Mr. Speaker, today we are talking about very important legislation, Bill C-20, which would establish a new public complaints and review commission for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Border Services Agency. It would enact accountability and transparency mechanisms that would provide a foundation for trust and confidence in Canada's public safety.
Employees of both the RCMP and the CBSA hold a broad range of powers. Public trust that those powers are to be used appropriately is crucial to maintaining respect for the rule of law. There is a balance that needs to be established. On the one hand is Canada's public safety and security priorities. On the other hand is respect for fair treatment and human rights. In our system that balance is supported by ensuring civilian review of public safety bodies, such as the RCMP and the CBSA.
This is a stand-alone bill. It would provide these mechanisms not as part of the enabling statutes of the RCMP or the CBSA, but independently of them. By doing this, we underscore the importance of the independent civilian review of organizations entrusted with maintaining public safety.
Both the RCMP and CBSA employees interact with the public on a daily basis, including with vulnerable populations. One of those organizations, the Canada Border Services Agency, currently has no civilian review mechanism to deal with public complaints. The Canada Border Services Agency Act itself is silent on this matter. This legislation would close a long-standing gap by providing a review body for the CBSA.
The RCMP currently has a civilian accountability body in the existing Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, the CRCC, but over the years there have been calls to update and enhance it. The CRCC itself has advised on the need to strengthen and expand existing review mechanisms for the RCMP.
I want to thank the chairperson, Michelaine Lahaie, and her staff at the CRCC for their thoughtfulness, thoroughness and dedication in recommending the additional accountability and transparency mechanisms included in this bill.
Bill C-20 would see the new public complaints and review commission replace the CRCC. The PCRC would continue the CRCC's existing mandate for complaints and review, but with new accountability tools at its disposal that would apply to both the RCMP and the CBSA. On its own initiative, or at the request of the minister, the PCRC would be able to conduct specified reviews on any RCMP or CBSA activities that do not involve national security.
I would remind the House that national security issues are handled by the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency. The PCRC will have the authority to investigate complaints about conduct and level of service in both the RCMP and the CBSA. If a complainant is not satisfied with how these organizations have handled a complaint, the PCRC can conduct a review. When it is in the public's interest to do so, the PCRC may initiate its own complaint and investigation into RCMP and CBSA conduct.
One of the issues that has underscored the need for a renewed and enhanced review system has been the time it has taken the RCMP in the past to respond to CRCC reports and recommendations. Frequent delays led to a Federal Court decision that the RCMP must provide a response to CRCC interim reports within six months. Over the last year, the RCMP has improved the timelines within which it responds to the CRCC. We want to ensure this improvement continues.
Bill C-20 includes timelines that would codify when a response is required to an interim report, review or recommendation from the PCRC. When the PCRC issues an interim report, the RCMP and CBSA would have six months to respond. Should the PCRC issue specified activity reviews and recommendations, the RCMP and CBSA would have 60 days to respond.
Not only must these bodies report back to the commissioner of the PCRC within these codified timelines, the bill would obligate the RCMP commissioner and the CBSA president each to submit an annual report to the Minister of Public Safety. These reports would detail the actions the RCMP and CBSA have taken within the year to respond to PCRC recommendations.
In short, the bill would give the PCRC tools that the CRCC did not have to uphold civilian review of the law enforcement system.
However, there are other tools in the bill that are designed to enhance, at another level, the trust and confidence Canadians have for public safety in our country.
In their recommendations on ways to enhance the CRCC, the chairperson and her colleagues looked beyond the measures that would improve accountability. They considered ways in which a new review mechanism might enhance the public trust, and respect for, law enforcement in general and the rule of law itself.
Among the challenges is the urgent need to increase knowledge about systemic racism in law enforcement. This includes work done by the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, which is in the report entitled “Systemic Racism in Policing in Canada”.
I am pleased to say this bill would respond to the committee's recommendation that the government clarify and strengthen the mandate, independence and efficacy of the CRCC. It provides for codified timelines for the RCMP's responses to the PCRC reports, for the RCMP to report annually to the minister on implementing PCRC recommendations and it provides for the protection of the identity of the complainants.
