It is a pleasure for me to join you here today to address the question of privilege relating to the free movement of members of Parliament within the parliamentary precinct.
I would like to thank you for extending us an invitation to provide you with the most recent update on this important issue.
As you know, the RCMP has a mandate to protect the grounds of Parliament Hill. Furthermore, we are also mandated under the Criminal Code with protecting visiting international protected persons such as heads of state or of government and foreign diplomats while in Canada. The RCMP recognizes the need to balance security and access, but we also recognize that the implementation of security measures cannot override the right of MPs' access to the parliamentary precinct.
As the committee is well aware, Parliament Hill represents the physical embodiment of Canadian democracy, culture, and values. As such, it has become a preferred site for individuals to hold peaceful protests and demonstrations. Unfortunately, its symbolic and functional relevance also positions it as a focal point to attract negative or potential criminal acts by those who wish to interfere with its functions.
Our police officers have diverse operational policing backgrounds and bring maturity, professionalism and experience to our Parliament Hill detachment.
For example, Constable Vladimir Napoleon is a seasoned police officer working out of our Parliament Hill detachment. He served in Surrey, British Columbia, where he worked as a uniformed police officer responding to calls for service. He was also a member of British Columbia's integrated homicide investigation team investigating the Surrey Six murder case related to street gangs.
Constable Annie Delisle served in Carnduff, Saskatchewan, where she investigated a large variety of criminal offences. She also served in Pond Inlet, Nunavut and Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec, where she conducted numerous investigations related to illegal sales of tobacco products and drug trafficking.
These two police officers are reflective of the quality of RCMP members that are working every day on Parliament Hill. I am proud of having these highly-skilled police officers. These members are intelligent, adaptable and are trained to solve problems in sometimes challenging and stressful situations.
Securing the grounds of Parliament Hill and providing the safest environment possible for parliamentarians and the public at large requires us to work in close collaboration with all of our security partners, including the Senate and House of Commons security services. The RCMP involves both security agencies in the planning of all operational visits, demonstrations, or events implicating Parliament Hill.
Along with the Senate and House of Commons security services we have set up a master security planning office. This joint initiative on security matters is designed to strengthen the security culture, enhance interoperability, coordinate activities, and establish efficient processes to share intelligence.
Over the years we have identified a number of opportunities to work more closely together. For instance, we have daily conference calls to share operational information and activities. There are memoranda of understanding in place to facilitate the sharing of intelligence and access to RCMP radio frequencies. There is a tripartite training project to facilitate joint training exercises. For example, the RCMP provides immediate action rapid deployment training for active shooters to the House of Commons security services.
All three agencies manage events using the incident command system. This ensures standard command, control, and response during a visit, demonstration, or event. The RCMP has integrated the Senate and House of Commons security officers into our national capital region command centre during all major events.
As you know, some security upgrades have been completed, including changes to the Vehicle Screening Facility to accommodate the screening of an average of 400 vehicles per day. Additional security enhancements are being implemented to further reduce the risk posed by unauthorized vehicles to all parliamentarians, employees and visitors.
What occurs off Parliament Hill sometimes impacts upon what happens on the Hill. On average, there are more than 300 demonstrations annually on Parliament Hill and more than 400 within the national capital region. The majority of protests are peaceful; however, in the last year there were 12 demonstrations on Parliament Hill that posed significant security challenges because of the violent or aggressive behaviour of some demonstrators. In addition, the utilization of social media by protestors for immediate mobilization has elevated the level of complexity and planning of security around these events.
In addition to protests, our members were also involved in securing 12 high-level visits in the past year, which required enhanced security measures and increased vigilance. One of these high-level visits occurred on March 2, 2012, with the visit of the Israeli Prime Minister.
Media reports have provided a picture of the current environment for Israeli interests. It is essential that we maintain a high level of vigilance when the Prime Minister, the President, or other dignitaries visit Canada. Under such circumstances, the complexity of our mandate increases, requiring enhanced coordination of specialized units from within the RCMP and with other law enforcement agencies to ensure the safety and security of the international protected persons and the locations visited.
