Madam Speaker, I am rising virtually today to speak to Bill C-234.
I want to recognize and express sympathy for residents in rural communities across the country who more and more are living under fear of being the victims of crime. This increases as the population in many rural communities diminishes. People are more isolated. They not only feel more vulnerable, but they are more vulnerable. It is important to recognize that we need to have a response to that increased vulnerability. The question is how best to do that.
One of the things to note about the bill to establish a tax credit for Canadians who install security systems in their home is that there is a cost to the program. Those tax measures come at a cost to the public purse, so the question is whether that money is being effectively spent for the purpose of reducing that vulnerability.
The first point I would like to make is a general one in respect to these kinds of tax rebates as a way of implementing policy. It is important to note that when it comes to this way of effecting public policy, the fact is that the assistance goes overwhelmingly to the people who already have resources. First, people need to have the money in the bank to get a security system installed and it is only afterward that they recover some of that cost. The more income people make, the more able they are to get the security service installed. The more taxes they pay, the higher ability they have and the more they can receive in benefit as a rebate on the taxes they pay.
There is already a fundamental issue here where it is the people who have the most resources to respond to the problem who get the most assistance. Of course, while their higher income correlates with a higher benefit under a program like this, people's vulnerability to crime in rural communities is not proportionate to their income. People with lower incomes are not less vulnerable to crime in rural communities. It makes sense as a matter of fairness to pursue solutions that will benefit people equally regardless of their income and the amount of tax they pay. What we need are solutions that work for everyone.
When we look at the study that was done on rural crime in the last Parliament, as a consequence of the motion brought forward by then NDP MP Christine Moore, some problems were highlighted. When I had the pleasure of working with folks in the RCMP on the issue of collective bargaining, one of the things I heard loud and clear was that often the roster for local detachments was unfilled by 50% or more. I have heard this from RCMP members who live in Elmwood—Transcona, but are, in some cases, posted to communities outside of Winnipeg, so they have experience with policing in rural communities. While positions exist for policing in rural communities, often there is an insufficient amount of trained officers to fill those positions.
When we talk about public investment to stem rural crime, we should ensure RCMP detachments are staffed to the recommended staffing level instead of asking officers to make do with less and to work tons of overtime and, in many cases, to respond to calls alone. In some cases, they are leaving to respond to a call from a location that might be an hour or more away. It seems to me that investing in filling up those staffing rosters is a better use of public funds.
We also heard in the course of that report about the way the RCMP conducted its business. In many cases, rookie officers are assigned to rural postings and do not have a lot of experience. They do not have training particular to the circumstances of the rural communities and the indigenous communities that they are responsible to police.
They need investment in better training for RCMP officers, so they understand better the communities that they are working in. Hopefully they could then do a better job, particularly if they had the resources and adequate staffing levels to not be overextended the way that they are. They need to be supported with appropriate training so they can really do the right kind of policing work, alongside the communities they are assigned to protect, and to address some of the underlying causes and increases in rural crime.
It was stated earlier, and it is quite true, that the success of a security monitoring system is only as good as the response time of the local authorities. The fact of the matter is that, as long as our RCMP detachments and other rural policing forces are chronically understaffed, those response times are simply not going to be adequate to the task. At the very least, one could say that this bill puts the cart before the horse. There is a lot more to do in terms of not just investing in more police officers for rural Canada, but investing in the training so they can deliver policing in communities in the right way that has the appropriate impact.
One of the things that they need in order to do that, in addition to appropriate staffing levels and the right kind of training, is to make sure that the right kinds of supports are there in the communities. That may mean mental health supports, and we know that rural Canada is chronically underserved in a proportion even worse than urban Canadians, and they still do not have adequate mental health supports.
Mental health is not adequately integrated into our health care systems across the country, but that is felt even more so in rural communities. Having better services available to rural Canadians is an important part of the solution here, not just in respect to mental health, but also in respect to women's health, especially when some of the crimes of concern are sexual or violent crimes.
How do they address those problems and that feeling of vulnerability? While certainly adequate protection is part of that package, adequate services are also needed to make people feel that they are supported at the outset, and that, if something did happen, they are not going to be on their own. We do not want them to be isolated out in the place where they live with maybe just a handful of friends and neighbours who, nevertheless, live at a considerable distance.
This is an issue that has come up in some of the efforts of my colleague from Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, who is concerned about certain behaviours that are not, themselves, what might be considered under law right now as acts of abuse but, through isolating people, set the stage for certain kinds of abuse. The more abusers can isolate people and get them into a position where they do not have other resources to rely on, the more the table is set for the kinds of abuse that we do not want to see any Canadians suffer. That investment in the right kind of supports is also very important.
As New Democrats, when we look at what is needed, we see a need to make sure that we have the appropriate staffing levels that are already recommended. They are there on paper, but not there in actuality.
We see the need for appropriate training and perhaps more experienced officers being assigned to rural communities, so it is not just a matter of new officers with little training trying to figure out how a community works and what the particular sensitivities are, cultural and otherwise, and finding their feet even as they struggle with these immense challenges.
Then, of course, there is the need to have the supports there for people who may commit acts of crime themselves. There is also the need for supports for potential victims of crimes, so they know they have the resources they need in order to live a good life, even though they do not live in an urban centre, which should be perfectly possible in a country like Canada. I know there are many people who are proud to live in rural communities, and they should be able to do that with a strong sense of safety.