Ms. Candice Bergen (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is with great pride that I rise today to speak in favour of Bill C-42, the enhancing RCMP accountability act.
With a history extending back to the very formation of our country, few national institutions are more symbolic of Canada than the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. For many Canadians and people in other countries, the Mounties have come to represent certain values associated with Canada, the values of integrity, honesty, courage and determination. When those values are questioned or tarnished, it not only undermines the functioning of the RCMP but also affects the very heart of how others see us and how we see ourselves.
For that reason, the government has taken a key interest in modernizing the RCMP to meet the challenges of the 21st century. I remind everyone that the RCMP Act was last substantially amended in 1988, some 25 years ago. The world has changed very much in the last 25 years. Canadians are rightly demanding greater accountability from the RCMP, alongside heightened transparency. The cumbersome RCMP human resources management framework, which is so heavily reliant on paperwork, only makes the situation worse, and the well-publicized charges of sexual harassment are further evidence that far-reaching changes are required within the RCMP. Yes, the institution has made valiant efforts to correct its problems through its transformation agenda, but these internal changes can only go so far. What is needed now is an overhaul of the legislation affecting the RCMP's oversight and operations.
The RCMP and Canadians understand the need for legislative changes. It is very unfortunate that the NDP cannot understand this and, sadly, will not be supporting this important bill. It was made clear throughout the committee hearings that there are structural deficiencies that must be fixed within the RCMP. There are management challenges that must be faced. There are issues of trust and confidence that must be resolved. The government is determined to deal with these questions head on.
As members will recall, the government came to office on a platform of clear priorities. These included enhancing public safety and security and strengthening accountability and transparency. Bill C-42 contains many of the provisions included in legislation introduced in the last Parliament to address accountability issues within the RCMP.
I would now like to review the key components of the bill along with amendments that were introduced at the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.
Canadians recognize the limitations of the current system of RCMP oversight. They want to know that public complaints against RCMP officers are handled expeditiously with thoroughness and impartiality. They want greater transparency so that justice is not only done but also seen to be done. The government has listened carefully and recognized the need to strengthen external oversight of the RCMP.
I do not want to suggest for one moment that this move denigrates the valuable work that has been accomplished by the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, the CPC, since its inception in 1988. It has done excellent work. Yet we must also acknowledge the concerns raised in many quarters that the current legislation hampers the CPC from doing its job thoroughly. For that reason, Bill C-42 proposes replacing the CPC with an arm's-length body to be known as the civilian review and complaints commission for the RCMP.
Bill C-42 enhances the powers of the CPC. For example, the new entity would continue to focus on reviewing public complaints through enhanced access to information. It could also summon witnesses to testify at a hearing. In addition, the new body would be able to more broadly review RCMP activities in a particular area of interest and report on its findings. What is more, the new commission would also be empowered to share information or conduct joint complaints investigations with counterparts in other jurisdictions, and it would produce customized reports on public complaints for each jurisdiction holding contracts with the RCMP. These reports would analyze the number and nature of complaints in a given period. They would also identify any trends within the complaints. In this way, the new commission would deliver a tailor-made report that would meet the needs and expectations of contract jurisdictions. These new measures have become the standard tools for modern review bodies.
One of the most sensitive areas of RCMP conduct involves what is known as “serious incidents”. These are cases where RCMP contact with the Canadian public results in serious injury or death. In these high-profile events, it is vital that investigations of these cases is carried out independently, transparently and impartially. As I indicated earlier, it is important to the integrity of these investigations and the reputation of the RCMP that this impartiality be apparent from the very start of the investigation of these serious incidents. That is why the proposed bill would require the RCMP to refer all cases of serious incidents to a civilian investigative body within the relevant province. This body would ensure that the investigation is conducted in an impartial, transparent manner.
Of course, not every province has a civilian investigative body that can handle cases of this nature. If a provincial civilian agency does not exist, the case would then be referred to another police force. However, there are situations where there is no civilian body or other police agency available to conduct the investigation. For instance, at some remote RCMP locations the legislation would provide for this third possibility. In the absence of an external body, the RCMP would investigate the incident itself. Since this would justifiably raise all of the old concerns about independence, transparency and conflict of interest, the proposed legislation would go even further. If the RCMP or another police force were in charge of investigating these serious incidents, the jurisdiction in question or the new commission could appoint an independent observer to assess the impartiality of these investigations.
The government has worked hard to promote the accountability and transparency demanded by serious incidents. I know we have succeeded with the provisions that are outlined in Bill C-42.
Until now, I have concentrated my remarks on how the bill would enhance the accountability of the RCMP to all Canadians. However, accountability is also a concern within the RCMP itself. Over the past year, incidents related to alleged misconduct and sexual harassment in the RCMP have been well documented by the media. The current human resources management framework clearly does not allow for the commissioner to deal with these internal issues expeditiously. That is why a large portion of Bill C-42 is devoted to revamping and modernizing the RCMP discipline, grievance and human resources management practice. The chief concern with disciplinary action is the requirement to turn over serious cases to an adjudication board. The current policy embedded in existing legislation accomplishes and, in some cases, results in two things. First, it sets in motion a bureaucratic nightmare, a process full of delays that can stretch on for years and can create animosities that poison workplaces. Second, by taking away power from front-line managers, the latter lose the ability to correct behaviours and return the members to work quickly and put the incident behind them, or to demonstrate to others in the workplace that inappropriate behaviour is not acceptable. Currently, front-line managers do not have the ability to do this within the RCMP. It is time they have the ability to manage the people they work with in a modern, efficient way.
