Madam Speaker, I am happy to join my voice to the debate on Bill C-20, an act to establish the public complaints and review commission. This commission would replace the current Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP. It is more than just a change of name. There is also change of provisions.
The commission would have an expanded role to also receive and deal with complaints on the activities of the Canada Border Services Agency, or the CBSA. This hits home to my home community of Langley because my community has the RCMP as its police force and is a border community, with a border crossing between the Canadian town of Aldergrove and the American town of Lynden.
Many people in my community have friends and relatives in Washington state. I am one of them. Four of my grandchildren live in Lynden, Washington, which is just a 45-minute drive from my home in Langley, not counting the time we might need to wait at the border, which is sometimes a long time and sometimes very short.
In the hundreds of times I have crossed the border from Aldergrove into Lynden, I have never had a bad interaction with anybody from the CBSA. I can say the same of the RCMP, not that I have had that many interactions with members of the RCMP, but any that I have had have always been good and positive. I have the highest regard for people who work for both agencies.
Our police officers and border security guards are at the front line of public safety and we owe them a debt of gratitude. I think of Burnaby RCMP Constable Shaelyn Yang, who was stabbed to death on October 18, just over a month ago, trying to save a homeless man's life. Constable Yang was attending at a city park along with a bylaw officer from the City of Burnaby to serve an eviction notice on a person who was camped in a public park. On approaching the scene, Constable Yang noticed there was evidence of the man overdosing. She entered into the tent with a naloxone kit. She did not come out alive.
I did not know Constable Yang at all, but I know people who did know her, who worked with her, who trained with her and who loved her. Her death is a reminder to her colleagues, and indeed to all of us, that working on the front line, whether it is with the RCMP or other police services in Canada, is dangerous work. To all police officers and other frontline workers, I thank them for their service to their communities. We owe them a debt of gratitude. We are grateful for their service.
It is in this context that I now want to join the conversation about complaints against the RCMP. During my time on the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, I have heard from many witnesses about the failings of the RCMP and other police services across the country.
Last year we studied alleged systemic racism in the RCMP. It was an exhaustive study. It was an exhausting study. There were 19 meetings. We heard from 53 witnesses. The study resulted in a report of 125 pages and 42 recommendations. We heard from community organizations providing services to or advocating for indigenous communities. We heard from academics working in the fields of law, law enforcement and social services. We heard from people working with people suffering mental health and addictions. As well, of course, we heard from representatives of various police services.
Whether there is racism in policing in Canada was the question we were tasked with. The first job, as always, is to define our terms. One of our witnesses, Alain Babineau, a law enforcement consultant, social justice advocate and former member of the RCMP gave us a working definition. Quoting Senator Sinclair, he said, “Systemic racism is when the system itself is based upon and founded upon racist beliefs and philosophies and thinking and has put in place policies and practices that literally force even the non-racists to act in a racist way.”
I have met many police officers. I have a family member who is a RCMP police officer. I went to law school with several former RCMP officers who then went on to become lawyers and with whom I have formed lifelong friendships. I have colleagues who have had full careers in law enforcement prior to coming to the House. I attend church with several people who are RCMP officers, and I can assure the members that not one of them is racist. They are all honest, hard-working people and law-abiding citizens who have, at heart, nothing but the best interests for their communities, neighbours and country.
Our report at the public safety committee was not about whether individuals within the RCMP are racist. The evidence is clear that we do have societal problems. It is not a problem of just the RCMP, the CBSA or the Vancouver Police Department. The problem is in our society.
When we think about racism, we might be tempted to point fingers at others, at the fathers of Confederation and at residential schools and say it was not us. We may think about our ancestors' role in slavery and say it was not us. We were not there.
A little closer to home, we might talk about the Chinese head tax and say it was before our time. Even a little closer to home, in Vancouver, we might think about the Komagata Maru incident, when law enforcement agencies turned a ship around and sent it back to India.
To make it current, we could point the finger at the RCMP, but finger pointing is not going to get us anywhere. It is certainly not going to help us find solutions to racism. We recognize that we are all part of society. We are all a product of our shared history. We are all in the same boat, so to speak, but the good news is that we are all also part of the solution.
It is in that context that I hope people would read the report from the public safety committee, and I hope they do read it. The report is simply called “Systemic Racism in Policing in Canada”.
Here we are today, talking about Bill C-20, an act to establish the public complaints and review commission. This draft of legislation is backed up by the report that I just talked about, that our public safety committee tackled last year.
I mentioned that the report contains 42 recommendations. Five of those 42 deal with what we call, under the current legislation, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission. Evidence we heard at committee made it clear that we have a problem. The current review and complaints structure is dysfunctional, and it needs to be fixed.
Witnesses raised concerns about the transparency of the disciplinary process from the RCMP. For example, we heard from Professor Christian Leuprecht of the Royal Military College. He suggested that the RCMP should be required to make public all disciplinary decisions. That goes to transparency.
Professor Samuels-Wortley of Carleton University pointed out that transparency is required in the disciplinary processes for police who engage in misconduct to ensure public confidence in the system. We want to know what is going on.
Alain Babineau and the hon. Michel Bastarache suggested that the RCMP does not appear to be capable of addressing discrimination within the organization itself, suggesting that change must come from the outside.
All of this evidence, presented to the public safety committee, brought us to 42 recommendations. I am going to highlight just three of them.
The first recommendation was that the Government of Canada should clarify and strengthen the mandate of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, or the public complaints commission. We were not contemplating then that the whole commission would be revamped and given a new name, but so be it.
