Mr. Sylvain Chicoine (Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, in recent years, a number of scandals have rocked the RCMP, particularly with respect to the sexual harassment against certain members in recent years. Furthermore, many Canadians were troubled by the disciplinary measures that were too lenient for some officers accused of serious misconduct. The revelations that came out with these scandals seriously undermined Canadians' trust in this noble institution. I would like to briefly remind members of the various scandals in order to put this bill into context.
More than 200 women who work and have worked for the RCMP in recent years filed a class action suit against the RCMP for sexual harassment. The first hearing was held a little over a month ago, but the class action suit has not yet been accepted by the courts. A number of officers have also filed individual lawsuits in addition to this legal action.
The government introduced Bill C-42 in response to all of these scandals, in order to restore public trust in the RCMP.
From 1994 to 2011, 750 formal discipline hearings were held across Canada. In this same period of time, 206 regular and civilian members resigned from the RCMP. From 2000 to 2011, 715 new formal discipline cases were filed , which represents an average of about 83 new cases a year.
Given the many harassment allegations and serious disciplinary offences, we believe this bill is justified. There is growing public concern among Canadians regarding the problem of harassment.
For months now, the NDP has been urging Public Safety Canada to make the issue of sexual harassment in the RCMP a top priority. Unfortunately, Bill C-42 does not directly or adequately address the systemic, deeply-rooted problems in the RCMP corporate culture, nor will it do anything to change the current climate in the RCMP.
The Minister of Public Safety does not appear to have taken into account the various recommendations made by the Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP. Bill C-42 simplifies the process of resolving problems in the workplace, a process that many saw as complicated and ill-suited to changes in workplace practices.
In 2007, the Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP described the process as too formal, and an overly legalistic and procedural system. More recently, Commissioner Paulson wrote an open letter to Canadians expressing his concerns about the RCMP's disciplinary system, which he described as outdated and administratively burdensome. These problems limit the disciplinary system's ability to ensure that members' conduct is properly managed and corrected or, when necessary, to see to it that the rotten apples are fired.
Currently, RCMP managers faced with having to address harassment issues have two completely different processes they must follow. The first one was created under Treasury Board policy and the other under the RCMP Act. Since these two policies do not always align, this can lead to some confusion about the rights of the parties involved.
Bill C-42 proposes to give the commissioner the power to establish a single framework for conducting investigations into harassment problems and resolving those problems. The bill will also give the commissioner of the RCMP a new power to decide what disciplinary actions would be appropriate, which will include the power to appoint and discharge members.
The first thing we note is that the Minister of Public Safety has adopted a simplistic solution to a problem that is much broader, by simply giving the commissioner final authority when it comes to dismissing employees, for example. Employees are in fact somewhat concerned about this bill.
The bill does nothing to address unionization by the members of the RCMP. Since the RCMP is the only police force that is not represented by a union and is also not subject to a collective agreement, the Mounted Police Professional Association of Canada has concerns about the job security of members of the RCMP and the extraordinary power given to the commissioner over dismissals. But the Conservatives do not want to address that question at all.
While Bill C-42 gives the commissioner greater ability to establish a more effective process to address harassment problems, and also gives him more power in relation to discipline, it cannot bring about the real change of culture within the RCMP that is needed in order to eliminate harassment and problems relating generally to discipline and the conduct of RCMP officers. The evidence is in what Commissioner Paulson has said himself: that legislation alone is insufficient to restore the public’s trust, and that thorough reform is needed to tackle the serious underlying problems in the RCMP, in order to foster a workplace that is more open and respectful for all its members.
The commissioner has also told the Standing Committee on the Status of Women that the problem goes well beyond the question of sexual harassment.
This situation has to change from top to bottom. I think the minister should have taken the opportunity offered by this bill to include a clear policy to combat sexual harassment. The minister did not consider all of the police and civilian stakeholders. The government is also going to have to pay attention to the findings of the two reports that should clarify the problem of sexual harassment in the RCMP, the problem of the RCMP Public Complaints Commission, and the evaluation of the RCMP on gender issues.
Let us move on to another aspect of the bill, the reform of the former RCMP Public Complaints Commission by establishing a new civilian complaints commission called the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, and by implementing a new framework for handling investigations of serious incidents involving members.
The bill will establish a new civilian complaints commission for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to replace the RCMP Public Complaints Commission.
This bill will give the new commission a number of powers, including the power to undertake its own reviews of RCMP policies to ensure that the Minister’s directives and the applicable legislation and rules are being followed. It will provide a right of access to information in the control or possession of the RCMP. It establishes new investigative powers, including the power to compel witnesses and officers to testify, and to require them to produce evidence and documents. It also allows the commission to conduct joint complaint investigations with other police complaints bodies. Lastly, the commission will report to the Minister of Public Safety and the commissioner of the RCMP, and its recommendations will not be binding.
The Conservatives have been promising for years that they are going to make an independent oversight body responsible for investigating complaints against the RCMP, as the Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP recommended. The task force had recommended that a model be adopted under which there would be a body responsible for examining every incident or aspect of RCMP operations that was considered to be problematic and making binding recommendations. With this bill, we can see that the government has not kept its promise.
The “new” civilian complaints commission proposed by this bill bears a strange resemblance to the RCMP Public Complaints Commission, because just like that commission, the new one is unfortunately not totally independent. It reports not to the House of Commons, but to the Minister of Public Safety. We would also have liked more powers to be given to an independent external civilian body, to investigate serious incidents in which death or serious bodily injury is caused by members of the RCMP. That type of investigation will largely be assigned to municipal or provincial police forces, even though many of them have no civilian investigation body, and so, depending on the circumstances, some investigations will continue to be done by the RCMP itself.
Canadians want this type of investigation to be done by a body outside the RCMP. That is how we will enhance Canadians’ confidence in our institution. Bill C-42 does not provide more transparency and better independent oversight of the RCMP. The bill simply leads to a single body that submits its non-binding recommendations to the minister.
We believe that this bill is a step in the right direction, but it does not go far enough. We are therefore going to support it so it can be considered in committee, where we will be proposing amendments.
Mr. Guy Caron (Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to congratulate you on your appointment and on assuming the Chair today.
I am pleased to speak to Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts. The NDP will support Bill C-42 and will vote in favour of it at second reading. However, we want to make some considerable amendments, in order to fix the most problematic areas of the bill, particularly in order to improve oversight and to ensure that independent investigations are conducted. We would also like to increase the independence of the new Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police from the RCMP and the minister.
Canadians' confidence in the RCMP has been shaken over the past few years by the many scandals the police force has been involved in. Now a number of bullying and harassment in the workplace cases are once again tarnishing the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's reputation.
When Commissioner Paulson was newly appointed in November 2011, he was very clear about the priorities he was committed to focusing on: accountability and leadership. Canada's largest police force must be accountable and must not give the impression of being above the law.
Bill C-42 was introduced to modernize the force's systems and make them more efficient. In particular, members accused of an offence will be punished or fired more quickly. Members who commit crimes not only violate the standards and laws that they are supposed to uphold, they also cause significant harm to the organization's image.
In a speech following his appointment to the head of the RCMP, Mr. Paulson said:
|| The work we do is important, but how we do this work is equally important and can profoundly impact the lives of Canadians. I get that.
In a way, it is reassuring to know that the commissioner cares about more than results. He also cares about how those results are achieved.
Obviously, the RCMP is a huge organization. That is not news to anyone. It has some 30,000 employees whose activities are frequently international in scope. The commissioner recognized that he has “a lot of work ahead of [him] as we continue to transform the RCMP.” Fixing the force is not an easy undertaking. We know that. This bill is a small step, but it remains to be seen whether it will really help the commissioner achieve his goals of accountability and responsibility.
After Corporal Catherine Galliford came forward in November 2011, many other women followed her example. The day after the media reported Ms. Galliford's allegations, another officer, Krista Carle, came forward about the abuses she suffered and the lack of assistance and empathy on the part of her former supervisors, who maintained the environment of silence and fear in which she had to work. Ms. Carle said, “I know for a fact there are at least six women that I know who have left the force or are still in that have suffered harassment.” She added, “I'm sure there are others who are afraid to come forward for fear of reprisals.” Ms. Carle's case was settled in 2007, but she still felt the need to speak up about what happened.
Then, in December 2011, Corporal Élisabeth Couture also took legal action against the RCMP for professional harassment. According to the media, the young woman is currently on sick leave because of stress caused by the incidents.
In Manitoba, another woman publicly denounced the sexual harassment and racism she was a victim of. Marge Hudson was the only aboriginal police officer in Manitoba when she joined the force. It seems that she went through some difficult years during which people were apparently plotting to force her to resign.
Then, former constable Janet Merlo launched a class action suit with the Supreme Court of British Columbia on behalf of over 150 former and current female police officers, who are making numerous claims of discrimination and sexual harassment within the force.