Bill C-42 would modify this process substantially. Most significantly, it would empower front-line managers within the RCMP. Under the bill's provisions, these managers could impose consequences or measures for most contraventions of the code of conduct. For example, managers could impose remedial training or corrective action or, in some cases, dock the officer's pay. Managers would only hand over the case to a conduct board if the review could lead to the firing of an officer.
The grievance process is just as troubling as the process for discipline, perhaps even more so, if that is possible. There seem to be as many processes as there are issues. A member who has a problem with his or her terms and conditions of employment goes one route. A member appealing a discharge goes yet another. Another member appealing a disciplinary sanction takes yet a third route. There are so many different administrators and processes for each one of these incidents that through it all, front-line managers are kept in the dark many times. It is time to shine the light of accountability on it and to find solutions.
Under Bill C-42, a single process would be instated for both grievances and appeals by members. The same set of administrators would deal with them. The same decision-makers would review the results. In this way the system would be much simpler, more consistent and operate with greater efficiency. Complementing this formal approach, front-line managers would be encouraged to deal with minor problems informally and at the first occurrence, as human resource managers across the country in other police forces are able to do before these occurrences become official grievances and before they undermine a positive workplace culture.
Our improvements to RCMP management would not be complete without also considering the important role of the commissioner. In short, the commissioner currently lacks authority for decisions that would be part of any senior manager's tool kit, including those provided to other police chiefs. To rectify these shortcomings the proposed legislation would give the commissioner new authorities. These include, for example, the power to demote and discharge members, to appoint commissioned officers and to investigate disputes involving workplace harassment.
I have highlighted the major provisions of Bill C-42 for consideration by the House. I would now like to take note and explain the changes that were adopted by the House of Commons at report stage. The committee accepted three substantive amendments. These were issues that were raised by witnesses throughout the hearings. We were pleased to further strengthen the legislation by these amendments.
As amended, the bill now supports the establishment of a strengthened reserve program, relying heavily on retired RCMP and other police officers. Currently, reservists are limited to how long they can serve consecutively. This change is important for a number of reasons, one being that it gives managers much needed staffing flexibility and helps ensure a healthy and strong workplace by reducing the amount of overtime worked by regular members. I am pleased that the committee agreed to enhance the RCMP's ability to benefit from the reserve program without interruptions in service time.
The second amendment provides clarity for the chairperson regarding immunity. The original provision provided immunity to every member, officer or employee performing the duties, powers and functions of the new commission. This was always intended to include the chairperson. As such, the committee saw fit to formally spell out in the legislation that the chairperson also has immunity. The final amendment clarifies that the RCMP commissioner cannot refuse to investigate a complaint initiated by the chairperson.
The proposed legislation, together with the three substantive amendments, would bring the laws governing the RCMP into the 21st century. It is puzzling that the NDP would work with us at committee to further strengthen the legislation and then sadly play these games at report stage and now not support this important piece of legislation. I sincerely call on the NDP to support the legislation and to work with our government to help stop harassment within the RCMP.
We heard repeatedly at committee stage that the proposed legislation would give the RCMP the flexibility it needs. At the same time, by addressing structural problems it would enhance accountability and transparency. In doing so it will bolster trust and confidence in the RCMP by both Canadians and Mounties.
While sadly it seems that the NDP will not put aside its ideological opposition to our common sense reforms, I can assure Canadians that our Conservative government will be supporting the bill at third reading.
Mr. Randall Garrison (Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-42 at third reading today.
First, I want to begin by paying tribute to the women and men of the RCMP who work every day to help keep our communities safe. Often we talk about the wondrous blessings of this very large and diverse country, but I would also add that sometimes it can be a large and cold country, which can be a curse as well as a blessing. With the conditions we faced in most of the country over the last week, I think we need to remember that the emergency services people, the RCMP and all those other front-line people, are still out there working in the cold, keeping us safe despite the harsh weather conditions that keep many of the rest of us at home.
I think that the opening of the third reading debate is a good time to remember why the bill is before the House. The government likes to emphasize the word “modernization” and say that it is time to review the act, that this is the first major revision over 25 years and, therefore, that we can bring things up to date since we last debated this in the House in 1988.
I would like to argue that it is before the House not just because time has elapsed and it is time to look at it again; it is before the House because we have very serious concerns to address regarding the RCMP.
I do take exception to the position that has been stated this morning, that somehow the NDP has an interest in this. What we are talking about is what we heard from witnesses and from stakeholders about some things that needed to be in this bill and were not there. We did propose amendments at the committee stage, and again at report stage, to address the serious concerns. I want to just remind the House what those are.
First, there is a declining confidence in the RCMP, despite the fine work done by women and men on the front lines every day. Overall, we have seen the public losing some of the confidence it has had over the years, which confidence has made the RCMP a national symbol in many ways.
Yes, the public still has confidence in the RCMP, but that decline in confidence, no matter how small, has to be a concern for members in this House.