On March 2, the RCMP was required to significantly bolster our regular Parliament Hill resource deployments in order to provide the appropriate level of security for the visit of Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Needless to say, a breach of security screening measures could have had significant consequences. The heightened level of security on the Hill during the visit of Prime Minister Netanyahu required us to be extra vigilant in order to ensure valid accreditation. All deployed resources were briefed and given specific instructions for the day. Members on duty that day were advised to facilitate access to parliamentarians and challenge those without accreditation. These are standard instructions. We were also fortunate to receive assistance from the Senate security service, who assisted us at security checkpoints with quick identification and screening of senators and Senate staff.
Our regular Parliament Hill resource deployments are issued the Directory of Members of the House of Commons for quick reference and identification of parliamentarians. Unfortunately, we did not have an adequate number of booklets to distribute to the members being mobilized from other areas within the RCMP.
This has been identified as a deficiency, and going forward we have acquired a sufficient number of directories to issue to all members deployed on Parliament Hill for future events.
Since March 2, the RCMP has also taken additional measures to improve future visits. This includes: working with the Senate and the House of Commons to have their personnel at key checkpoints along with our members to quickly identify parliamentarians; placing experienced Parliament Hill members at key access points; updating orientation for our members to further enhance their ability to visually recognize parliamentarians.
I have provided the following direction to the officer in change of protective operations: should RCMP members not recognize parliamentarians, they shall immediately refer to the directory of members for quick identification and access. Operational pre-planning will ensure that during special events, MPs will continue to have access for entry through Centre Block. Security perimeters will be stood down at the end of each special event or visit.
RCMP Parliament Hill members take pride in keeping parliamentarians and those who visit and work on the Hill safe and secure. We are continuously reviewing our procedures and processes to improve our operations and remain committed to continuing the important work we do daily with our security partners.
Thank you, Assistant Commissioner, for appearing.
Let me first say that I have untold respect for the RCMP and all that you do. I have a long history with the force, frankly. I live in Regina Beach, but part of my constituency is Depot. One of my dearest friends is Bill MacRae. If you know anything about RCMP history—and I know from your knowing nod that you do—you know Mr. MacRae's past history with the force. I should also tell you that I have a very personal involvement. My mother's first husband was an RCMP officer who was killed on duty at Depot. So I have a long history and involvement and abiding respect for the job that you do.
I want to say thank you for everything you do, not just on the Hill for parliamentarians, but for all Canadians across Canada. I know the force has been under some pressures lately, from a public relations and public image standpoint, but I'm sure the new commissioner, Commissioner Paulson, and all officers, commissioners, and assistant commissioners will be able to resolve those challenges and continue with the great work you do. I want to get that on the record.
The reason we're here, of course, is to try to see if we can come up with some solution to some of the problems we've had in years past with visiting dignitaries coming and members of Parliament not being granted access to Parliament Hill. I know my colleagues in the NDP will have some specific questions about that.
You referenced it in your opening comments, and you mentioned that during yesterday's visit by President Peres, you actually had some security from the Senate staff assisting your forces in identifying senators and allowing them passage. I asked the sergeant-at-arms when he was here last week about the level of cooperation between the security forces inside the precinct and inside Centre Block and the RCMP. He referenced, quite correctly, the fact that the RCMP has jurisdictional authority outside of the buildings.
My question is, quite simply, why couldn't there be, on a regular basis, that level of cooperation that you saw yesterday, with security staff inside simply going out to your force and asking if you need a hand in identifying some of the members? They have, I think, enhanced training on recognition of members of Parliament. Is there, in your opinion, a problem there? I think I used the term “a pissing match” between the two security forces. Why couldn't it just be as simple as, on a regular basis, a standing operating procedure: whenever there's a visiting dignitary coming to Parliament Hill, there would be a joint identification force, if we want to call it that, with security members from inside assisting your forces. Is that something that could or should happen, and would you comment on whether it will happen?
I want to just follow up on this with what happened yesterday. Just by coincidence, we had something happen in my office that let us see how flexible the new arrangement is of having House of Commons and Senate people present. I was quite impressed.
What happened specifically was that, as I was leaving the Hill, I realized that I didn't have my parliamentary pin with me. I had on the same pin that I'm wearing today, to promote awareness of childhood illness. But I could see that there was a House of Commons person there, so I stopped and said, “If I leave the Hill, am I going to have trouble getting back on?” He said, “No, I know who you are.” Down I went, off the Hill.