To his credit, Commissioner Paulson has said that he was aware that harassment exists within the RCMP and that this was unfortunately not a new thing, but that mindsets must change and that these behaviours must never be tolerated. On the day of his appointment, Mr. Paulson said, “First on my plate will be addressing the issue of harassment and sexual harassment in the workplace.”
A number of the bill's critics are wondering how this stricter system will be able to stop the specific problems of sexism and harassment in the workplace because, quite often, it is not necessarily the complaint process that is the issue, but the acknowledgement of the action and the very willingness to set this process in motion. Commissioner Paulson spoke about that himself.
He said they have good policies on how to deal with complaints, but “the trouble is ensuring compliance with these policies”.
That is why we are instead talking about the need to change the culture of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The Minister of Public Safety has defended the effectiveness of his bill in this respect by declaring, and I quote:
|| Under this legislation, the commander cannot allow a negative culture to continue or they will be held responsible. That, in my opinion, will make a huge difference in changing that culture.
Unfortunately, we all know that no legislation can force such a change.
Following the overwhelming findings of the Brown report in 2007, which essentially called for a full review of the entire currently existing culture, governance and management structure within the RCMP, the Minister of Public Safety at the time refused to hold a public inquiry, instead preferring to create the Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP.
The task force issued its report in December that same year. Nearly 50 recommendations were made, 49 actually, but three are essential for starting a true cultural change, improving governance and paving the way for the application of the other recommendations.
The first recommendation was to establish the RCMP as a separate entity within the government, with its own employer status, which would involve giving it the full authority to manage its financial affairs and personnel within general parameters approved by Parliament.
These new powers would require a different structure within the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which leads us to the second recommendation, which was to create a board of management of the RCMP responsible for the stewardship of its organization and administration, including the oversight of the management of its financial affairs, resources, services, property, personnel and procurement. The board would be accountable to Parliament through the minister.
Finally, the third recommendation of the task force was that legislation be enacted to establish an independent commission for complaints and oversight of the RCMP—the ICCOR. This commission would have the same responsibilities as the ERC and the CPC, with expanded authorities similar to those of an ombudsman. It would present public reports and its decisions would be binding on the commissioner.
When the report was released, David Brown, the chair of the task force, stated that the RCMP is not just another federal department—nor should it be. In his report he added:
|| In many ways, the RCMP's approach to governance has been based on a model and style of policing developed from—and for—another era...none of these changes will be sustainable without the fundamental changes to structure that we are proposing.
It would be disingenuous to not acknowledge the impact of the recommendations of the Brown report and the task force on Bill C-42, the bill we are currently debating.
However, it is quite obvious that the recommendations central to the reform set out in the two reports, particularly the recommendations concerning accountability to Parliament and the binding nature of the new civilian commission's decisions, have been diluted. The Brown report does state that “confidence by the public and the RCMP family in these results can only be achieved through full civilian oversight.” We believe that this oversight requires public reports to elected officials.
As for separate employer status, there is no mention of it in the bill.
In light of the nature and importance of the responsibilities of an organization such as the RCMP, the task force stated:
|| Such a consideration [governance and the administration of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police] would require a much broader public policy debate as to the policing model which best suits Canada and best serves Canadians.
Although it is not within the task force's mandate to order such a debate, the simple fact that they mentioned it shows the importance attributed to the exercise by the task force members, especially since the recommendations do not seem to have had the desired effect.
We will get a better idea of the reaction of those affected during the committee hearings. We will vote in favour of this bill at second reading so that committee hearings can be held to thoroughly examine this bill. For now, comments seem to indicate that the bill does not go far enough in terms of the nature and extent of the changes made to the RCMP's structure and organization to ensure a real change in culture.
Bill C-42 thus seeks to ensure that with power comes responsibility, and members will have to realize that. However, let us be clear: this bill puts a lot of power and responsibility in the hands of the commissioner. The commissioner will be given the following tasks: to establish procedures to investigate and resolve disputes relating to alleged misconduct by a member, and to establish an informal conflict management system within the parameters established by the Treasury Board. The dual nature of the two complaints systems—one governed by the Treasury Board and the other by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act—often results in red tape and confusion within the organization.
This bill gives the commissioner two very broad mandates, which much be used very carefully and in a very analytical manner in order to ensure that he is able to fulfill them.
One thing that is surprising, however, is that the government introduced the bill without waiting for the results of the review on gender relations and the place of women in the RCMP that was ordered by the new commissioner, or the findings of the independent investigation that the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, or CPC, is conducting on workplace harassment. These two reports are to be submitted by the end of the year.
We can only hope that the commissioner will wait to consult and consider the findings in these two reports before making any other changes, since the purpose of these reports was to better understand harassment problems within the organization.
According to the Treasury Board's Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer, Bill C-42 “gives the Commissioner human resource management authorities similar to those of Deputy Heads in the federal Public Service and to those of heads of large police services in Canada. This includes the authority to appoint, promote, discipline, demote or terminate the employment of all members...”.
These cases would still go before a disciplinary committee, but the commissioner could appeal the tribunal's decision or change it. Furthermore, this authority could be used for a variety of non-disciplinary reasons, such as absenteeism or poor performance.
It is difficult to know how much this increased authority for the commissioner is related to the government's controversial decision to reduce the number of categories of employees from three to two. Civilian members, specialized employees without police training who directly assist police officers, will now become simple public servants, and this category would be eliminated.
First, I think it is important to say that the Brown report and the subsequent task force report were both in favour of this change. This would lighten the structure and avoid confusion about the rights and responsibilities of the various categories of employees.
These reports aside, however, there are two conflicting views here, and the decision is controversial. The 4,000 or so civilian members see their no longer being members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as a lack of recognition or even a demotion. One civilian member, speaking anonymously, said that the problem was not being part of the public service, but rather no longer being considered members of the RCMP. This would widen the gap between these employees and members, all for budgetary reasons, since this change would jeopardize their benefits and would save the government more than $190 million. However, this amount was contested by the commissioner, who estimated the savings at closer to $10 million a year.
This idea of removing a category of employees is nothing new. For over 15 years, the government and the RCMP have been unsuccessfully proposing this change. Regardless, this is no longer a possibility being considered. It is being put into place with Bill C-42, despite a formal rejection by over 90% of civilian members in an internal poll held in 2010.
It is true that these people do not carry out police duties per se, but they are more than administrative staff.
By agreeing to this change, civilian members will acquire protections related to their status that they did not have before, such as the right to unionize and accordingly, the right to strike. They will be protected from the commissioner's new discretionary powers with respect to human resources as set out in Bill C-42. They will no longer be treated as members, and will therefore not be subject to the same degree of severity as police officers; they will be treated like public servants. We hope that the committee's study will enable us to understand both sides of this issue and better identify the consequences of this decision.
Responsibility and accountability are central to this bill, which, according to the Minister of Public Safety, will ensure that the RCMP is accountable for its actions before its members and the public. By creating a civilian complaints commission for the RCMP, the government wants us to believe that the organization will henceforth be accountable to the public.
What will really make a difference in terms of transparency is the fact that members of the commission will not be drawn from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. That is the idea, anyway, but I think it is dishonest to say that the makeup of the commission will ensure that it renders decisions that it will have to justify to the public. That is one of our biggest disappointments with this bill. The RCMP should be accountable to Parliament, not just to the Minister of Public Safety. That would make the commission truly independent.
In conclusion, I believe that the RCMP remains one of the most respected paramilitary police forces in the world, but given the scope of the allegations and under pressure from the NDP, the Conservative government was forced to act before public trust disappeared altogether. We will have to wait until the committee has had a chance to do its work before the consequences of this bill are felt, but one thing is certain: this government had a duty to act, yet it dragged its feet. I would remind the House of the many questions that were asked during the previous session, the spring session. Indeed, time and time again during question period, we asked the Minister of Public Safety to brief us on the situation. He tended to give evasive answers anytime he was asked the question during question period.
The new commissioner frequently reiterated his intention and his willingness to intervene. It remains to be seen whether this government's proposals will help him. It is important to remember that above and beyond its responsibility to enforce the law, this government, which is ultimately responsible, must do everything it can to dispel any appearance of being above the law.
That is why the NDP will support An Act to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts at second reading, considering the many pressing and extremely problematic allegations of sexual harassment in the RCMP. We plan to propose a number of amendments at second reading, since we believe that they are necessary to ensuring that this bill is effective in addressing the many complaints and criticisms regarding the status quo, not only by members of the RCMP, but also by people who have had to go to court in order to assert their right to dignity in the workplace within the RCMP. In order to ensure that these objectives are met, we must create the mechanisms needed to guarantee the independence of the new civilian review and complaints commission for the RCMP—and we do not think this has been achieved—in order to improve oversight and ensure that investigations really are independent.