Second, we have a clear problem with sexual harassment within the RCMP. We also heard in committee that we have problems with other kinds of harassment. Therefore we have to address that problem directly. It is not just updating the bill; it is dealing with something that has happened inside the RCMP over time that has led to 200 women bringing a lawsuit against the RCMP for the damage to their careers that happened as a result of sexual harassment in the RCMP.
Third—which the government focuses on almost exclusively, and I would agree—there is a need to deal with serious concerns about management of human resources and labour relations inside the RCMP.
Let me talk about each of those in a bit more detail and start with the declining confidence.
Obviously, we have had a number of unfortunate high-profile incidents over the last few years involving the RCMP, which resulted in deaths and serious injuries to the public. Some of this loss of confidence is to be expected whenever there are serious incidents of this kind.
However, in large part, I think the loss of confidence is attributable to the police investigating themselves. In these cases that involve, as I said, serious bodily harm and/or death, the public worries that somehow when police investigate police there will be a tendency to take care of one's own and to perhaps not pursue the investigation to its full length.
I believe that the police, generally, do a good job investigating themselves. However, if the public does not have confidence in that investigation, then we need to proceed in a different way.
Some of that loss of confidence is a direct result of public concern about the structures we use to hold the RCMP accountable.
Yes, the hon. member who is the parliamentary secretary talks about a very confusing set of overlapping jurisdictions, and we would agree with her. That is why we proposed, in committee, that there be one clear independent body that is able to investigate in these kinds of incidents; not adding that as another layer on top of existing bodies, but having one national civilian investigative agency in which both the public and the police could have confidence in the investigations that take place in these very serious cases.
Second, I talked about the problem we obviously have with sexual harassment within the RCMP. We cannot just brush this aside, saying the RCMP will deal with it, because obviously it has failed to do so. Anytime, as I mentioned, 200 members of the RCMP, for any reason, go outside the normal RCMP processes and ask the courts to intervene because of what they see as very damaging policies and practices within the RCMP, then we have a serious problem—and it is not a problem of just a few bad apples, but it is a systemic problem within the RCMP.
We on this side have a serious concern that there is a flaw in the culture of the RCMP, which is now deeply ingrained. It is a culture that all too often tolerates harassment in the workplace, specifically sexual harassment. Therefore, we put forward an amendment to the section that lists the responsibilities of the commissioner of the RCMP. This section outlines certain things that the RCMP commissioner must do, but does not list everything the commissioner does, as the hon. member on the other side implied. It establishes some clear responsibilities.
In committee, we heard from representatives of women who are bringing forward law suits. We also heard from experts on sexual harassment that, instead of trying to deal with the problem at the back end using discipline, there is a necessity to change the culture of the RCMP through training at the front end and make people aware of what they sometimes do not even perceive as harassment.
I know this from serving on a municipal police board. Some 10 years ago, we required all employees on the police board to go through harassment training. At the end of that training, some officers whom I respected said they had done some things over time that they had not realized had an impact on others within the police force.
That is the importance of stressing that putting harassment training into the responsibilities of the commissioner would help change the culture that results in the limitation of careers of women within the RCMP. We spend a lot of money training these officers, they gain a lot of experience, and they find their careers blocked or frustrated by a practice that is unacceptable, which is sexual harassment.
As I have said, when we have so many instances come forward, we have a systemic problem. This not an NDP proposal that would benefit the NDP, but most organizations have dealt with sexual harassment at the front end through training. Therefore, it is beyond me why the Conservatives fail to accept at least this one amendment, which is a very simple amendment, to add harassment training to the specific responsibilities of the commissioner.
Also, adding this specific responsibility for training would create accountability. When the commissioner comes before the House at the public safety committee, if there is a specific responsibility listed in the act, then it makes it possible for members of Parliament to ask questions on how that responsibility is being carried out, what the commissioner has done in this area, and how he or she has met the statutory responsibilities, instead of leaving the act silent on the question of sexual harassment.
As my hon. colleague said in his question, the words “sexual harassment” do not even appear in the bill that is put forward as a solution to the problem of sexual harassment. I will accept the parliamentary secretary's argument that harassment is not just sexual in nature and that there is a larger problem in the culture of the RCMP. However, that is why we put forward the amendment, which was rejected by the Conservatives, to make the bill something that would be part of the up-front efforts to change the culture of the RCMP. I believe this is a measure that would go a long way, along with independent oversight, to help restore confidence in the RCMP.
Our third concern, the management of labour resources, I think really comes down to what the parliamentary secretary raised. It is a discipline process that seems convoluted, sometimes arbitrary and often ineffective. We have had some egregious examples, especially in dealing with discipline regarding sexual harassment.
For example, a senior officer in one of the provinces was found guilty through the internal process of numerous incidents of sexual harassment of his female colleagues. The punishment that came out of this disciplinary process was to transfer him, near the end of his career, from a posting in a very cold part of the country to a posting in what I, of course, regard as one of the best parts of the country when it comes to climate. It did not seem like much punishment. It did not seem like very effective punishment to simply transfer the person, with no training required, and without any remedial work being done with the person. It was to simply transfer the person to another jurisdiction, and those problems may in fact have been transferred with the individual.
Therefore, we agree that the discipline process is sometimes convoluted, slow, arbitrary and ineffective. Of course, if the discipline process is not effective, it does make it difficult to deal effectively with all of those other challenges the RCMP faces.
