Madam Speaker, as always it is a privilege to rise in the House and speak to an important issue, the protection of Canadians in our communities. That is the top priority of this House, something I have said for several years, and I am happy to hear the new public safety minister beginning to echo those same sentiments.
Bill C-98 from the previous Parliament session, renamed Bill C-3 in this session, proposes to repurpose and rename the RCMP's civilian complaints commission to the “public complaints and review commission” and expand its mandate to review both the RCMP and the CBSA.
I want to take this opportunity to thank the RCMP and CBSA members for the incredible work and service they provide to Canadians.
I am privileged to be the first to rise on behalf of the official opposition and say that our team is cautiously optimistic of this legislation. Our Conservative team supports that all governments, employees and elected officials should be accountable to the people and the taxpayer. Public servants across the country must be held to the standards expected of Canadians, which is to uphold the integrity of people who are visiting or passing through our country, while ensuring our laws and international laws are upheld. For those reasons, a properly implemented oversight agency, as is used by police services across the country, including the RCMP, seems to be a sound policy and certainly long overdue.
In 2016, Ralph Goodale, the previous public safety minister, testified he was already working on the issue and prevented legislation from others to proceed.
In 2017, Mel Cappe provided his advice, which is captured in this bill, to create a civilian oversight body. Unfortunately, it took until the last days of the previous Parliament session for the Liberals to move ahead. Hopefully, the retabling of the bill three months into this new session suggests the Liberals are certainly taking this issue seriously.
Canadians expect federal law enforcement to act to uphold our laws and to be held accountable if it does not. This bill will align well with the values of many Canadians and the values of the Conservative team. However, it would not have been my top priority. Rather, I would have liked to talk about issues that at this time are of top priority to Canadians, such as the 134,000 people from across this country who have signed e-petition 2341. Currently, it is the largest e-petition in Canadian history and is the third largest in all of Canadian petition history, only behind the 1949, 625,000 hard-copy petition for the Canadian Bill of Rights and the 1975 petition on not proceeding with the abortion law. Of course, I am thrilled to be the sponsor of that petition. It highlights the flaws in the Liberal plan to target law-abiding Canadian gun owners for the actions of criminals and gangs.
I would have also liked to talk about the issue of rural crime and how it impacts all rural communities, especially those where the RCMP are left short-handed, and about the lack of a Liberal plan to deal with the skyrocketing opioid crisis in our communities, all the deaths that are occurring and the public safety concerns of gangs, shootings and illegal firearms. We should be talking about the erosion of our border security under the current Liberal government, not just with respect to the crisis of illegal border crossers, but also with drugs, handgun smuggling, human trafficking by many of the gangs running drugs, and the massive backlogs in the monitoring and deportation of known terrorists, criminals and national security risks.
However, we are here today to talk about Bill C-3, an oversight bill. Oversight is good. It ensures that people know that there is someone who will look into actions that are not in keeping with our laws. This bill should provide investigative powers, an ability to review situations, provide feedback and determine the course of action on scope and scale with anyone who violates our laws and principles.
Bill C-3 proposes to repurpose and rename the RCMP civilian complaints commission to the “public complaints and review commission” and expand its mandate to both the RCMP and the CBSA.
Since coming into government, the Liberals have added numerous layers of oversight, bureaucracy and process into national security and public safety with very little action that actually protects Canadians.
The Liberals have added the parliamentary National Security and Intelligence oversight committee, the new National Security and Intelligence review committee, the expanded Intelligence Commissioner and now the expanded role of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP.
This is on top of the existing reviews that include the Minister of Public Safety, the Minister of National Defence, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the national security advisor and now the newly appointed Deputy Prime Minister.
I certainly hope we do not have investigations by seven or eight federal agencies with respect to this one complaint and what this act is supposed to do.
Over the last five years, the Liberals have committed $150 million on boosting oversight. In contrast, between 2015 and 2019, they promised $400 million to policing and gangs, but delivered next to nothing.
Members will stand and say that oversight is the right way to go and that this bill, with some edits, as has already been mentioned in a previous question, could actually benefit Canadians. It will be important to ensure the right amendments are in place.
The bill would create a mechanism to complain about inappropriate actions by border officers. Police agencies have had civilian oversight and review for decades, and it is common practice around the world for law enforcement. It seems logical that a large enforcement agency, like CBSA, should have the same checks and balances. This will help officers who are wrongly accused to show that they acted appropriately, if they did, and it will remind officers that they are not above the law, which is something we all need.
However, the bill is silent on holding people accountable. The public complaints and review committee can examine evidence, call witnesses and write a report, but the bill seems silent on how officers who violate the law, code or principle can be held accountable.
