will afford both rural and urban members, and Canadians as a whole, either directly or indirectly through elected officials, the opportunity to express many of the problems that are there today.

The minister responsible did an outstanding job, in terms of reaching into the communities, both urban and rural, looking at indigenous-related concerns and non-indigenous concerns, and looking at ways to improve the way we deal with firearms in Canada, as well as some of the implications of bringing forward a progressive piece of legislation and how that would make our communities a safer place to be.

A few hours ago, when I was speaking to Bill C-71, I indicated that in my opinion the bill was all about public safety. That is one of the reasons I truly believe that when Bill C-71 goes to committee, we will be afforded the opportunity to have that dialogue, at least in part. It will not be anywhere near as detailed as my colleague and friend across the way is suggesting in the motion.

The motion is fairly substantive. This is just the first hour of debate and it could be a while before we get to the second hour of debate. Whatever takes place here, I would encourage my colleague across the way to have that discussion, at the very least informally if not formally, with some of the standing committee members, to see where they might fall on the issue, given the fact that we are going to be debating or having input on Bill C-71, and how one could ultimately complement the other and possibly assist us in making a decision here, inside this wonderful chamber.

I see my time has expired. As always, I appreciate the opportunity to share a few thoughts.

Rural CrimePrivate Members' Business

7:15 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

TaxationAdjournment Proceedings

7:15 p.m.


Pat Kelly Conservative Calgary Rocky Ridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise this evening to continue where I left off in November 2017, on my question about the call centre. I asked the minister about the CRA and its notoriously difficult call centre.

A scathing report by the Auditor General pointed out that 64% of all calls into the call centre ended with the agency merely hanging up on the taxpayer. Of the over one-third of the people who were able to get through to a person, 30% of them were then in turn given the wrong information. This was pointed out by the Auditor General, so it is well known. The minister did not dispute the findings of the Auditor General, although the agency was much less candid about the problems that were known to exist then.

The minister's answer to my question that afternoon was wholly unsatisfactory. It was just routine, blame the previous government for everything kind of stuff. Canadians are getting tired of that. The Liberals are in the third year of their mandate so they need to start taking ownership of their track record rather than simply blaming things on the previous government.

The government did make a promise. It promised to make the CRA more client-friendly. A system where people are unable to get through to somebody is not client-friendly. It is a serious problem. Part of the reason it is serious is that when a person calls into the agency, he or she is looking for help. The individual is looking for assistance with compliance.

A problem that may exist, or a question that is unanswered, has a snowball effect. If a taxpayer is given wrong information and then prepares a return or a response to communication with the agency with information that is not correct, then that taxpayer has a problem. That may lead to an appeal or a notice of objection and that bogs the system down even further.

What we are hearing from professional tax preparers across Canada is that the objection process is increasingly bogged down through sloppy audits, through assessments and reassessments that are not done correctly, so the problems continue.

If a person at the front end answering the telephone at a call centre can give a taxpayer accurate information on a timely basis that can lead to the taxpayer complying with the law in the first place, then there would be fewer files in the objection system. Therefore, folks who have to address objections can focus on a smaller number of files. There is a cumulative effect to these problems.

I have spoken to professionals who prepare returns, tax filers, and some people who work in the call centre and in other parts of the CRA. My concern is that things are not getting better. The pressure on call centre employees appears to be merely around reducing time on the phone in order to get the queue down to a shorter number so they do not have to hang up on as many people. That is great. We do not want them hanging up on taxpayers. Answering the phone and giving quick, sloppy, incorrect or wrong information to end a call as quickly as possible is one way to reduce the queue, but it is not the way to help Canadians. That is not being client friendly.

This is an ongoing concern and I found the minister's response on November 22, 2017, to be wholly unsatisfactory.

TaxationAdjournment Proceedings

7:20 p.m.

Brampton West Ontario


Kamal Khera LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Revenue

Mr. Speaker, allow me to address the House and respond to my colleague's question about the Auditor General's recommendations on the Canada Revenue Agency's call centres.