Bill C-42 is before the House this session, and we on this side supported it at second reading because we acknowledge the seriousness of these challenges currently facing the RCMP, and we hoped to have a dialogue at committee that would result in a stronger bill. We heard from many witnesses and, as I said in my question to the parliamentary secretary, we heard from no one who was an independent witness, who was not an official of the RCMP, that he or she actually supported this bill.
I have talked at great length with the president of the Canadian Police Association, and he does have reservations about this bill despite the comments of the parliamentary secretary.
The Conservatives presented this bill to the House last summer, just before the break, and on this side we responded with the serious set of hearings of witnesses in the fall. I would argue we had a good set of hearings. We dealt with the issues substantively.
However, what it demonstrated was there was lots of room for improvement in this bill. Again, we put forward a package of amendments that we believed would serve to strengthen the bill and address those serious problems. All of those amendments were rejected. We also put forward amendments at report stage, and once again they were rejected.
It should come as no surprise to the government that on this side of the House we have found that we cannot support the bill at third reading. It leaves those major issues unaddressed.
It really exacerbates the problems that result from the paramilitary model that the RCMP initially adopted. When the RCMP was set up, the Government of Canada looked to the Royal Irish Constabulary, which had been established in Ireland in 1822. This was a paramilitary model that was designed to help police an Irish population that was hostile to what it saw as the British occupation.
There is another model from Britain, a model that I believe would better serve the Canadian context. That model is nearly as old. It was set up in 1829 for the Metropolitan Police of London based at Scotland Yard. Instead of being a paramilitary organization, the Metropolitan Police was set up on a community policing model and a model of shared governance, where there was more consultation with the cop on the beat about how to do policing and less of a top-down structure.
The solution in terms of administration and labour relations that the government has adopted here is to give the commissioner more power. To me, a lot of the problems we are facing result from that concentration of power in the hands of one person. What we suggested were some amendments that would help spread out that power, increase the authority of the external review committee, increase the confidence that rank and file members would have in the internal discipline process in the RCMP and, therefore, also increase public confidence in the RCMP.
We are opposing this bill because we believe that in the House of Commons we have a duty to do the best we can in terms of reforming an act, especially when these kinds of issues only come before the House once every 25 years.
To repeat, sexual harassment is still not in the bill. Our solution to tackle sexual harassment at the front end through training and a change in the culture rather than simply the disciplinary end was rejected by the Conservatives.
In terms of oversight, what we suggested in our amendments was a fully independent complaints commission reporting to the House of Commons. What do we have in the bill? We have a complaints commission that continues to report to the minister, and a commission that cannot make binding recommendations; it only can make non-binding recommendations to the minister and the commissioner.
To have a more fully independent commission, we thought some changes were needed: to report to the House of Commons, to allow binding recommendations. Those suggestions were rejected by the Conservatives.
Even the parliamentary secretary mentioned that there are four provinces, and of course the three territories, where there is no provision for independent investigation of the police. In those serious incidents involving serious bodily harm or involving death, in four provinces, even after this bill passes, we will still have police investigating police. This remains a serious confidence problem for the public.
The minister and the parliamentary secretary have both mischaracterized our proposal as one of adding to bureaucracy. Instead, what we were suggesting is an independent, civilian, national investigation organization that could replace some of those other organizations, replace some of the duplication, but most importantly would establish public confidence that when there are unfortunate incidents, they have been thoroughly investigated and will result in an outcome that has the appropriate consequences.
I want to take a couple of minutes to talk about two statements made by witnesses at the public safety committee. They both spoke about the solution of giving additional powers to the commissioner. One of those was Mr. Tom Stamatakis, president of the Canadian Police Association. In committee, on October 29, this is what he said:
|| Bill C-42 provides the commissioner with extraordinary powers in this regard, powers that go beyond what one might find in other police services across Canada. For example, in Ontario, a police officer who is subject to a disciplinary process retains the right to appeal the decision to the independent Ontario Civilian Police Commission, a quasi-judicial body that provides an impartial review of the process and ultimately a decision. Without any additional, and most importantly, independent avenue for appeal, I would suggest there is a possibility that RCMP members could lose faith in the impartiality of a process against them, particularly in situations in which the commissioner has delegated his authority for discipline.
In short, what Mr. Stamatakis was saying was in line with the amendment we proposed. We have an external review committee that looks at disciplinary decisions within the RCMP, but it only makes recommendations to the commissioner. If a rank and file member appeals his or her discipline, it goes to the independent external review committee, but the commissioner does not have to pay any attention to its decisions. Our amendment suggested that we could have greater independence for the external review committee, and that was supported by the Canadian Police Association.
Other witnesses at the public safety committee also spoke out against the power imbalance, in terms of labour relations, within Bill C-42. Most recently, we heard from Rob Creasser, media liaison in British Columbia for the Mounted Police Professional Association. It is sometimes called the non-union union, since the RCMP is prevented from unionization. What he said in committee was:
|| One major problem that exists in the RCMP is the tremendous power imbalances within the organization. Bill C-42, rather than mitigating these issues, will only make them exponentially worse.
|| If Bill C-42 is passed in its current form with the charter violations and avenues for continued abuse of power by managers, rather than correcting the issues that have plagued the RCMP, our Parliament would be promoting the bad behaviour and cronyism by legitimizing this type of behaviour.