That is why we are asking the government to allow this bill to be examined as thoroughly as possible when it reaches the committee stage. By so doing, we will be able to truly understand what mechanisms would allow this bill to fulfill this mandate. I would strongly urge the government to take note of the various working groups and commissions, including the Brown task force, and the report that was published in order to ensure that Bill C-42 meets its objectives. This will make it possible for us to finally set aside—but not forget, since we must never forget—all the abusive behaviour that had such disastrous effects on the work environment and to ensure that complaints are resolved and that situations such as the ones that these women in the RCMP experienced will never happen again.
Ms. Christine Moore (Abitibi—Témiscamingue, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate you on your new role.
I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts. This bill is about the RCMP and is intended to renew public confidence in the institution. It is also intended to renew the confidence of RCMP members in their institution. They have very unusual working conditions. They are required to respond to dangerous situations. I think it is critical to renew the confidence of RCMP members in their institution. We owe them that much because of the work we ask them to do.
This debate in the House is long overdue. Over the years, this government and its predecessors could have and should have implemented a number of measures. In 2006 and 2007, several reports were published, including one by Justice O'Connor and another by the task force set up to provide advice on strengthening the accountability and governance of the RCMP.
Justice O'Connor's report, published in 2006 regarding the Maher Arar case, recommended that Parliament create an organization in charge of overseeing the RCMP similar to the Security Intelligence Review Committee.
In 2007, the Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP suggested creating an independent board, which would help assure Canadians that the government could not intervene directly in the RCMP's activities and give any so-called advice to the commissioner, who reports directly to the minister.
Since that time, over 200 female members of the RCMP have filed a class action suit alleging sexual harassment within that organization. A few other problems have also undermined the confidence of the Canadian public in the RCMP, particularly serious incidents like the death of Robert Dziekanski.
These problems are not new and people have known about them for years. However, in order to open the debate, 200 women had to file complaints and several scandals had to erupt. It is unfortunate that so much time was wasted and that the health and safety of some members of the RCMP—and of Canadians in general—were jeopardized.
I am a nurse by trade, but I also began studies in workplace health and safety. I was particularly interested in psychological health in the workplace. Furthermore, as a woman, sexual harassment cases also interest me. Everyone would have been better off if we had worked on this issue earlier, because by allowing the climate to worsen, we may have missed out on the work of good people who could have made a contribution to the RCMP. We really need to change the corporate culture of that organization. This issue in particular really interests me.
I would also like to emphasize that the RCMP has served Canada with distinction for a very long time. Although these incidents may have shaken Canadians' trust in the RCMP, I have no doubt that it will restore its image, resume its role and regain public trust, and in turn, the trust of its members.
This bill helps on several fronts. It strengthens public trust in the RCMP as the institution responsible for Canada's national security. This goal is extremely important, as I am sure everyone here would agree.
This bill also seeks to enhance transparency and public accountability when it comes to policing and security. This is another essential step in restoring Canadians' confidence in their institutions. The purpose of this bill is to reform the disciplinary investigation procedure and to implement a new civilian complaints commission.
I would like to take a moment to talk about a case of sexual harassment and misconduct that occurred within the RCMP that we heard a lot about. Harassment is not acceptable and should not be taken lightly. Often, the problem is bigger than just one specific case of harassment.
There is one case that many people are aware of that occurred in British Columbia. Having to endure sexual harassment for years leaves a serious mark on a person and can change her life, her family's life and her marriage. This is something that really needs to be taken seriously.
In the case of the RCMP, the complaint and redress mechanism, which consists of transferring a person accused of sexual harassment to another province, is no solution at all. When someone is accused of sexual harassment, transferring him to another province simply moves the problem from one province to another. From a corporate culture perspective, if a person who has been accused of such behaviour has a tendency to have a negative influence on his younger colleagues and he is transferred to another location, then we are merely transferring the problem. We also risk creating another problem. Young members of the RCMP could be influenced by someone who has behaved unacceptably and who, after being accused, may not have necessarily understood that he had to change his behaviour or what caused him to behave in such a manner and how he could do things different to ensure that he did not behave that way again. In addition, by transferring an offender from one province to another, we are completely ignoring the victim and trauma she experienced.
As I mentioned, this could put other women in other places in danger and victimize others. We are thus ignoring a recurring problem in general workplace culture where there are no measures in place to change the situation. Although we talk about harassment in corporate or general culture, it is really the little things that people say and do that everyone considers normal that can lead to sexual harassment. When it comes to sexual harassment, the corporate culture has to be examined and all members have to be educated as to what is acceptable and what is not. Members also need to know why certain behaviours are unacceptable and why something that may seem harmless to some could, in actual fact, lead to an unfortunate trend. This is a very serious problem that must be viewed in global terms. The accused must not simply be transferred and moved from one location to another.
If we want to restore the public's confidence in public safety institutions, and also the confidence of RCMP members, especially women, in their workplace, it is very important to propose changes to the internal operations of the RCMP and to complaint procedures. All hon. members in this House agree that we cannot do without the skills of women working in a workplace such as the RCMP. If women are not interested in joining the RCMP, the organization will not benefit from the talent of thousands of Canadians who could make an exceptional contribution. For that reason alone, it is very important to take this issue seriously and to restore public confidence. We want to ensure that the RCMP is not deprived of the talent of Canadian women who, with everything that is going on, could choose another career given the risks or their lack of confidence in this institution.
They may no longer have confidence and believe if they decide to work for the RCMP, that they may not be protected. They may wonder if anything will be done for them if they experience difficulties. It is very important to restore this trust.
The status quo is unacceptable and we must take action. We will support this bill to ensure that it is sent to committee to be improved, to truly meet women's needs, and to prevent sexual harassment.
Although my remarks today have focused on women, I would like to state that victims of intimidation or harassment, whether or not it is sexual harassment, are not just women. This type of misconduct must be taken very seriously.
I have obviously spoken primarily about women because of the 200 women who have launched a class action suit. However, I realize that men probably face the same problems of harassment and intimidation and are unable to do their jobs in normal conditions. That is also worrisome. We need to take action to resolve this problem.
This bill is a step in this direction because it reforms the disciplinary process. However, I think it is unfortunate and damaging that the government is not proposing that we work specifically on an internal harassment policy in order to clearly define acceptable and unacceptable practices and behaviours, particularly when it comes to sexual harassment, misconduct and intimidation.
I also wanted to point out that the disciplinary reforms the RCMP needs because of the length and complexity of the disciplinary process should not be decided on lightly or be overly simplistic. The RCMP is non-unionized. I think it is important to find a balance in the disciplinary process, since the staff does not have an organization to defend them individually.
As I was saying, members of the RCMP dedicate their careers to helping and serving Canadians. It would be unacceptable for them to be subject to arbitrary dismissals. We must reform the disciplinary process so that it works better and serves victims as much as possible, but we must not go too far the other way.
For example, the bill adds new provisions to the clauses regarding labour relations and gives the RCMP commissioner the authority to appoint and dismiss members.
However, the bill gives the RCMP commissioner the ability to create a more effective process to address sexual harassment complaints, and I support that.
For months, the NDP has been pressuring the government to prioritize the issue of sexual harassment and poor practices within the RCMP. Bill C-42 does not directly address the systematic problems entrenched in RCMP culture, and we want to be clear that this bill alone will not change the existing climate within the RCMP.
However, I think that we must continue trying. We must send this bill to committee to find the best solutions possible.
I also hope that when this bill is in committee, my hon. colleagues will agree to amendments and will be open to discussion. When we are talking about such a serious, systemic problem that involves corporate culture, simplistic solutions are not enough. There are no magical solutions. The problem has become so complex that we need to take the time to consider how to address it.
I know that it is very difficult to introduce a perfect bill on the first go-around. That is what the committee is there for. The committee will get to hear from witnesses and discuss the bill to improve it and make it functional.
The goal of this is not to make political gains, but to enable an institution like the RCMP, which truly represents tradition and history, to restore its image, win back its members and engage people who see the RCMP as a problem. This will also make it appealing to young people who want to contribute to this institution.
All hon. members must work together and discuss this bill with an open mind and try to improve it as best they can in order to restore this remarkable institution to its former glory. I really hope that our colleagues will show such openness when the bill is studied in committee.
Mr. Kevin Lamoureux (Winnipeg North, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to provide a few comments on this important piece of legislation. In fact, the Liberal Party is quite supportive of it going to committee. When the government decided to bring in this legislation back in June, it should hardly have been credited for bringing it forward as one of its own personal initiatives, because the reality is that it was a result of Commissioner Paulson's persistence in trying to get some changes because of the limitations within that particular office. It was when the letter became public that the government started to listen to some of these concerns. We recognize the important role that the commissioner has played in allowing us to have this debate.