I have not been in Parliament as long as some, but anyone who has paid attention to the Auditor General or other parliamentary officers can see a pattern: programs, services and reviews designed to look like they address issues, but lack any kind of accountability or powers to hold people accountable.
The Liberals are repeating the same thing over and over again. They gave us a new agency, a new commission, a new committee or another new bureaucracy, but refuse to put in place any measures that would take steps to correct the problems the commission or committee was there to deal with in the first place.
Let me use Vice-Admiral Norman as an example. The Prime Minister personally pointed the finger at Vice-Admiral Norman. The vice-admiral was fired and charged with serious offences. The Prime Minister said that he supported the RCMP in its investigations, but made no effort to provide full evidence to support its investigations or refute that investigation. It is only when Vice-Admiral Norman's attorney interviewed former Conservative ministers from the Harper administration that suddenly the case fell apart and the vice-admiral was completely exonerated.
A report into this civilian oversight committee, and I can only speculate since the Prime Minister continues to use cabinet confidence to cover up his trail, would probably reveal a use of select evidence, a plan to railroad and to blame a decorated officer in an attempt by the Prime Minister to hold the truth from Canadians.
Under this model, it should stop there. There would be no actions or recourse to address the issue to stop it from happening again, as is the case with Vice-Admiral Norman. There is no punishment for a corrupt politician to attack and railroad an honoured and decorated officer in the Canadian Armed Forces.
The House and the committee can and should give this bill proper scrutiny. While the idea seems sound and the model certainly better than in other legislation, I am very wary of anything the government does on borders. It has not managed our borders well and have not been upfront with the House of Commons or Canadians about those issues.
In 2017, the Liberals told us there was nothing to worry about with the tens of thousands of people crossing illegally into Canada. They told us they did not need new resources, security was going well and everything was just fine.
In reality, security was being cut in other areas to deal with the volumes of illegal border crossers, provinces and cities were drowning in costs and overflowed shelters, border and RCMP agencies were stretched and refugee screenings were backing up. According to the ministers at the time, everything was fine.
Then, three budgets delivered new funding and changes and a promise to deal with issues facing our border. Billions were spent on this issue, another example of mismanagement for the taxpayer to clean up, and things are no better. However, we still continue to pay millions to deal with the issue without any reduction in the problem.
What should we scrutinize?
First, we should ensure we hear from those people impacted by the decision, such as groups like front-line RCMP and CBSA officers who would be subjected to the evaluations this oversight committee would have. We were shocked in the last session that neither the RCMP or the CBSA unions were involved. However, again, that is not necessarily new in the consultation policies of the government.
A news article stated, “The union representing border officers has heard little about the proposal and was not consulted on the bill”, that being the former Bill C-98, an nearly identical bill to this one. It went on to say, “Jean-Pierre Fortin, national president of the Customs and Immigration Union (CIU), said the president of the CBSA also was left in the dark and could not inform the union of any details of the legislation.”
My hope is that this has been taken care of, or will be taken of. However, in speaking with those two bodies, with the National Police Federation, on the previous bill, I am left with the impression that the Liberals did not consult them either.
As members heard earlier, I had ask the minister if the government had corrected it this time. I guess we will find out once it gets to committee, and my colleagues will hear from those individuals who I just mentioned.
We will want to hear from impacted Canadians on this matter. There should not be a need to get high-priced lobbyists involved to get the minister's attention.
We should also ensure that Canadians do not need to hire lawyers to get access to the Complaints Commission and its processes, which is critical for those who might be impacted by any impropriety during a border crossing.
Further, we need to ensure that the minister and his staff, and other leaders across the public safety spectrum, cannot get their hands on the processes and decisions of these oversight bodies.
Finally, I want to mention the issue of the Liberals using their majority to ram things through despite serious issues in the last Parliament.
I call on and expect all members of the public safety and emergency preparedness committee to abide by their own judgment of the testimony of experts and witnesses and not the will of the minister's staff or demands of the political arm of the PMO. Also, timelines are constructed by the committee not the Minister of Public Safety or his staff. Knowing that the current and the former chair of the public safety committee is a scrupulous and honoured individual, I trust he will not suggest that legislation needs to be finished by a certain deadline to make a minister or staff happy before members can hear appropriate testimony.
There is a lot of trust and faith needed, obviously, for the House to work well together on any legislation, and certainly this one is no exception. Trust is built through honest answers and legitimate questions. Trust is reinforced by following integrity and the need to get it right rather than just to be right.
I hope the minister will be clear with committee members on spending, resources, his proposed plans and the areas where we can all improve, or certainly the government can improve on the track record from the past. Perhaps with new legislation in this new session, we can see the government try to broker such trust, starting with Bill C-3. We will wait to see if that to happen.