Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak about Bill . The issue of enhanced accountability for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is one of great interest to Canadians and one I am glad to have a chance to speak about today.
Canadians have high expectations of the RCMP. They expect the men and women of the RCMP to serve them with honour and integrity. We need them to serve us and protect us and protect public safety. We ask them to put their lives on the line to protect us.
The RCMP officer in the red uniform, the Mountie, is an iconic symbol of Canada. The force's service to Canadians is, on the whole, exemplary. It is an institution in which we take great pride. It is a symbol of Canada around the world, known to citizens of different countries all over the world.
However, recent high-profile incidents, including complaints of sexual harassment lodged by current and former female RCMP officers and, importantly, the failure to discipline officers who step outside the bounds of the law, show that there are deep underlying issues with respect to the culture of the RCMP. It is being called, in some circles, dysfunctional. It is unanimously recognized that it is a culture that needs to be changed dramatically.
Speaking to the CBC in November, RCMP Commissioner Paulson referred to the institution as “...the culture of harassment, it's the culture of misuse of authority”. So much so is this the case that, regrettably, public confidence in the RCMP has been shaken. A change in the accountability framework for the RCMP is long overdue.
We witnessed on television, and in the news, the concerns and complaints of many former and current RCMP employees, mainly women, talking about their concerns with the culture and the lack of response to their concerns and complaints. These are clearly difficult issues that have had profound effects on the careers and lives of these RCMP officers and former officers.
Speaking of Bill C-42, the has stated:
...Canadians' confidence in the RCMP has been tested over the past few years and this legislation will ensure that the RCMP is fully accountable for its actions and is open and transparent in its service to Canadians.
However, Bill does not lead to more independent and transparent oversight of the RCMP. It is simply the same body that reports non-binding recommendations to the minister, but with a new name.
Bill C-42 is the Conservative government's take on what accountability should look like, but on this side of the House, we have an entirely different perspective. We actually understand accountability, what it means and how valuable it is, and we believe in it. We find Bill C-42 wanting because of its lack of accountability.
Although we agree with the principle of the bill, what we find is that the bill is deeply flawed in its execution. We have a piece of legislation here that fails to recognize either the needs of RCMP officers who have experienced harassment in the workplace or the very reasonable and appropriate expectation of Canadians of civilian oversight of a police body. This is the key to improving accountability in this institution; that is, civilian oversight and transparency.
We voted in favour of the bill at second reading, hoping that the bill's flaws would be addressed in committee. Unfortunately, true to form, the Conservatives voted down every amendment the NDP proposed. The result is that we have missed an opportunity to fix the glaring holes in the bill that we identified at second reading, glaring holes that many witnesses at committee were able to identify and expound upon.
Some of the amendments we proposed at committee included these few things that I think members of the House should find critically important to a bill that purports to bring accountability and transparency to a policing institution. They included adding mandatory harassment training for RCMP members and specifically to lodge that requirement in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act; ensuring a full independent civilian review body to investigate complaints against the RCMP; adding a provision to create a national civilian investigative body, which would avoid police investigating police; and creating more balanced human resource policies by removing some of the more draconian and despotic powers proposed for the RCMP commissioner, and by strengthening the external review committee in cases involving possible dismissal from the force.
The Conservatives turned down all of those very reasonable proposals to amend Bill . As a result, the bill fails to create a strong independent civilian oversight body for the RCMP such as—and this is important to note—the one proposed in the 2006 O'Connor inquiry or the 2007 recommendations of the Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP.
The proposed new civilian review and complaints commission would replace the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP and would have greater authority to conduct investigations, gather evidence and materials and compel testimony. Admittedly, that is a step in the right direction.
However, the new body would not report to Parliament, not to us, but to the commissioner and to the minister, so this is most emphatically not an independent organization. It most emphatically does not bring about the purported goals of the bill, which are to bring transparency and accountability to this institution.
As well, the commission's findings would be non-binding. Indeed, this represents a missed opportunity to have a fully independent complaints commission that would be accountable to all Canadians and not just the .