That is a somewhat stronger statement than I might make on this issue, but it points to the direction of our amendment, which is that we need a more collaborative management structure, not a strengthening of the powers of one person and not a concentration of those powers in the hands of the commissioner alone.
It became apparent to us, after hearing witnesses and experts at committee, that the bill has deep flaws that will not fix the concerns the public and the rank and file members of the RCMP have.
Since Bill C-42 was passed in committee, 2,000 members of the RCMP have signed a petition stating that they were not properly consulted on the changes in the bill and that they do not believe the government is representing their best interests in this bill. Two thousand serving RCMP members signed the petition opposing this bill.
Bill C-42 still allows, in four provinces, for police to investigate police. Really, the solution adopted by the Conservatives is to dump responsibilities onto provincial investigating agencies rather than to guarantee that there is one high-quality civilian agency at the national level.
The NDP has put forward its package of amendments reflecting what independent witnesses said in the committee and reflecting the things we believe are necessary to address the three main concerns I talked about earlier in my speech.
Measures to address harassment training at the front end are critical to changing the culture in the RCMP. Measures to strengthen the independence of review bodies are critical to restoring public confidence in the RCMP.
The Conservatives are standing by their argument that putting more power in the hands of the commissioner to fire individual officers will curb all the ongoing issues in the RCMP. Giving the commissioner this concentration of power, we believe, would contribute to ongoing problems and not solutions.
I would conclude by saying that the NDP wish we could have supported the bill at third reading, but the government was not able to see its way clear to accepting any of the amendments that would have addressed these serious concerns.
Hon. Wayne Easter (Malpeque, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts.
I want to state for the record what the summary of the two key points indicates this is all about. The summary of the bill states:
|| This enactment enhances the accountability of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police by reforming the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act in two vital areas. First, it strengthens the Royal Canadian Mounted Police review and complaints body and implements a framework to handle investigations of serious incidents involving members. Second, it modernizes discipline, grievance and human resource management processes for members, with a view to preventing, addressing and correcting performance and conduct issues in a timely and fair manner.
That sounds great in theory, but I have to remark that wonderful ideas do not always work in theory. I recall the government bringing in the Federal Accountability Act. This is much along the same lines. Indeed, I heard the parliamentary secretary talk about accountability and transparency. I remember the Federal Accountability Act well and the government talking about transparency and accountability. Anything we have seen from the current government is the absolute direct opposite: We are seeing the least transparency we have ever seen of any government in Canadian history. Access to information requests are taking longer and longer. We cannot get answers from the government. Committees are shoved in camera on simple motions that should be debated in public but are taking place in secret.
I wanted to outline that at the beginning because when the government talks about accountability and transparency in its own business, we have seen anything but that. I hope that with the changes to the RCMP we will see some transparency and accountability. However, the record of the government is the direct opposite.
Although we are debating the RCMP Act, I am concerned about this place because we are not seeing things happening at committee in the open and transparent way that we should. The way the government is operating is a blight on the Parliament of Canada. As a former solicitor general, I do not want to see that same blight apply to the RCMP, because it is our national police force and a recognized icon around the world. I want to see it improved. The best intentions laid out in this bill may sound great, but they need to come to fruition in the way they were intended to.
The Liberal critic agrees with the central premise of the bill, that the commissioner's capacity to deal with disciplinary issues should be strengthened and the process for dealing with them streamlined. In my earlier questioning, I outlined some of my concerns in that regard and I will get to those in a moment. That said, the bill certainly is a step forward. As with all legislation, it may need to be improved as we go down the road a piece.
The critic for the Liberal Party also says that some minor improvements could be brought to the powers and scope of the new civilian complaints body and notes that this body has been strengthened in keeping with previous Liberal positions. From the perspective of my party, we Liberals welcome the new legislation and the attempts by the government to address the current challenges facing the RCMP.
As has been expressed in this debate and will be in future debates in the House, there is no doubt that the RCMP is facing many challenges. We see the issue of sexual harassment in the press all too often. As I said a moment ago, the RCMP is a symbol of Canada around the world, something we are proud of, and we do not want to see this image tarnished due to the odd individual in the force who tarnishes not only the image of the RCMP but also the image of Canada. The corrective measures have to be put in place to allow the national police force to deal with these problems in an effective manner.
Bill C-42 aims to tackle these harassment and discipline issues by reworking the force's bureaucratic grievance system and by giving increased powers to the commissioner. The bill would also give senior managers a wider range of options to sanction members immediately, such as by suspending pay.
I raised some concerns about this point earlier, not so much with the additional authority of the senior managers as a management team, but the power of the commissioner and the power surrounding him. As one member I talked to this morning said, it gives the commissioner the power to “hire, fire or boot and all the rest”. That is a pretty substantive statement, and there is no question that on disciplinary issues, the commissioner does need the power. However, having been there as a solicitor general, I think there is a dilemma.
The commissioner is in charge of all things RCMP. The Minister of Public Safety is responsible for the RCMP and for policy. It is so different from many of the other ministries. If another ministry has a staffing problem, the minister can step in. That cannot be done with the RCMP because there is a space there that the minister cannot influence. Therefore, the rank and file of the RCMP do not really have the ability to go to the government or the minister if they are having problems with the commissioner. Much in the RCMP therefore depends on the individual, the man or woman who may be the commissioner of the RCMP, and how much power he or she has and how they use that power. They can use it to either good or bad advantage.