That which gets measured gets done, and if we are to respond to systemic racism, we must first gather the data that will inform our solutions. The bill would give statutory authority to the recommendation that the new PCRC will collect and publish disaggregated race-based data of complainants, in consultation with the RCMP and CBSA. Moreover, the bill would provide the PCRC with a mandate to implement public education and information programs. These would help inform Canadians on their rights of redress should they have issues with how they were treated by the RCMP or CBSA officials.
The programs will also increase knowledge and awareness of the PCRC's mandate and thus provide a better understanding of the role of civilian review in upholding the rule of law.
As with the collection of race-based data, the public information mandate will be especially important in helping earn the trust of indigenous, Black and racialized Canadians.
The bill before us is a high priority for this government. Twice before, we have introduced bills to address many of these issues. They died on the Order Paper, but in the process we listened to all points of view and remained determined to strengthen transparency and accountability.
The bill before us now would take advantage of what we have learned. It responds to some of the issues that are long overdue, such as the need to provide a review mechanism to the CBSA. It responds to some of the issues that have presented difficulties in the past, such as the need to respond to recommendations in a timely manner. It responds to issues that have gained more attention in recent years, such as the evidence of systemic racism in the law enforcement system and the urgent need to find solutions.
The government has responded to those issues with a stand-alone bill that highlights the importance of civilian review of the law enforcement and border security systems.
I would add that it is extremely important to ensure that we have such mechanisms in place for people to have their complaints heard.
We heard the example moments ago from the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands of the issue her step-daughter had, and that is not uncommon. We hear about these situations all the time, quite frankly. I have heard of situations similar to that. It is critically important that when people experience these situations, whether they are crossing a border or whether it is something with the RCMP, they have an avenue to have their complaints heard. Sometimes those complaints are valid and sometimes they are not, but I do not think we are doing a service to anybody by not having the tool for those complaints to be heard.
In my opinion, having such a tool is not just a benefit to the complainant but indeed a benefit to the individual or individuals that the complaint is being made against. Quite often, especially in the world we live in today, a complaint can be made and amplified through social media, and if it is sensationalized enough, it can gain traction and people can very quickly be made aware of somebody's grievance with a border agent or an RCMP member. We all see people filming and recording just about everything.
A tool like this, allowing those individuals to bring their complaints forward, would give the opportunity for both sides of the story to be heard and the facts to come out with respect to everything that has been represented with individual circumstances and cases. When we empower individuals within the Canadian government and the roles they play to have such incredible discretionary authority like this, there has to be a mechanism for oversight to allow those who have potential grievances to come forward, so they can be heard as well as all individuals who are mentioned in the complaint. They would have the opportunity to ensure that the independent review body has the ability to determine whether there is merit in the complaint, and if so, what the next steps should be.
As I indicated in my prepared remarks, it is critically important that not only do we have this oversight, but that it is annually reported back to the minister, which would happen. By having that tool, Parliament, through the minister's office, would have the ability to scrutinize more collectively what is going on with respect to those complaints, how they are being handled and the timelines to ensure that the proper recourse is being taken. Quite frankly, sometimes it takes quite a long time to get a response, and that is unacceptable. We do not need a court to weigh in on what those timelines should be. Those timelines should be codified, as the bill would do, and set in stone. If timelines are not met, we could properly inquire as to why and get to the bottom of what needs to change, if anything.
I am very pleased to see the legislation come forward. A number of members have spoken about the fact that this is the third time it has been here and, indeed, the third time under this government. However, I hope we can all appreciate that the other two times have helped to inform where we are today. I hope that, because this has taken longer, the one silver lining is that we have even better legislation than we may have had otherwise, because we have been able to inform ourselves along the way of the various aspects of the bill that may need to be improved.
I get the sense, from listening to the comments in the House today, that the bill will be supported by all members of the House. I look forward to it moving along so we can finally get this very important legislation in place.