The word “accountability” is one the government loves to use. It throws it about all the time. However, I do not think it has quite grasped the concept. In fact, it has cheapened and undermined it and simply does not value it.
The bill purports to bring accountability to a police institution. That is, I think, sufficient evidence that the government fundamentally does not believe in accountability and does not act in accordance with the principles of accountability. We simply do not see it in the bill.
This new body would have observer status only in investigations of serious incidents involving the RCMP. This is evidence of not grasping the concept of accountability.
The new investigative framework for these incidents proposed in Bill is really just a patchwork system. It would differ from province to province. A province would choose to appoint an investigative body or a police force or would leave the RCMP to either refer the investigation to another police force or to even conduct the investigation itself. These provisions simply allow a continuation of the current practice of police investigating police. It is clearly a problematic practice and clearly is a practice that got this institution into the issues it is in now. That, fundamentally, is one of the key things that needs to be changed under the bill, but it is not. Unfortunately, a fully independent national watchdog agency is not part of this legislation. Although independent civilian oversight is needed, the bill fails to deliver that independent civilian oversight.
Bill not only fails to deliver that oversight, it concentrates considerable power in the hands of the commissioner, who would be granted the authority to appoint and dismiss officers and to establish a system of investigation and resolution of harassment complaints. Rather than taking responsibility for addressing problems within the RCMP, the minister has decided to simply give this responsibility over to the commissioner.
The NDP feels that a more balanced approach would involve strengthening the external review committee rather than concentrating the power to dismiss officers in the hands of a single individual. However, again, all proposed amendments were rejected at committee.
RCMP officers carry out difficult and dangerous work at considerable risk to themselves to protect Canadians. Some have died in this service, and that is a profound tragedy for all Canadians and particularly for the families of those officers.
The question for us to contemplate in this House is what those RCMP police officers are owed, in return, from us, yet we have so far even failed to create an open and respectful workplace environment for all members, which all Canadian workers are entitled to. In the circumstances of the police, who put their lives on the line and from time to time tragically lose their lives in that service, it is an absolute minimum expectation in any kind of tacit contract with members of the RCMP.
However, what we have are officers who experience harassment in the workplace and are fearful about even speaking up. They are fearful of losing their jobs, in fact. Many have even left their jobs because of these circumstances in the workplace.
For a bill that was supposedly introduced as a response to sexual harassment complaints brought forward by female RCMP officers, Bill is strangely silent on that very specific but critically important issue. We have female officers who have been serving the Canadian public in the RCMP for almost 40 years. In that time we have failed to bring about protections from this type of abuse, which is barred under Canadian human rights codes and provincial human rights codes and which all workers across the country in all workplaces and jurisdictions are entitled to.
In 2013, we have a Conservative government that is missing an opportunity to use this legislation to create a workplace in which RCMP officers, like all workers, should feel safe in bringing forward harassment complaints. NDP members on the public safety committee brought forward an amendment to the bill that would make harassment training mandatory for RCMP officers. However, just like every other amendment, the Conservatives voted it down.
The RCMP needs a clear anti-harassment policy that will set the standard for behaviour in the force. This would allow for a fair disciplinary process in cases where harassment occurs. Despite the NDP's best efforts, the government has passed up this opportunity to address that issue in the bill.
Earlier this month, the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP released its report on issues of workplace harassment within the RCMP. The report had this to say:
The RCMP bears a responsibility to foster public trust to the extent possible, and when the public perceives that the organization is unwilling to adequately protect and discipline its own employees, it is difficult to see how their interactions with the police and trust in the organization would remain unaffected. It is for this reason that swift and effective action must be taken by the RCMP in terms of dealing with workplace conflict and harassment, and taken in a manner that engenders the confidence of both members and the public.
We are not seeing swift and effective action here. We are not seeing action at all.