Whether we like it or not, there is politics in all organizations, including the RCMP. It is a command system where people eventually move to the top and are appointed by the Minister of Public Safety and/or the Prime Minister to the position of commissioner. There is always that internal political dilemma. My colleague from the NDP spoke to this earlier, noting the legitimate concerns there.
In fairness to the government and to my own party, I believe we need to move ahead. I wish the government had accepted the reasoned amendments by opposition parties, although it tends not to do so, because these could have been made it a better bill. That is why I brought up accountability and transparency earlier in the context of the accountability act. This place is not working because the government just does not accept amendments from others, no matter how well reasoned they are. That could be a problem in this case.
We have to move forward with the bill, but it could have been improved. I admit that openly. Part of the reason for this legislation not moving forward is that this place and its committees are not working as they ought to work any more, because it is the government's way or no way. It is that simple, and that is a sad commentary on how our Parliament is working.
With respect to the power of the commissioner, yes there needs to be power to discipline. Having a rank and file member just go to the other review agency to protect himself or herself may or may not work, in my view. The RCMP is a command structure. Intimidation from the leader can be a strong and powerful thing. What tends to happen is that people who disagree may just step aside and go into another occupation, such as security, a local police force, or whatever. I am being quite open here. There is some reason for concern. It is too bad that aspect could not have been improved.
Given the incidents that have happened in the RCMP and the force's image and uniqueness in this country, we have to move ahead with Bill C-42, but we have to be wary of the problems that could appear. The minister, the government, and all of us as parliamentarians need to be watchful of that and not be afraid of bringing in corrective measures in the future if it seems necessary to do so. I would suggest that the government be wary of that point and be watchful.
It is true that we need to find ways to exercise discipline and to deal with some of the unique internal problems within the RCMP. We need to deal with those problems. We need to be absolutely confident that if we create some other problems along the way for the rank and file in terms of their interests and their maybe even challenging a commissioner for legitimate reasons, that their ability to do so would not be undermined by the additional power to be given to the commissioner in this legislation. I would therefore suggest that we all be watchful of that fact. If it becomes a problem at some future point, we should be willing to act quickly to address it.
Bill C-42 would replace the existing watchdog agency, the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, with the new civilian review and complaints commission.
Paul Kennedy was a witness before the committee. He was chair of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP. He did a very remarkable job. He was not afraid to challenge the RCMP, or indeed the government. He is one of the ones who lost his job, as did Adrian Measner and others over the last six years, for being brutally honest and challenging the Government of Canada. That should not have happened.
It is one of the reasons that the new body has been brought into place. We need these independent officers. He was not as independent as he had hoped. He was not reappointed, and the reason he was not reappointed was because he had done his job and challenged the system.
In terms of what is now going to be called the civilian review and complaints commission, I will only say, will it be independent enough? Will it have the authority? Will it have the backbone to challenge the system, as Paul Kennedy did when he was chair?
There are a lot of complaints. We do not hear many of them. However, I expect members on the committee have, though I am not a member of the committee. There are all kinds of complaints that come in against the RCMP, for many reasons. There are the complaints in the rank and file, sexual harassment and other things. There are complaints from the public in terms of how their particular case was handled, whether it was fast enough or they were elbowed during an arrest, or whatever it may be. The Arar issue went to the commission for public complaints at one point. There is a range that is all over the map.
In my view, that review body has to have the ability to deal effectively with those complaints, to be willing to listen, to receive complaints from the rank and file. I believe that is under this new proposal as well. They have to have the ability to challenge the system and to work in the interest of the public in terms of their answers to these complaints. It is a very important body. It needs to be there. We absolutely need a way for the public to be heard on issues, whether it is a small or big complaint, and to challenge the RCMP on how an issue was handled.
My key point is that given the experience with the government and its removal or not making an appointment—we are going to see the same thing with the Parliamentary Budget Officer, no doubt—an individual and a body who have the backbone to challenge the government are critical. They absolutely must have that independence and they must be made of the character to challenge them.
I have raised some issues. There is no question that we are going to support this bill moving forward because I believe decisions have to be made. I believe the bill could have been improved. It was not because the government does not allow anybody else's thoughts to enter its jurisdictions. Unless it is its own, it thinks it has no merit.
Let me close by saying there does need to be some changes within the RCMP. It is our national police force. It is unique around the world. People look to it as a symbol of Canada. This bill is a step forward in terms of regaining that reputation.
Ms. Mylène Freeman (Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by informing you that I will be sharing my time with the member for Trois-Rivières.
I read Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts, when it was introduced in the House before the summer break.
I was really disappointed when I read the bill, which is yet another example of the Conservatives' lack of judgment and inaction on matters that concern the equality of women.
The government seems to think that this bill is the answer to the problem of harassment within the RCMP. Unfortunately, that is not the case. This bill is a far cry from a comprehensive solution.
In a serious situation such as this, we really have to get to the root of the problem. A bill that is so vague and weak will do nothing to change the work atmosphere and occupational culture.
Even in unionized work places, which the RCMP is not, and with good policies against harassment, which the RCMP does not have, harassment persists.