I can confirm our government's commitment to improve CRA's services to all Canadians. The Minister of National Revenue accepted all of the recommendations in the Auditor General's fall 2017 report concerning the performance of the agency's call centres.

With our first budget, we are investing over $50 million in the agency's call centres. We have already started hiring more agents to answer more to Canadians. Budget 2018 offers much needed investments in the services that CRA offers to Canadians, including further funding for the call centres.

Let me be clear. With respect, we will not take any lessons from the Conservatives who chose to cut funding and training in the CRA's call centres year after year. As the volume of calls coming into the centres increased, Stephen Harper's Conservatives reduced the number of agents in the centres, reduced the hours of operation, and reduced the service standards in these centres.

As to what our government is doing, let me be clear. The CRA is taking action in three areas to improve services offered by all its call centres. Work is already under way to improve service delivery to call centres to improve accessibility to all Canadians, to strengthen the quality and accuracy of responses, and to enhance program measurements and reports.

The CRA is committed to being more transparent with Canadians to ensure that they know the level of service they can expect and how the agency is performing against those expectations.

The service standards my colleague has criticized on numerous occasions were used every year under the previous Conservative government, yet another one of the Conservatives' messes our government was left to clean up.

As Canadians know, improvements take time, especially the launch of a new technology platform. I can assure everyone that there are ongoing improvements. We have hired additional call centre agents and we have improved our existing systems and processes to enhance access to the call centres. We have put measures in place to reduce the chance of getting a busy signal. We have also expanded the options available to callers through the interactive voice response system.

I have appreciated this opportunity to report on the progress.

TaxationAdjournment Proceedings

7:20 p.m.


Pat Kelly Conservative Calgary Rocky Ridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary's response tonight was full of promise and an acknowledgement of the shortcomings identified by the Auditor General. Unfortunately, it contained no evidence that there has been any improvement in service or any fulfillment of the Liberals' campaign promise to treat Canadian taxpayers as valued clients as opposed to merely taxpayers.

The Liberals are going to have to start demonstrating some evidence that anything they have done since they were elected in 2015 has actually contributed to keeping any of their election promises. They are well into their mandate. It is well past time to blame the previous government.

We could get into a race to the bottom about who has been the worst at serving Canadians in a department, but that is not going to help people figure out how to file their tax returns properly.

TaxationAdjournment Proceedings

7:20 p.m.


Kamal Khera Liberal Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to reiterate that our government is committed to improving services to Canadians, and that is exactly what we are doing.

As the Auditor General recommended, the CRA is taking action in the three areas that were identified to address service standards offered by its call centres, by improving accessibility, by strengthening the quality and accuracy of the responses that Canadians receive, and by enhancing program measurements and reports.

While the CRA is confident that implementing the action plan to improve the services provided to Canadians through its call centres will improve the customer service experience, we acknowledge that achieving all these goals will take time. However, we are committed to making sure that every Canadian gets the best service possible.

Indigenous AffairsAdjournment Proceedings

7:25 p.m.


Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Mr. Speaker, the last time I stood to discuss the continuing barriers to the success of the murdered and missing indigenous women's inquiry, I did not get an answer from the government about how the Liberals were going to respond to the interim report of the national inquiry.

Two and a half years into the mandate, it is a very strong commitment by the government, which is certainly shared by New Democrats. It is our highest priority. This is a request that was identified by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in its calls to action. The momentum of over a decade had the families of murdered and missing indigenous women ask the federal government to take leadership and get to the bottom of why and how these women disappeared and what the gaps are in our justice system that failed to support them.

On November 1, the inquiry provided its interim report. It identified that seven out of the 10 barriers to its success were direct bureaucratic stumbling blocks put in place by the federal government, and possible to be removed by the federal government.

When I had the opportunity in question period on November 22, I asked the government if it was doing everything it could to remove those barriers. We were assured that, yes, the government was removing those barriers, but there is still no evidence that has been done and still no response to any of the very strong recommendations from the national inquiry in its November 1 interim report.

Therefore, once again, I ask the government how it is removing the barriers to the inquiry's success. Also, how quickly are we going to see a response from the government to the November 1 interim recommendations and requests from the inquiry?