After having used the word “debate” and bringing in Bill C-42 yesterday, one of the first things the government did after introducing the bill was move a motion that the question be now put. As a result, we are now in a situation where the member for Yukon posed a question and has raised some points and an interesting perspective. The Conservative caucus has members who have served in the RCMP. It would be interesting to hear what its members' perspective might be on the issue, but that has been limited primarily because the government has decided to limit the amount of debate on Bill C-42. It is somewhat disappointing. It is not surprising. We have seen a different attitude and style of government since the Conservatives have achieved a majority. It is not a pleasant style that we have witnessed over the last number of months.
The conduct of our police officers, whether the RCMP or any other local police agency, is of critical public importance. It is a question of how we deal with these complaints. This is the core of the bill.
I will start by reflecting on some questions for other members because it is something I passionately believe in. I have had the opportunity to serve in the Canadian Forces, where I took a great sense of pride from the role it plays throughout the world. However, we must acknowledge at the end of the day that we have to do so much to continue that perception and reality of how wonderful a force we were and still are today, but it takes a great effort by many to do that.
It only takes a few people to make the entire force look bad in the eyes of the public. There is a great deal of scrutiny given to the Canadian Forces. If something occurs that is wrong and not supported by the vast majority of members of the force, the minority involved unfortunately has far too much influence on public perceptions because of the way in which the media will quite often blow up a particular incident or raise that issue before the public.
The same principle applies to the RCMP. In the questions I have put forward in the past, I have often talked about the important role that our RCMP officers play in our society.
I have attended many citizenship courts where an RCMP officer will stand there in a red stetson. After the service is complete, new Canadians will want to have their pictures taken with the RCMP officers. Yesterday I made reference to RCMP officers being on the Hill and tourists wanting to stand beside them and have their pictures taken.
On the whole, the RCMP as a police agency and force has received all sorts of acclamations worldwide. Many police agencies throughout the world have seen the RCMP as a model agency, something they strive to achieve within their own countries. This is because Canada has done quite well with its national police force. We need to acknowledge that up front because at the end of the day, even though this legislation before us deals with the conduct of its members, I believe it is important to highlight how wonderful a job the RCMP has done for decades, since the birth of our country.
I can talk about isolated cases in which I have had the privilege of working with members of the RCMP, whether in the days I served in the forces to the days I was a member of the Manitoba legislature. There was one individual in particular, retired RCMP officer Al Pasquini, who lived in the community of Spruce Grove and contributed immensely to that community. He expressed a great deal of goodwill, participating in things such as the youth justice committee in a volunteer capacity so he could work with the young people who live in the community. He left a very positive impression. Al also volunteered with many other organizations. I would get a call saying that he was going to be at restaurant X, which was trying to raise money for cancer.
If we take a look at the lives of the vast majority of RCMP officers, we will find that they are absolutely outstanding Canadians and are very proud to be members of the RCMP. These are the types of stories that need to be told. I do not believe that Al was unique. People will find that the majority of RCMP officers play very active roles going beyond the salaries they are paid, and that they are excellent ambassadors. Because of the efforts of those individuals, at the end of day Canadians as a whole have a wide, deep-rooted respect for the RCMP. Realizing that is in fact the case is why I have started my comments recognizing that.
The conduct, as I said, of police officers is taken very seriously. It is not just with the RCMP, but applies to all police agencies. When I was the justice critic in the province of Manitoba, there was a great deal of discussion about police agencies, including the RCMP, I must say, with regard to the city of Winnipeg. We talked about the few who actually caused the problems in terms of public perceptions and the issues that arise and cause a great deal of controversy and lower the morale of the police service itself. These same sorts of things apply with regard to the RCMP.
Sexual harassment has not taken place overnight. It is an issue that has existed for a number of years, and I believe that the vast majority of RCMP officers serving today would like to have seen the government take action a whole lot quicker than it has. It is unfortunate that the government has taken so long to bring forward some sort of answer on the issue of sexual harassment. Why did the government drag its feet on important issues such as sexual harassment and the whole issue of morale within the RCMP?
Nonetheless, I think it is a positive thing to give additional power to the commissioner, as it will allow the commissioner to deal with many of the issues that come before him and our agencies.
On the issue of sexual harassment and the profound impact it has had on the service, we can talk about the impact that people have endured throughout their careers. Even if it is a one-time incident, it is very serious.
People serving in the RCMP should feel comfortable knowing that if they have a concern of this nature they have a place where they can make a complaint. They should feel confident that once a complaint is made it will be resolved in a way that makes them feel comfortable remaining in the force and continuing on and being treated equally. At the end of the day, they should be eligible for promotion just as much as anyone else. Therefore, we must have a structure in place that would allow people to feel comfortable expressing their concerns in their working environment. Moreover, we need to know that there will be consequences, and that these could range significantly.
Over the years we have heard of reported consequences in the form of disciplinary action. I have heard of everything from fines to a reduction of rank, to officers being put on probation and outright dismissals being made. These are the types of disciplinary actions that are there and do take place. I would suggest that we have to ensure that there is confidence in the system so that a person who is putting forward a complaint, whether a member of the force or the public, is confident that the issue will be addressed in a fair, transparent and accountable fashion.
I think that Bill C-42 is an attempt to change the system so that there will be more transparency and accountability. We see that as a good thing, as there are many departments within the federal government, and it could be expanded to include the private sector.
An incident occurring within a government department or the private sector often does not generate the interest of an incident occurring within a police force, and we do hear about it. In the RCMP, the Canadian Forces, and I would suggest even within the chamber here, if something of significance occurs, there is a great deal more attention given to it.
Personally, I do not have a problem with that but I believe we need to be aware of it. As such, we need to have a process in place that allows for relatively quick decisions to be made, so at the end of the day we are able to determine very clearly if something has gone wrong. If something has gone wrong, we need to feel comfortable in knowing that there is going to be a decision to resolve the matter as quickly as possible.
The idea of providing more power to the provinces is something that I believe has a great deal of merit because it goes beyond just the issue of perception, even though perception is critically important. Decisions have to be made where, as much as possible, outside organizations investigate the internal incidents that occur in an organization. The RCMP is no different. Much like when a serious incident occurs in a local police force, it will often turn to the RCMP as a third party to investigate and provide some ideas as to how the issue should be resolved.
My understanding of the proposed legislation is that provincial governments would be afforded the opportunity to play a stronger role when serious incidents occur, which could include such things as the timing of an investigation. It would be interesting to hear in the committee stage from the different provinces, maybe from a provincial minister of justice or other stakeholders, what they believe would be important in ensuring that the role of independent review is taken under consideration. At the end of the day, whether it is the expanded roles of the provinces or looking at giving more powers to the commissioner, these things could help facilitate better decisions and, most importantly, the ability to deal with morale, which at times gets low within the RCMP because of the sense of frustration that grievances or complaints are not being addressed appropriately.
I emphasize its importance in two ways. First, this bill is important to ensure that there is a sense of justice for those who have grievances so they can feel comfortable putting forward their complaint. I believe that this bill would assist us in moving in that direction. The second issue is in regard to public perception and taking the necessary actions to reinforce how important it is that the public not lose confidence with regard to the RCMP because of a few isolated cases. It is important to recognize that we are talking about a very small percentage of RCMP officers who, ultimately, one would classify as the bad apples that spoil it for the rest. The vast majority of RCMP officers do an outstanding job while they are on duty and while they are off duty, as well.
Mr. John Rafferty (Thunder Bay—Rainy River, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to see you back in the chair again in this session after a summer of working hard for your constituents. I say that not to get extra time for my comments here, but to let you know that we are very pleased that you are here.
I will be supporting Bill C-42 at second reading because, while it falls short on a number of accounts, it is still a step in the right direction and should, hopefully, help the membership of the RCMP receive better personal protection in its workplace and could help restore public confidence in this institution. I say that because police officers like other first responders put their lives at risk every day when they are on the job and Canadians are very grateful for their sacrifices. It only makes sense that while they are busy protecting Canadians, the members of our RCMP staff can go to work knowing that they, themselves, are protected in their own workplace.
In a majority government the government has an opportunity to make a real difference and has an opportunity to take real action. Unfortunately the bill does not far enough. I will support it going to committee because I think in committee we can make this a bill that everyone in the House can be proud of as well as in the RCMP.
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, but will not be guaranteed, unfortunately, with the passage of Bill C-42 as it now stands.
Also, Bill C-42 does not go far enough in directly addressing the concerns of women serving in the RCMP. New Democrats are calling for urgent action to foster a more inclusive and safe environment for women in the RCMP. This bill has been introduced without the benefit of the findings of an internal gender audit of the RCMP, ordered by the commission that is currently under way but not yet completed. The Conservatives' approach does not make women in the RCMP a priority.
Another criticism I have heard from members of the public, who are affected and concerned about the implications of Bill C-42, is that the proposed new civilian complaints commission looks remarkably like the current RCMP public complaints commission, especially in that it would not be a fully independent commission reporting to the House of Commons. Instead, it would continue to report to the Minister of Public Safety.