This would include creating statutory timelines for a response by the RCMP commissioner to reports coming from the commission and requiring that the commission publish its findings and recommendations. It all goes to transparency.
The second recommendation was that the Government of Canada should increase accessibility and transparency by simplifying the process for initiating a complaint. The third recommendation was to allow for a meaningful engagement of indigenous participation in the complaints commission. Let us not forget that the study was about whether there was racism in the RCMP.
Can Bill C-20, the legislation we are talking about, answer those challenges? The answer is, in large part, yes. The legislation creating the new PCRC, the public complaints and review commission, which in many ways mirrors the existing commission, would require the establishing of timelines for dealing with complaints. That was one of the concerns we heard at committee.
It would also require implementing education and information programs so the public can better understand the process, something else we heard complaints about at committee.
It outlines how complaints would be submitted, investigated and reviewed, and that there would be an annual report to the minister, who would then submit it to Parliament. That report is to include information about whether service standards are being met, the number of complaints and data about the complaints, so we can develop policy based on good, reliable data.
There are a lot of details in the bill also about what information the commission might encounter that would be treated confidentially to protect complainants and for security purposes.
There is information about the hearing process and the powers the commission will have, the powers of the superior court of record, including the power and ability to be able to subpoena witnesses and order them to give evidence. The commission will also have the ability to recommend disciplinary action, but not to carry it out.
The legislation appears to be straightforward at achieving its objectives. We will be supporting this draft bill at second reading, and I look forward to a deep dive at committee into its details, and to listen to experts.
When we are talking about police oversight, which is the police policing themselves, and border staff oversight when possible discipline might happen, we need to ask the question whether these agencies are properly resourced to do their work. We know that police services across the country are facing a recruitment and retention crisis, like almost every sector in our economy. We have a shortage of new people coming into the police services at the same time that older people are leaving, and all at the same time that we are demanding more from our police services.
Police recruitment is down and crime is up. There has been a 32% increase in violent crimes since 2015, when the current Liberal government took office. There were 125,000 more violent crimes last year than there were in 2015. Therefore, crimes rates are going up, and we are expecting more from our police services. We need to make sure they are fully resourced.
We have similar statistics for the CBSA. There is a shortage of workers. People are retiring, with not enough people coming in, and there is a higher demand with respect to their work.
Another study we recently completed at the public safety committee was about guns and gangs. We learned that most firearms used in violent crimes in Canada are handguns smuggled in from the United States. One of our witnesses stated the obvious. We live beside the largest gun-manufacturing society in the world, and we share the longest undefended border with it. This presents a big challenge for us, and we expect a lot from our CBSA to intercept the guns that are being smuggled into our country. It is not an easy problem to solve.
I know we are talking about Bill C-20, but I want to make a quick reference to Bill C-21. Bill C-21, which would make owning a handgun in Canada illegal, or more illegal than it already is, is not going to solve the problem because the people who are committing violent crimes are already illegal gun owners, to state the obvious, so C-21 does not add much value. It certainly does not keep Canadians any safer. It just further stigmatizes legal gun owners and trained and licensed sport shooters who are good and honest citizens.
Bill C-21 does not help our neighbours, but that is for another day. Today we are talking about Bill C-20, the public complaints and review commission.
Our report on guns and gang violence recommended that funding for the CBSA be increased. If we are going to enhance a complaints review process for our workers, it is only fair that we make sure they are properly resourced so they can do their jobs properly. Let us also make sure they are adequately resourced with both people and money, so they can do the work effectively.
We expect a lot from our border security people. They should expect to receive the full complement of a workforce, financial resources and tools to do their job effectively.
I want to take the opportunity to say thanks to CBSA workers, including many who live in my riding of Langley. We live on a border. There are several land border crossings, and I have a lot of friends who work in one or other of those border crossings.
I want to talk about something else that touches on the police. Our safety committee met with Mr. Justice Bastarache, formerly of the Supreme Court of Canada. He presented his report to us a couple of years ago in the 43rd Parliament, entitled “Broken Lives, Broken Dreams”. This retired judge was tasked with the unenviable task of distributing and disbursing court-awarded money under the so-called Merlo Davidson Settlement Agreement to victims of sexual harassment within the RCMP. Merlo and Davidson were the two named plaintiffs in that case.
The judge's report is a stinging rebuke of a culture of sexual harassment within the RCMP. It starts with these words:
For more than 30 years there have been calls to fix sexual harassment in the RCMP.
The report then goes on to talk about the 3,086 claims over that 30-year period. He and his staff conducted 644 interviews with victims. At the end of all his work, they awarded some compensation to 2,034 victims. It is widespread. It is not a good situation.
As I read through the report, I wondered whether my pride in our national police force was misplaced. In our discussion with Mr. Justice Bastarache at committee, I related a story from my childhood, when my parents took me and my siblings to the RCMP Musical Ride. My parents were new immigrants from the Netherlands, and they told us that one of the things they were very proud of about their new country was that we could be proud of our police force, something that is not true, sadly, for every nation in the world.
Mr. Justice Bastarache told me that in his opinion it was still appropriate for us to be proud of our RCMP service. It has a proud history and it is redeemable, but in his opinion it would require outside resources, outside influences, because the RCMP could not reform itself.
I will be voting in favour of Bill C-20 at second reading, for it to go to committee for a deep dive, a line-by-line review. There, I will be looking not only for how the RCMP interacts with the public, who expect the police to keep them safe and to do no harm, but also for how this legislation would steer us towards improving the internal culture of this agency, the RCMP, that we all want to be proud of.