You have to delve very deeply to change the culture of our workplaces and to eradicate that type of behaviour.
Giving the RCMP commissioner the power to directly fire officers will not solve the problems with the RCMP culture. An arbitrary power, especially when we are talking about the Conservative model, does not solve the problem.
What we need is awareness, monitoring and concerted action to change behaviours. But this bill has none of that.
The Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security examined the bill. One after another, the witnesses pointed out that the bill could not fix the situation on its own, and that arbitrary powers unfortunately lead only to more abuse. The problem is complex and systematic.
The RCMP commissioner, Bob Paulson, confirmed this himself when he appeared before the Standing Committee on the Status of Women in the spring. He said:
||...I think what's happened is that the RCMP hasn't kept pace with society in general and how society has moved to provide systems and processes that insist upon equality...It's the culture of the organization that has not kept pace...We haven't been able to change our practices and our policies, or provide systems that would permit women to thrive in the organization and contribute to policing, which they must do.
|| For the RCMP to be a successful policing organization, we must have women contributing in a significant way. I think how the organization manages authority and power.... I've said it publicly, and I'll say it again. I think the problem is bigger than simply the sexual harassment. It is the idea of harassment. The idea that we have a hierarchical organization overseeing men and women who have extraordinary powers in relation to their fellow citizens, which requires a fair degree of discipline.
In committee, I specifically asked the commissioner about the culture of the organization. His answer enlightened us on the fundamental issue that will not be fixed by a bill:
||...when we change the RCMP culture so that people, no matter what their rank, are making principle-based decisions on the merits of the situation and not defending their pips and crowns and their rank by demonstrating to others that they are more powerful or more influential, then we will have changed the culture.
I want to point out that in response to the highly publicized incidents reported last year by some very brave women in the RCMP, the Standing Committee on the Status of Women decided to examine the issue of harassment in public service workplaces.
On December 6, 2012, Vicky Smallman, from the Canadian Labour Congress, appeared before the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. I will quote what she had to say about workplaces and culture.
|| One of the best tools for preventing harassment of any kind is a healthy, inclusive workplace with a commitment to gender equality. Job security, reasonable workloads, and good labour relations all offer a sense of stability and comfort in the workplace. But while it does not completely prevent individuals from harassing others, it might create a climate that allows women to feel safe about coming forward with a complaint.
|| Workplace culture is important. As you conduct this study, I hope you will consider looking at the culture of federal workplaces and any factors that may create an environment conducive to harassment or that may impede its prevention—that is, that may encourage women to keep silent.
Unfortunately, a large number women in the RCMP kept silent for many years, and in a lot of workplaces that is the case.
The bill was introduced without the benefit of the findings of the internal gender audit of the RCMP, ordered by the commissioner, that is currently under way and not yet completed. The Conservatives' approach does not seem to make women in the RCMP a priority as it ignores any kind of gender-based internal audit or findings. That is very unfortunate. It is also unfortunate that other studies being done that are looking at the issue of sexual harassment and other gender-based discrimination in the RCMP as well as other federally regulated workplaces, such as the one being done at the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, are not being considered.
The NDP thinks we can go further on these issues as there needs to be a clear anti-harassment policy in the RCMP, one which contains specific standards for behaviour and specific criteria for evaluating the performance of all employees. Such a policy is needed to serve as a basis for a fair, disciplined process. This is absolutely necessary to have a better environment in the workplace for the RCMP, as well as other workplaces that have a culture of dominance, for instance, brought from the fact that there is a culture of authority, which is obviously necessary in something like the RCMP. However, that does not necessarily mean there needs to be harassment and we need to be dealing with that more concretely.
Unfortunately, this bill fails because it continues to allow the RCMP to investigate itself in certain situations, it creates a piecemeal system that puts the burden of monitoring on the provinces, it creates a complaints commission that is not fully independent and that reports to the minister with non-binding recommendations, and it limits access to sensitive information to the commission.
In order to fix the shortcomings in this bill, in order to truly attack the problem, the NDP voted at second reading to send Bill C-42 to committee. There, we proposed a number of amendments that required mandatory harassment training. That is something that would absolutely be necessary in all jobs if we truly want to consider men and women to be equal. Our amendments called for a more independent civilian organization to be responsible for complaints against the RCMP. They also called for the creation of human resources policies that were more harmonious, by withdrawing the draconian powers proposed for the commissioner.
The Conservatives rejected all amendments to this bill, as has been pointed out today in this House. We are used to this kind of thing, but that does not mean we must stop fighting for what we think is right. These amendments would have improved the bill, and they were developed based on recommendations made by witnesses in committee.
In closing, it is obvious that we cannot support this bill. It really does not go far enough. I do not believe that we should tell Canadian women that it is all right to take half measures to solve a problem. We have to get to the root of the problem and stand up for equality in this country.
It is unfortunate because this bill addresses an urgent matter. Women, the RCMP and Canadians want effective action from their government, rather than bills doomed to failure right from the outset.
Mr. Robert Aubin (Trois-Rivières, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, Bill C-42 deals with a very important subject. First of all, I must admit that my participation in today's debate is not without some bitterness and disappointment. I really feel as though this legislation represents yet another missed opportunity. We have become accustomed to this government's half-measures, hollow phrases, empty shells and smoke and mirrors that all add up to nothing more than grandstanding.