The new commission would also have serious restrictions on its ability to undertake independent investigations and its findings would be presented only in the form of non-binding recommendations to the commissioner and to the minister. Removing these restrictions, allowing truly independent investigations and making those recommendations binding is needed. Removing these restrictions on the independence of the new commission will be a major issue for us at the committee stage.
The proposal also fails to create an agency with any teeth since primary investigations into accidents of death or serious bodily harm will largely be contracted out to municipal or provincial police forces, even though some of those police forces have no civilian investigation body or are still conducted by the RCMP itself.
Bill C-42 is a step in the right direction, so I will be supporting the bill at second reading in the hope of improving it at committee.
I believe our RCMP personnel deserve better and with some improvement I am certain that public trust will once again be restored in this most important national institution.
My hon. friend from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca made some very interesting comments yesterday, and I would like to further some of the things he had to say.
The first is that we really should have had this legislation much sooner. There is an urgency for the public in terms of confidence in the RCMP. There is an issue where RCMP rank and file members are working in a workplace climate that is not always supportive of the difficult and the very dangerous work they do. Of course it is important to the RCMP leadership, which is charged with the task of making those necessary changes, but, first and foremost, I believe there is a necessity to restore the confidence of Canadians in our international police force.
The RCMP has long provided excellent service to Canadians coast to coast to coast, but over the previous years, dating back to the Liberal government, we have had increasing questions about incidents involving use of force where public confidence has waned in the RCMP. That is a problem, not just for the public, but also for serving members of the RCMP.
The bill's second purpose, as stated, is to promote transparency and public accountability in law enforcement. We could not agree more that this is essential if we are to meet the first objective, which is to restore public confidence in the RCMP. The only way to do that is through enhanced transparency and public accountability.
The third reason for reforming the RCMP Act, which is stated in the bill's preamble, deals with the relationship with provincial, regional and municipal governments that hold contracts with the RCMP. They have entered into those contracts in good faith, but often feel they do not have adequate input into the policing of their jurisdictions, or adequate accountability measures for the RCMP when they have questions about what has happened in those jurisdictions.
A fourth measure, also as stated in the preamble of the bill, is to promote the highest levels of conduct within the RCMP. This, of course, is a goal that is shared by governments, RCMP members and the public at large. Day in and day out the vast majority, virtually all of the RCMP members, strive to meet those levels of conduct. However, we need clear statements of what happens when those levels of conduct are not met, with clear consequences and procedures that would also protect the rights of RCMP members who have dedicated themselves to the service of Canadians so they do not find themselves subject to arbitrary procedures as part of discipline.
Finally, the bill's preamble states that we need to reform the legislation to create a framework for ongoing reform so we do not find ourselves in this situation again 25 years later, since government after government have failed to address these questions and failed to provide leadership on these issues.
We in the official opposition can agree on the goals expressed in the legislation and I believe we can go further. We can even agree on the key areas for action identified in the summary of the bill. Although the bill's summary counts the areas of action as only two vital areas, I would count three.
First, we agree that there needs to be action to strengthen the RCMP review and complaints body. The RCMP Public Complaints Commission has provided a valuable service, but we have concerns about its full independence and its ability to oversee independent investigations.
Second, we believe there needs to be a framework to handle investigation of serious incidents involving members, incidents that involve death or serious injury, which will help enhance transparency. In this day and age the public has said very clearly that it does not accept that the police forces investigate themselves in very serious incidents. We believe an independent investigation would not only benefit public confidence, but it would also benefit those who serve in the RCMP by guaranteeing the public would understand the outcome of those investigations and where their names are cleared, they would be cleared once and for all.
Finally, there needs to be action in the area to modernize discipline, grievance and human resource management processes.
The minister has cited anecdotal evidence of things that take way too long, and we all know that is true. However, what is lacking is that clear guidance for RCMP members of what those standards are and how a failure of those standards would be dealt with in a judicious and fair manner.
In addition, when RCMP members have grievances, they need to have the understanding that their concerns can be brought forward in a timely manner and that those grievances can be resolved and not drag on for many years.
Therefore, we do agree on the areas in which we need to make reforms to the RCMP Act.
In particular, we believe it is crucial to allow the RCMP commissioner reforms in the area of discipline to deal with the climate of sexual harassment that exists in the RCMP. We would like to see leadership from the government in mandating the commissioner to bring in a clear anti-harassment policy and a clear process, which would contain specific standards of behaviour with regard to sexual harassment and specific criteria for evaluating the performance of all employees in this important area.
However, having said how much we agree with the objectives of the legislation and with the areas that need to be reformed, I am not standing today in the House simply to present bouquets to the minister. We in the opposition have our concerns both about government inaction by Liberals and Conservatives and government inaction in particular in the areas of transparency and accountability.
The government has been in power since 2006. Yes, it inherited a record of inaction, but it has been six years, three ministers and two RCMP commissioners and we are just now embarking on the process to reform this legislation so we can get measures which would make a real difference in the performance and the work lives of RCMP members now in 2012.
In the meantime, more than 200 women members of the RCMP have joined lawsuits alleging sexual harassment within the RCMP. There has been an ongoing series of problems with loss of public confidence in the RCMP in investigations of serious incidents.
We have wasted valuable time. Numerous studies have presented solutions to these problems. I give the government credit for appointing a task force, which reported back in 2007, nearly five years ago. It reported back with important proposals for reforming the culture of the RCMP, discipline of the RCMP and important recommendations to the Public Complaints Commission.
An internal review was completed in 2008 of the process of using independent observers in police investigations of themselves.
In 2006 Mr. Justice O'Connor made recommendations in the Maher Arar inquiry with regard to the national security activities of the RCMP.
Most recently former public complaints commissioner Paul Kennedy made recommendations both on investigations of serious incidents, which was tabled in 2009, and also when he appeared before the justice committee in January of last year to give recommendations on increasing the independence of the job that he used to hold.
There is no shortage of advice available.
However, in a question that was asked earlier of the minister, it is unclear why the government chose to pick only certain recommendations and a certain piece of all of those reports. It is hard to see the overall theme that guides this legislation.
We have said that government leadership is required, and that means more than just legislation. Therefore, I cannot let this opportunity go by without pointing out some of what the government has done in the area of the RCMP and the Public Complaints Commission.
Just this past week, the government issued layoff notices to two staff members of the RCMP Public Complaints Commission when we are in the midst of reforming it and the commission is in the midst of a massive study of the sexual harassment complaints that have taken place in the RCMP. Why has the government chosen to lay off staff members at the complaints commission in the midst of this crisis over sexual harassment that the commission is trying to address?
Also in the last week, we saw layoff notices given to 149 support staff members of the RCMP across the country, including 42 support staff in British Columbia alone. These are people who provide important services to help the RCMP do its job on a daily basis. These were not uniform members who received layoff notices but people who work everywhere from the forensic labs to personnel recruiting and in all the other very important functions that support the basic duties of the RCMP.
When it comes to the Public Complaints Commission in the RCMP, the government has been following a peculiar practice. When Mr. Kennedy produced his strong recommendations on investigations, the response of the government was to fail to reappoint him to the job. Having appointed him in 2005 and giving him annual reappointments every year, when his very strong recommendations came out suddenly he was no longer the government's first choice for the job of public complaints commissioner.
Ian McPhail, the new interim commissioner, was initially given a one-year term as interim chair and has now been appointed for another year. I am emphasizing one year because we are talking about someone who should have independence from the government to do the job of providing civilian oversight for the RCMP. How can someone do that job with any confidence when at the end of every year he or she could lose his or her job?
While I am encouraged to see that the new legislation talks about terms of up to five years for the new chair of the civilian review agency, I am concerned that the government will continue its practice in making only annual appointments, which gives it far too much power over what should be an independent commission.
Those are just some of the concerns that I have outlined with respect to Bill C-42. However, I am happy to be part of the committee that will deal with these issues should it pass second reading.
Mr. Jack Harris (St. John's East, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity today to speak at second reading of Bill C-42. It is called An Act to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts, but the government has chosen to call it by its short title, the enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police accountability act. The government is fond of naming these bills in some sort of public relations move. This is intended to cover everything that is included in the act but also to respond to public concerns.
It is fair to say that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was an institution that, up until recent years, had a great deal of respect among Canadians, whether they be members of the policing field or members of the general public who looked to the RCMP as the embodiment of a system of justice that had high standards of professionalism and respect from the public and from other police officers.
I started practising law in 1980 and in my early days the RCMP was known by other police forces as the senior police force in Canada. The police forces in my jurisdiction and others would look to the RCMP in terms of standards, whether they be of training, establishment of procedures and investigative procedures or standards of ethics and conduct, and this went on for many years.