As I was leaving, I passed a photocopy repairman who had been up in my office fixing a computer—sorry, photocopier. He'd had to leave the Hill to get a missing part. He came back and was denied entrance. He trotted down, grabbed my coattail, and dragged me back up. When I said “This guy is with me”, they let me through, but they said I had to take him to all the various checkpoints inside. I was able to get him back to the office.
So something that could have been difficult, not just for me but for a guy who has no particular privileges here and who does have a legitimate reason to be here, was, I thought, very well resolved by the way in which you and the House of Commons and Senate security were working together. My hat is off to you for that.
A voice: We're glad you weren't arrested—
I want to deal with some specific situations in addition to the one we just talked about with Mr. Stoffer.
Another MP from the NDP, Hélène Laverdière, came to a checkpoint back in March. She did produce identification. She was asked for it and produced it at that time. Then she was directed to go through the East Block tunnel rather than proceed directly to the Centre Block, which is where she was going. She was on duty that morning.
Just so we're clear, the same thing happened to my wife yesterday. She was escorting, because of the concern, one of her former colleagues and her colleague's son up to question period. She was wearing her spouse pin, she identified herself as the spouse of a parliamentarian, and she was directed to go through the East Block. She said, “I'm not doing that.” In the case of Madame Laverdière, somebody else was standing in the same area and indicated that Madame Laverdière didn't have to do that. So she did proceed, as did my wife.
I don't understand, Assistant Commissioner, why—this is two times now, two different people—anybody would be directed to go through the East Block, especially when they've identified themselves.
Thank you, Assistant Commissioner, for being here today. I as well am encouraged by your opening comments, and I do value very highly the work of you and your force. In fact, just a few weeks ago, I was privileged to be in France, at Vimy, where one of your colleagues accompanying us certainly did your force and all Canadians proud.
I'm encouraged especially by the tone throughout your opening remarks, the tone of your openness to input and to modifying to improve the process, and also your openness to collaboration with the different security forces here on the Hill. But I would just like to say that in terms of the seriousness of the potential danger that any of these instances present, for me, as a member of Parliament, I would rather have my privileges curtailed in some way than to somehow compromise security.
We go through security every week in our airports and so on. There are some complaints about all of that. For me, as a Canadian, I am thankful for those people who are ensuring that the protocols are followed and that we are in fact assured that once we arrive in this place, we're safe. I just want to get that on the record.
In one comment you made, near the bottom of page 2, you talk about the 300 demonstrations that occur annually on the Hill. You said that 12 demonstrations in the past year have “posed significant security challenges due to violent or aggressive behaviour” of some of the demonstrators. My question is, is there a log or a record kept in terms of the groups that are consistent repeat offenders, such that they would be screened more seriously if they apply for a permit in the future? Are you aware of any way that we can mitigate those numbers of violent occurrences?
Sure, I'll take a couple of minutes.
Thanks for coming. This is a difficult task for you, to balance this. It's an unusual environment around Parliament Hill, particularly with respect to parliamentarians and our access on these heightened security days, so you have my...I don't know if “sympathies” is quite right, but hopefully my understanding.
This is probably before your time, but just for interest's sake, you mentioned at the beginning of your speech the number of protests that you deal with in any given year. I'd be curious to get a sense of the number of protests over, say, the last decade. Are we on a trend toward increasing, or are we decreasing? Is your job becoming more complex that way? Do we see more arrests, more people taken off the Hill?
You don't have to answer that now. If you know it, great, but you can also get that to us later.
As well, the incidents that have been mentioned by all parties are often in connection with a visit from the head of state from either Israel or the United States. I assume you have special protocol arrangements with those. Are there other nations on the list that require that different type of protocol arrangement with your force when they come here?
I'll leave it at those two questions. I'm not sure how much time I have left, so we'll go from there.
If you could, please send it to the chair once it is finished. Thank you.
I'd like to go back to specific incidents and my concern over how we enforce. The other incident we had, when Mr. Netanyahu was here, was that one of our members, Madame Freeman, was stopped at the lower level. Again, she identified herself by way of her card, and then was escorted, I believe, right to the door. Unfortunately, she's out of the country right now, so I haven't been able to get the final details on this. Is that standard practice? Are they supposed to escort?
On one hand, you could say, “That's very nice. I'm an MP and I get this special treatment.” On the other hand, you can see it as, “They don't trust me, so they're going to walk me up to the door.” But is it standard practice for that to happen?