When it comes to an issue as important as the one addressed in Bill C-42, it seems to me that a step in the right direction is not nearly enough. For a team of parliamentarians, regardless of our party affiliation, taking a step in the right direction is not enough. We need to solve problems as they arise, which Bill C-42 definitely does not do.
My speech could have included many lines of attack and many subjects, but I will try to focus on two things: I will first address the issue of the discrepancy between substance and form, followed by issues related specifically to sexual harassment.
On the question of form, more and more people I have spoken with—in my riding and across Quebec—have a huge problem with what they describe as democracy denied. I have to admit that, despite the work we do here in the House and in committee, I agree with those people, and to be frank, the whole process surrounding Bill C-42 illustrates this very clearly.
I would like to share a few thoughts with the House. Of course, everything was done according to the rules, but that is not enough. For instance, one might wonder whether Bill C-42 was the subject of any time allocation motions or other such procedures aimed at reducing the amount of time parliamentarians would have to debate the issue and further explore their proposals regarding this bill. The answer is yes. Speaking of time allocation motions, this government has moved nearly 30 of them since it won a majority about two years ago.
After I was elected, I remember that when I came to the Hill, during my training, I was told that the work in the House was quite partisan, but that work in committee was less so. Bills moved forward and were improved, which gave meaning to the work we do here to represent our constituents. However, of the 18 amendments that the NDP proposed to Bill C-42, guess how many were approved? None. It has almost become tradition. If it does not come from the governing party, it is no good. We are light years away from the adage that enlightenment comes when ideas collide. Now, if we come up with an idea that is like a Conservative one, it must be a good idea; otherwise, we can keep it to ourselves.
And, yes, amendments were approved in committee, but they came from government members. For the most part, the amendments had to do with grammatical errors in the French. Far be it from me to say that those amendments are not important; I have too much respect for my language to overlook those errors, but really, we could have done better.
One could also question the independence of the witnesses who came to testify and to provide expertise that would allow the committee to go further in its proposals. It seems that the majority of the witnesses called by the government were from either the government or the RCMP, which means that they were completely impartial, of course. From what I gather—because I did not sit on this committee—the witnesses called by the official opposition were treated with somewhat questionable fairness. They were called at the very last minute and their testimony was crammed into the last day. There are many questions—concerning the format alone—that merit better responses than the ones we received.
Let us talk about the substance of the bill. Earlier I said that, today, I would speak out against how sexual harassment issues are dealt with, because the topics addressed in this bill are very important.
When it comes to an issue as important as gender equality, taking a step in the right direction is not enough. We had the opportunity to solve the problem. However, once again, the government has proposed a way to sidestep the issue, while giving the impression that it has dealt with it.
I would like to quote Yvonne Séguin, the executive director of Groupe d'aide et d'information sur le harcèlement sexuel au travail de la province de Québec:
|| With the 32 years of experience we have, we have found out that when companies do have a clear policy, when employees do know what is acceptable and not acceptable, it makes it much easier for management to deal with the problems.
Bill C-42 therefore needs to have clear tools that would help both managers and employees to know what is going on.
Bill C-42 is the government's response to the longstanding complaints of sexual harassment within the RCMP and to a series of recent events related to this issue.
As hard as it may be to believe, the term harassment is not used anywhere at all in this bill.
In a bill that is supposed to address the issue of harassment, no one even has the courage to say the word. That is a problem.
When children ask questions, we are supposed to give straightforward answers and use the correct terminology. In this case, a first step should have been taken at the very least.
The NDP has been applying pressure from the beginning, from the very day that Bill C-42 was assigned a different number in another legislature. The NDP wants the minister to make the fight against harassment a priority and to provide a solution to the problem. All employees in all workplaces, not just those who work for the RCMP, have the right to an open and safe workplace, but obviously, that is not quite the case.
We are not claiming that a unionized organization provides the best protection of workers' rights. However, it is revealing that the RCMP is the only police service in Canada without a collective agreement. Staff relations representatives who are elected to manage employment issues use a process that is more like consultation than collective bargaining.
Nevertheless, the NDP proposed amendments that were completely straightforward, because we strongly believe in gender equality and fairness and respect between men and women.
All of our amendments were rejected. However, for those who follow our debates, I think that it is important to talk about the three or four amendments proposed by the NDP, so that people can judge the common sense and relevance of our amendments for themselves.
Although this was not the first amendment proposed, the first amendment I would like to mention recommended that all RCMP members receive mandatory training on sexual harassment.
Education and information have always formed the very foundation of any regulations and of any progress. However, even just talking about the issue was already too much for this government.
The second amendment had to do with creating a completely independent civilian body to examine complaints against the RCMP so that the police would not be investigating the police. A broad consensus is developing in civil society regarding this recommendation.
Lastly, how could the Conservatives refuse to create a police force that is better equipped in terms of human resources by taking powers away from the RCMP commissioner and strengthening those of the external review committee? Bill C-42 goes completely in the opposite direction. Once again, the Conservatives are giving the commissioner even more power, just as they gave certain ministers more power to control information in several other bills.
In closing, I wish to reaffirm the NDP's position. Our party will continue to work with women to ensure that gender equality becomes an undeniable reality once and for all. We will do a lot more than just one step forward.