I am only saying what many others have said before me, including members of the RCMP, many of whom I have spoken to over the last few years. There is a great deal of concern about the institution itself and about its ability to ensure the level of trust and respect that a police force demands. Others have rightly spoken about the high regard in which the RCMP is held throughout the world in terms of its effectiveness, its investigative ability and the forensic and technical expertise it has and lends to other forces throughout the world. In terms of training in other nations under various international agreements and United Nations efforts, we have made a significant contribution through the RCMP.
However, we have seen, at sometimes very senior levels of the RCMP, a failing that needs to be corrected. The most recent controversy has been about complaints of sexual harassment and, more importantly I suppose, the failure to adequately respond to the question of sexual harassment. Although we do have incidents of sexual harassment, as the report published today pointed out based on a survey of 426 members of the RCMP in British Columbia, the majority of respondents did not feel that the harassment was rampant inside the force. However, they expressed frustration at the handling of existing cases and the high number of unreported cases.
That is not saying it is rampant throughout the force, so we are not condemning the RCMP when we talk about the existence of sexual harassment cases. However, we are condemning the institution both for failing to respond properly to those incidents that have been reported and for failing to provide an atmosphere in which reporting can take place and—because primarily we are talking 99% of the time about women who are subject to such sexual harassment—in which they actually have a safe place to bring forth their complaints knowing it is the complaint that will be dealt with and not them.
That is important. It is important that the public have a clear understanding, belief, trust and faith in our senior police force representing the nation in symbolic ways, whether it be on our coins or through the musical ride. The RCMP is well known as a symbol of Canada and of respect. Even the ancient comment, which I suppose is praise, that the RCMP is the force that always gets its man or woman as the case may be, is emblematic of the esteem in which this organization is held in the popular culture of Canada. However it has to be fixed.
The question here is whether or not Bill C-42 is that fix. We know that the RCMP and the authorities within the RCMP need to be able to deal with bad behaviour. We know we need to have effective civilian oversight, and this has been commented on in various speeches here for many years. We also need a fair grievance procedure, one that ensures that grievances, whether they be about sexual harassment, pay and benefits or the conduct of some officer towards an individual, are dealt with fairly and in a timely manner. These are things that have to be done.
In this atmosphere, where we are talking about one of the principal recent reasons—the issue of sexual harassment—for the public outcry for accountability of RCMP officers and the force itself, what I find surprising is that in this bill we do not have a standard or even a statement with regard to sexual harassment and the unacceptability of it in an organization and in employment relationships. It may be a matter of policy in some organizations. In an institution of this nature, which is regarded as quasi-militaristic and has a hierarchy of authority where officers are expected to listen to and obey the commands of senior officers, more particularly there is a need to ensure that officers who have authority over others are prohibited and exhorted in a specific way not to abuse that authority, especially when it comes to the serious issue of sexual harassment.
Today's news, as mentioned by the previous speaker, is of the release of a survey done five or six months ago, interviewing a fairly large number of British Columbia members of the RCMP, and an internal report that found female members do not trust the force's system to deal with harassment complaints and frequently avoid reporting instances of perceived wrongdoing:
|| Participants strongly expressed that they were fearful of coming forward to report harassment as it could hinder promotional opportunities, have a negative impact on their careers, and possibly cause them to become a scapegoat for anything supervisors wanted to find fault with.
The opinion was also expressed that the RCMP is known for moving the complainant rather than dealing with the problem. In that context, I have to challenge the minister's statement in his speech yesterday that all we need to do is give the front-line managers power to make decisions, in fact, give them more power to deal with circumstances in situations.
We are supporting the bill at second reading and our public safety critic, the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, spoke very eloquently yesterday on it. We are supporting it because we do know there is a need to fix some of the problems in the RCMP and provide for a greater accountability and an ability to deal with these problems. However, we want to ensure we do not see merely a pendulum swinging one way and then the other, giving more authority and power to those at the top without ensuring that the job that needs to be done gets done. This is what I see and fear about this legislation.
We need timelines to deal with grievances. We need timelines to deal with situations. We need standards, particularly around conduct and behaviour. In that respect, a code of conduct is a good thing. However, we also have to make sure there would be due process.
I have a worry that the checks and balances are not there when I see a grievance procedure that gives the commissioner final and binding decision-making authority that he can delegate to somebody else, who in turn can delegate it to somebody else below him or her. It would be a final and binding decision without any reference to third parties, civilians outside or standards that may exist in other elements of public life.
This is a concern that has been raised within the military where there are similar circumstances. The grievance boards do not have sufficient outside involvement and it is all done within the context of the military circumstances, just as with this bill, where there would be an internal grievance procedure that would not have the checks and balances we would want.
Many of the matters that are dealt with are not specifically policing matters but rather of compensation, fair treatment or whether a dinner allowance was properly awarded. Yes, these things should be dealt with quickly, but with fairness and not arbitrarily.
We need due process in terms of grievances and conduct that may result in dismissal without powers arbitrarily set with the commissioner. The proposed legislation would give the commissioner the absolute right to appoint or discharge members, but it could be subject to a conduct board, which is probably a good thing.
If we are going to have a code of conduct, we have to have someone able to interpret and apply it. However, from my opportunity to peruse it, it is not clear in this proposed legislation who would actually do that or who the members on the conduct board would be. This is something that the committee would look closely at. We would like to see a code of conduct that specifically prohibits and explains what sexual harassment is, for example.
We do have codes of conduct with respect to the use of force. Clearly, the conduct of the RCMP and policing communities in the use of force in certain circumstances is another issue that has brought about concerns from many people. We had the Dziekanski investigation and hearing in British Columbia and there are other instances throughout the country that question the behaviour of RCMP members and police officers on other forces. It is not an exclusive issue to the RCMP, but behaviour, standards and conduct are brought into question and challenged.
These are the subject of lawsuits in some cases, and inquiries and other investigations. There has to be a proper code of conduct for that. There has to be a disciplinary procedure when it is necessary to impose discipline. There has to be due process to ensure that officers themselves are protected when they find themselves accused of certain breaches of conduct. It has to be fair. I believe the word used yesterday by my colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca was “balance”. There has to be a balance struck that does not simply let the pendulum swing one way because there is a perception that there is insufficient authority being exercised.
I want to talk about something else that others have mentioned, namely that legislation alone is not going to change the culture within the RCMP. It has to come from leadership and education. It perhaps also has to come by involving people from outside the force, that is by having them come in to help in solving some of these problems. The RCMP internally has been aware of these problems; they are not new. There has been report after report expressing concerns about the structure of the RCMP and the problems there, yet we do not see solutions. They are not all going to come from the top. The leadership has to come from the top but other people can be brought in to solve the problems.
This is an internal report that was commissioned after Commissioner Paulson was appointed. The commissioner himself has vowed to root out so-called dark hearted behaviour in the RCMP. Rooting things out is one thing, but changing the culture is another. It is a little harder job. It is not simply a matter of passing legislation. It is a matter of replacing the culture with a new culture based on respect: respect for each other, respect for women, respect for citizens and respect for the fact that police officers are given significant authority to use force in keeping the peace. That is something that has to be used with great care. It is a big responsibility that we give to police officers. From those to whom that responsibility is given, much is expected.
What is interesting in the response to the internal report, a pretty damning report referred to in today's Globe and Mail, is that the majority of the respondents in the report said they had no faith in the current reporting process. That is why we have unreported cases of sexual harassment and other forms of harassment. That is a fairly damning conclusion by individual members of the RCMP in this internal report. This results in severe morale problems and also a lack of faith in senior officers and the structure itself.
One response by Deputy Commissioner Callens, who is the commanding officer of the B.C. RCMP, was to send more than a hundred officers for training to ensure greater timeliness and follow-up to complaint investigations. Indeed, this is what the RCMP said in a statement. Well, follow-up and timeliness is one thing, but there are also other aspects to this whole notion of how does sexual harassment exist in the first place. Why is it tolerated? Is there a culture of toleration? Is there something more deep seated that has to be dealt with outside of legislation but internally within the RCMP? It is a big job and they may need outside help to do that.
Therefore, I realize this is a big task and that the legislature cannot fix everything by legislation. Nonetheless, the legislation itself is a step in the right direction. We support the notion of having more authority to deal with problems and having things dealt with in a more timely fashion.
We are concerned about some of the measures here. There need to be a lot of changes in the bill before it will be acceptable to the official opposition. We will work assiduously in committee to help make that happen.
Ms. Jinny Jogindera Sims (Newton—North Delta, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to rise to debate Bill C-42. As we all know, the bill was tabled just days before Parliament recessed for the summer. It was introduced in light of the many challenges the RCMP had faced over the last number of years, with the numerous struggles, scandals around sexual harassment and the internal processes and a feeling of a lack of trust in one of our most iconic institutions, the RCMP.