We on this side of the House believe that trust in the RCMP, for the officers and the public, is a critically important issue. Important legislative steps can be taken to enhance trust and accountability for the RCMP and for Canadians. However, Bill falls short of this mark. It is unfortunate that in their rush to pass this bill, the Conservatives did not even take time to make sure that the new legislation ensured that the RCMP and the public were getting the transparent and independent oversight they expect and deserve.
The men and women of the RCMP provide a vital service to all Canadians. They carry out this service in difficult and often dangerous situations, putting themselves in harm's way to protect others. Bill is a missed opportunity to protect them in return. They deserve the protection of independent oversight, and they should not be afraid to speak out about harassment in the workplace. The members of the RCMP deserve to know that when one of their own breaks the rules, that person will be held accountable. Canadians need to see this accountability to enhance the trust between the police force and the members of the public, a trust that has been weakened by recent incidents.
The men and women of the RCMP deserve better than what Bill has to offer. The Canadian public deserves better. Most certainly the women who work for the RCMP have a right to a workplace free from sexual harassment, and indeed, harassment of all kinds. They need and deserve our protection. Bill fails to adequately provide that protection and should, for that reason alone, be rejected by this House.
Mr. Speaker, there are times in debates in this House that speak to times and periods in our own lives. I was pleased to hear from the member for , who is an RCMP officer and who can bring to this debate a very clear perspective from inside the organization.
In my lifetime, as a young boy growing up in a town called Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, RCMP officers enforced the law in our province. My family had occasion to deal with them. When I was very young, my sister died at the hands of a person or persons unknown. It turned out to be a very ill family member.
For a long time afterwards my father talked about the investigators from the RCMP who handled that investigation. Initially he was taken in for questioning, and he talked about how professionally he, a man who was broken-hearted, who had just lost a daughter, was handled. In fact, that particular incident would affect the rest of his life. He became an alcoholic.
Again my family would interact with RCMP officers, who would pick him up from time to time, as they should and as they needed to do, but there was always a sense that they handled my father with a kind of dignity that perhaps they might not have under other circumstances. I do not know.
For a young boy growing up, my ideal was to become an RCMP officer. Well, if members look at me, I am wearing glasses and I am too doggone short to be an RCMP officer, so I had to forgo that, but I had this great interest in the RCMP, and a great respect for them, for an awful long time.
I still respect the RCMP, although they have fallen on difficult times. There is a cultural change that has happened, at least in my view, over the last number of years, relative to how they treat one another. We have heard those reports.
I recall, I believe it was in the 1970s, a group that was referred to as the "dirty tricks" squad. There was an investigation, and as I understand it, that particular group was disbanded.
The warning signs were there for some time about things that would later become almost institutionalized within the RCMP. Going back to Justice O'Connor in the Maher Arar case, Justice O'Connor made some very significant recommendations to the RCMP at that time, things that they needed to address, things that the government needed to address. That has gone wanting, as far as I am concerned.
Members will recall Bill in the last Parliament. It started to address this issue, and of course it was lost to the election cycle, as so many things are.
Going back to my friend from , who brings to this place a particular view of this institution and perhaps of the problems and of some solutions, I am looking forward to listening to his commentary as the day unfolds.
In my previous life as a union leader, one of the things that we had to deal with quite often was harassment in the workplace. We would get together with the company and work on strategies for education of the members who were involved with such things.
Within the union movement itself, I can recall that in the 1980s we worked hard dealing with our own conferences and doing our own internal work on the respect that needed to be paid to one another.
The key to it, in both of those cases, was education. I have a little saying: “With knowledge comes responsibility”. We have the knowledge today of the accusations and abuses that it is suggested have happened within the RCMP. We have enough knowledge to know that something of significance has to be done.
Our party was concerned about this bill because we felt it did not go far enough. During the committee stage, we made proposals for changes to the bill. For instance, a change that is needed is to add mandatory harassment training for RCMP officers.
Every single individual who works with the public and who works under the kind of pressure that these officers work under needs to have that training.