I will speak in support of the bill getting to the committee stage so major issues can be addressed. However, I cannot proceed without echoing the concern of my colleague who spoke before me about the lack of debate from one part of the House.
Parliamentary democracy is a treasured institution, of which we are very proud. My experience as a member of Parliament, since the very short time I have been in the House, has been the lack of respect for our parliamentary democracy. I have seen it through the movement of closure, time allocations and all kinds of ways to muzzle debate.
In parliamentary democracy, the government proposes and the opposition critiques, not with the idea of just simple opposition, but with the idea that through debate, the initial debate and then the committee stage, we end up with legislation that best serves Canadians and that has been chiseled, questioned and put under the microscope.
We saw how our voices were silenced in June, May and April, all those months, but today I am experiencing a different kind of eery feeling in the House where the government has brought forward significant legislation for debate. Debate does not mean a few people having a conversation. This debate, to be truly effective, has to be with people from government who will respond to issues we raise, answer questions and explain some of the elements of the legislation. That is what debate is. Then we examine it on its merits.
I will echo my colleague who spoke earlier who has said that lack of debate and that lack of response from one end of the House seems very disrespectful of our parliamentary democracy and of the role we play as elected parliamentarians who are here to debate, not to just sit in silence, in this very well-respected institution.
I am very proud of the work done by the RCMP. In my riding of Newton—North Delta, on the Surrey side, we are served by the RCMP and I have always been truly impressed by its professionalism, dedication and the way it carries out its work.
The government has presented legislation to enhance trust and restore accountability in the RCMP. It takes more than some words on paper to enhance accountability in the RCMP.
We ask our men and women in uniform to carry out some pretty serious responsibilities, which is the protection of our citizenry, and they do that. However, we also have to give them the resources to ensure the staffing exists and they have the tools and resources so they can carry out their tasks, whether their tasks are in their duties as RCMP officers, the investigation processes, the forensic processes or the internal workings of the RCMP. The government is cutting 149 positions from the RCMP, the same government that talks constantly about increasing our community safety and security, greater policing and vigilance and all of those issues. The cutting of those positions seems a little at odds with those positions.
I also want to bring to the attention of members that 42 of those positions will be cut are in B.C. The positions being cut across the country include cuts from the investigation branch and the forensic's area. I wonder how much trust people can have in the RCMP when we do not give it the tools to do its job. Only when RCMP members carry out their jobs and the functions we ask them to do people build trust in our iconic institution. However, we are denying them access to some of those basic tools.
I want to talk about a major driver behind this legislation, which has been the litany of sexual harassment allegations within the RCMP. No one in the House supports sexual harassment anywhere and when it happens in one of our iconic institutions, which is there to protect citizens, it gives us a great deal of concern. We have to remember that the vast majority of members in the RCMP is not implicated in these allegations. However, even one allegation is one too many. There have been many and this needs to be addressed.
I know we cannot address an issue like sexual harassment and the culture that I would not say facilitated but allowed it to happen. We cannot change that culture or stop sexual harassment simply by passing legislation. When we talk about the major elements, we have heard that the culture has to be changed, the hierarchical and accountability culture. Yes, we need legislation and processes in place, but they need to be clear, transparent and independent processes so the investigations and consequences are not determined by those who are part of the institution. However, as a teacher and counsellor, in order to bring about cultural change within any institution, one cannot impose things from Parliament or the commissioner. In order to bring about cultural change within the RCMP or any other institution, there has to be a great deal of buy-in. The way to get buy-in is by engaging the community and the RCMP in a very meaningful way, as well as ensuring the RCMP is part of the end solution.
One of the concerns I had when I read this bill was about the amount of power that would be given to the minister. This seems to be a new trend. When it comes to immigration, every piece of legislation that has come forward recently seems to put even more power in the hands of the immigration minister. This is not against any individual, but I do not believe we need to give ministers that kind of centralization of power or that much control.
We have to look at putting in place a process that involves the police, the communities and the different agencies to have structures in place so there is a great deal of independence. If we have a independent commission looking a this, to whom should it report? It should be Parliament. This is the body that needs to take this on.
On the issue of sexual harassment, the commissioner had started an investigation and report into gender balance and other issues. That report has not been released yet. In many ways there are elements in the bill that are very premature, but also elements which should have been acted on a long time ago to address the immediate issue of sexual harassment. Issues of sexual harassment cannot wait one, two, three or four years. We all know the kind of damage that does not only to the individuals involved, but to the whole institution of the RCMP. I have a great deal of concern with the way this process is playing out.
Giving so much power to the minister and centralizing quite arbitrary powers in the hands of the commissioner should also give us some concern. One of the things I have learned over the years is that Canadians believe in the rule of law. They also believe in due process. If individuals are charged with something, we want them to have due process. That does not mean we want to be tied up in the courts for years and years. It means we need a very clear process where the rights of the individuals who have allegations against them are respected as well. If we do not have that, we are in danger of moving toward omnipotence being placed in the hands of a few who then believe they can take action without any recourse by others. That is not the Canadian way of doing things. We have to absolutely ensure we do that.
I do not think anyone believes there should not be oversight of our RCMP and other institutions, but we need the kind of oversight that actually moves us forward and not have people digging trenches and making things worse.
I have had a number of conversations with RCMP officers in my riding. Summer is when we get to be in our ridings and we meet with our constituents at barbecues or on the street. Others come to meet with us individually. I was very impressed by the conversations I have had with RCMP officers. It is a group which is feeling oppressed right now. There is a lot of insecurity and a feeling of what is happening, of the unknown and the feeling that a hammer will fall on them, that they will be expected to do more with less. They do not even know what kind of due process and rights they will have in the new systems that come into play.
When people with years and years of experience, people who serve our community as valiantly as these officers do, raise those concerns, we have to pay attention. Legislation that is as unclear and convoluted as this helps to create more confusion and does not really take into account the short-term actions that we spoke about last May and June. We need to take those actions immediately. We also need to put some independent but fair processes in place for everyone.
I do not think anybody wants fairness for themselves at the expense of other people. As a government, we want to ensure that the legislation we bring forward and passes in the House provides our men and women in uniform that due process they so need and deserve.
Putting power in the hands of ministers also sends a different kind of message. It takes away the independence and professional service we expect from policing. If the minister has extraordinary powers to overrule, direct and delegate here, there and everywhere, that actually creates more instability not only in the force but also in the communities because they are not clear as to who is making the decisions, who is finally responsible and who will be held accountable for those actions.
I went into teaching because I am hopeful and always expect situations to improve. I am hopeful that when we get to committee stage opposition committee members, including our critic, will be given the time they need in order to make the kinds of amendments that will make this legislation more palatable to the opposition and also move us forward in a more positive way.
The one thing I have learned over the years, whether it was dealing with kids or adults, is that if we want them to change their behaviour, hitting them on the head does not make it happen. Therefore, having more legislation with more of this will not do it.
I would urge that the RCMP be more actively engaged. Its members are very concerned about the damage to their image. The RCMP officers who I have talked to are just as outraged and upset by the sexual harassment cases and other scandals as we are. They want to be part of the solution. I would say that if we put them outside of the solution, outside of that circle that is coming up with a solution, we are not acting smartly or strategically and I would question how serious we are about addressing the issues that exist within the RCMP that require our attention.
Once again I urge the government to reconsider centralizing the powers to ministers in a way that does not serve our democracy well. I also urge the government to get engaged in debate. This is the House of Commons where debate happens between different parties. If I were sitting on the government side, I would want to actually engage in a discussion about a piece of legislation if I were serious about it. To just sit quietly is a waste of taxpayer dollars and goes against parliamentary democracy because taxpayers send us here to play an active role in Parliament. That is what we are here to do.
There are many other issues that I could speak to but I see I am out of time. I will finish off with the idea that we cannot bring about cultural change and build trust and accountability by just words on paper but rather by actions and how we engage people in a meaningful and respectful way.
Hon. Judy Sgro (York West, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, before I begin my comments I have to acknowledge the comments from my colleague from Newton—North Delta. Clearly we are talking about trying to engage in getting a piece of legislation to the best that it can be. On this side of the House, in the Senate and elsewhere, we have lots of people who have various backgrounds and who could be very helpful.
If the goal is to strengthen a piece of legislation then it should be taken up by all of us in open debate and discussion, which is what is supposed to happen in the House. The government side seems to feel it has done all its work already and is prepared to move forward on this piece of legislation. It is clearly our intent to do what we were elected to do, which is to look at a piece of legislation, offer our comments and hope to improve on it. With the many smart people that we have in the House, on all sides, I am quite confident that would happen if we would just allow democracy to do what it is supposed to do, which is to allow us all to participate in a proper manner.
As the Liberal Party critic for the status of women I am particularly pleased to be able to speak to the bill. I had been working on this issue for well over a year now when I started getting many calls about sexual harassment from other members of the RCMP. I am pleased to see that the government has responded to the issue and the pleas from Commissioner Paulson and others to start to make some legislative improvements and untie the commissioner's hands.
Is it enough? In its present form, I do not think so, but that is exactly what we are going to do between the House and the committee.
As most members will know, the issue surrounding sexual harassment and workplace bullying within the RCMP is one that many of us have been hearing about and getting involved in. It is unfortunate, however, that it took so much to finally get the government to reluctantly take the step forward to reform the RCMP. However, it is a first step. Let us take it one step at a time.
From the outset I want to make it very clear that I, and I believe everybody else in the House, have nothing but the utmost respect for the RCMP and all of the officers in various divisions and cities who work so much to keep us all safe. Over the years the force has been an honourable, proud and iconic symbol for our country. When asked what they think of Canada, one of the first things people say is the RCMP and their red uniforms. We are very proud of them. I would hope that, as a result of some of the changes that are coming forward and the work of Commissioner Paulson and others, we will see those changes happen.
Despite its legacy, in more recent years the force has received a very black eye due primarily to a failure to address certain internal cultural realities that unfortunately cast the RCMP in a very negative light. Bill C-42 is perhaps the first step down the road toward addressing some of these issues. I say some of these issues because I am not convinced that this legislation is going to address all of the issues at hand. I fear it will miss the mark if the government is not prepared to hear from those affected. This is not just a problem with process. It goes much deeper than that.
A short time ago I was speaking to Senator Roméo Dallaire, who all of us know. We are familiar with the heroic deeds of Senator Dallaire in the military context. During that conversation the senator made connections between the military of the early 90s and the RCMP of today. We all remember some of the challenges faced by DND in the early 90s. Most of these problems revolved around a culture that had not changed or kept pace with the times. There were terrible headlines and terrible comments coming from a variety of different quarters. As a result, the public confidence in the military was again shaken and real change was demanded. The culture of the military at that time needed to be modernized.
Much of what we are talking about in Bill C-42 is an attempt to move forward. It is about modernization. It is about things that were not acceptable 20 years ago but have managed to continue on. Women, in many cases, are the victims of sexual harassment in a variety of different avenues. Especially when we get into places like the military or policing, somehow there seems to be an opportunity for more bullying and sexual harassment.
The Liberal government had a problem on its hands in trying to deal with the outcome of what was very negative publicity in and around our armed forces. The Liberal government at the time made those changes. It modernized DND and the military. It put in place a senior management team that instituted far-reaching change in the Canadian military. It was put in place specifically to change the military culture of how people treated each other, how they treated people at different levels, how they needed to respect each other, and that harassment should not exist in that kind of culture. That was real leadership and that kind of leadership is again needed in the context of the sexual harassment and workplace bullying that we are hearing about within the RCMP.
Even the commissioner is asking for this. Commissioner Paulson was at the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. He effectively said that he needed changes to the legislation that would untie his hands so that he would be able to deal effectively with those he knows are not following the rules as they should be followed. I want to be optimistic but I am not seeing that level of leadership as much as I am seeing a careful response based in a public relations strategy.
That is part of the reason why it is so important for there to be a debate in the House and for this legislation to go to committee, where it will have a true opportunity to be debated and strengthened so that this is not a public relations strategy and we really will attempt to fix the problems that we all know exist in the organization.
It is a serious move for 138 people to file harassment charges against the RCMP. It certainly is a career ending move, but it should not be that. Those people who came forward know that their careers are effectively over, but they felt strongly enough about their belief in the RCMP that they wanted to see a change come about anyway.
It should not have taken a public appeal from the Commissioner of the RCMP, either, to prompt a government response to the problems within the RCMP. That was reckless on the part of the government. Clearly the commissioner felt the only way to say this publicly was at the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. He felt that was necessary. If we were going to see change, that was the only way for him to come out and make such a statement. Even now, according to the The Hill Times, government MPs on the Standing Committee on the Status of Women are reluctant to really deal with this matter in an open and transparent manner.
I give credit to the standing committee, of which I am also a vice-chair, for dealing with the whole issue of harassment and sexual harassment. Rather than focusing strictly on the RCMP, as I would have preferred us to do, we are broadening that and looking at a dozen different Government of Canada departments. We are looking at what the policies are when it comes to sexual harassment. Some departments have them and some do not. They should all have them. I want to applaud the committee for taking a leadership role in doing that. A serious look at harassment would benefit not only government departments and employees of the Government of Canada but we would be showing effective leadership for the provinces and many other people across Canada. That is the kind of thing that I would like to see the committee do. I want to applaud it for dealing with that issue. It took a lot of pushing to get it there but it is there. We are going to work together this fall on that study.
The reluctance by the government to deal with the changes needed in the RCMP is really an affront to people like Jamie Hanlon, Nancy Arias and Catherine Galliford. These are dedicated people who dreamed of being part of the RCMP but found their dream to be a nightmare once confronted by a system that allowed, and even encouraged at times, harassment according to some of the comments that have come forward.
These issues must be resolved. Abuse, sexual intimidation or workplace bullying should never be acceptable. These issues should never flourish in any agency or organization in Canada, least of all the RCMP.
To put it into perspective, I would like to read from an email my office received from one of the women who faced sexual harassment within the force. She said, in reference to Bill C-42:
|| Bill C-42 is an important step towards the future. However, it in no way addresses the serious issues of violence in the workplace at the RCMP that has been around for more than 20 years, and it is for this very reason that it is extremely important and imperative that the victims of these crimes be heard and that accountability prevails. Only then can we all move collectively into the future.
That is a very important statement from someone who has been part of this, who has experienced that kind of harassment, who wants to see the RCMP improve and go forward.
Whatever happens, there will very much be watched by many of the police services throughout our great country, no doubt, because there is an awful lot that goes on that is not reported for a whole lot of reasons.
No one wants to lose their job. They know that it could clearly impede their opportunity for advancement, but these are very serious issues. I hope that at the Standing Committee on the Status of Women we will be able to give these women an opportunity to speak, and men are part of this as well, but an opportunity to be heard because they are in it for the right reasons. They want to see changes and improvements happen. I agree and I am truly hopeful that the government will get serious about tackling this issue when Bill C-42 arrives at committee.
Further to this, in May of this year, RCMP Commissioner Paulson wrote an open letter outlining his current limitations in weeding out the so-called bad apples in the force. Never in the 13 years I have been here have I ever seen a department head, a deputy minister or a commissioner write an open letter in the newspaper appealing for help to make change in his organization. It took a tremendous amount of courage on his part to do that. The Minister of Public Safety took that very seriously, went to work and created Bill C-42.
This letter added to his testimony before the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. He said his officers did not have the confidence in the ability of the force to resolve these matters. I did not say that. Commissioner Paulson, head of the RCMP, said that.
When we go back to how the Liberals dealt with the issue in the military, it would set up a separate group of people outside of the RCMP who would deal with all of those issues and come forward with some recommendations. Over and above the work we are doing on Bill C-42, there should be a separate team of people, experts in the field, that would really make those differences.
In essence, an exasperated commissioner was begging for help. Only then did the government step in.
The minister would say that he is addressing the matter at hand, but I fail to see how reworking the force's bureaucratic grievance system and giving increased power to the commissioner would address cases such as the one involving the infamous Sergeant Don Ray. Sergeant Ray admitted that over a three year period of time he had sex with subordinates, drank with them at work and sexually harassed them. He was also found to have used his position to favour female potential employees.
Those are very damning things for a member of the RCMP to do. What happened to him? In return, rather than facing charges, Sergeant Ray was docked 10 days' pay. He intimidated and harassed women in the service, and all of that went on over a period of years. Women would get fired and dismissed and all kinds of things, but what happened to Sergeant Ray? He got a 10-day suspension and was transferred to another detachment.
I have to wonder where that other detachment is. If a woman in Edmonton or Manitoba has difficulty getting home one night, will Sergeant Ray, on a dark night, be the one to help her fix her car, or whatever has happened, when she is stranded? I would not feel safe having him out there. It is absolutely unbelievable that he would be allowed to be out there with a 10-day suspension.
However, I think we can agree that this is not an administrative failing. This runs far deeper than that.
This is precisely why I think Bill C-42 would not be enough to address these cultural matters without real debate, which is what we should be having in the House, open dialogue and several amendments at committee.
I certainly hope the committee will be able to do that, that the committee will not be hamstrung and will be able to hear from all the individuals who are part of a variety of different positions in the RCMP, whether they are part of a lawsuit or whatever it is, that they will be encouraged and allowed to come to committee. In that way the committee will have a full picture of what is going on and can make the amendments necessary and can make a recommendation to put a leadership team together to ensure that the changes needed in the RCMP happen and that this is simply not a bunch of paper and another bill that would have no teeth and no real ability to do anything.