Again reflecting back on my own life, there was a time I worked for the Canadian National Railway as a signal maintainer. In Niagara Falls there was a place called Thorold Stone Road that some members here will know of. Four people were killed there, struck by trains while driving through.
My point is that day in and day out, our RCMP, our police officers and our fire departments deal with the aftermath of horrific events. Today I read in the newspaper that there was a six-car pileup in Hamilton because of the storm. Quite often the first on the scene is a police officer, who has to deal with the pressures that come from those situations. If we consider that pressure for a moment, it does not justify harassment, but in some cases it might help to explain it. It might help us to understand what officers' lives are like and the problems that they take home with them.
In any situation in the workplace, we have to give employees the tools they need to deal with those situations. In the case of the RCMP, I and our party have stressed the need for mandatory training. We also believe there should be a civilian body involved, someone at arm's length. Often we are too close to issues and problems ourselves and keep repeating the same mistakes and not addressing them in a fashion that is helpful to the situation, whereas a civilian board at arm's length would have the capacity to bring a different perspective to the situation. It is really important that the government should pause and look at this idea and give serious consideration to implementing civilian oversight.
In our view, some of the human resources policies we see are overly dramatic and perhaps even draconian in what they offer, but I am not going to dig too far into that because I do not want this to become a bashing of the RCMP. My party and I have great respect for this organization, but part of our responsibility in this place is to do the right thing to help that organization make the corrections deemed necessary by the government.
The government has made an attempt with this bill to start a process, but we do not think it has gone far enough. Witnesses at the committee made recommendations that the government did not see fit to follow through on, any more than it did for things proposed by our party at committee.
As I recall, the bill was put forward in June 2012. It referred to enhancing trust and restoring accountability to the RCMP. Accountability will need the oversight that was talked about. It will need someone at arm's length.
There are proposals in the bill to give more power to the superintendent in charge. The number one officer is going to be given authority where what I would call due diligence should come into play.
I am a great believer in people's right to be heard. People in the workplace, whether they are RCMP officers or regular workers in a plant, make mistakes and do things wrong, and there may be an arbitrary situation in which an employer says, “You're fired”. I worked for Bell Canada, which many times, in my opinion, fired people too quickly. Bell did not even listen to the story in those days. Hopefully that has changed—it has been almost 20 years since I was there—but the reality was that workers would be called on the carpet, the accusation would be made, and they were fired. Then, along with the union, they had to prepare a case to come back to correct the accusation. It is very concerning when that kind of power is vested in one manager or one superintendent in a workplace.
When there is a situation like with the allegations about the RCMP, which talk about a systemic problem that has had to have developed over many years, I remind members again of the pressures that these individuals live under. I want everybody to pause and think about it. It does not justify misbehaviour on the part of workers or officers, but we need to have a trail of due diligence that allows people to look at and understand the situation and help the officers retain their position and correct the behaviour with which people have problems.
As I look through some of the statements from our party and our view of things that could happen, we need the minister to prioritize the issue of sexual harassment. This is the part of the story that has received a lot of media attention. In my experience, the media sometimes make a flashpoint of an issue in which other underlying related or cultural issues in an organization are overlooked because the focus is drawn so heatedly on that point. Sexual harassment in any form in any place, workplace or otherwise, is certainly not acceptable and must be addressed.
However, we can look at the existence of police officers in general and the military-style training they have. Again, I refer back to 1963-1964 when I was a sapper apprentice in the Canadian army. At that time hazing took place. It was considered part of becoming a soldier. We had to be tough enough to put up with whatever happened, whatever was done. Fortunately, the environment I was in did not contain any sexual harassment, but there were other forms of it. Over time, the military dealt with that.
My understanding is that the world today in the military is entirely different. In the military-style training that police officers receive, the environment for that kind of culture is there, and it is just a very short distance between harassment or the buddy-buddy system where people are harassed in good-natured fun.
When women are introduced into the force, their sensibilities relative to what men consider jokes are often greatly different, in most instances. What a man may think is very humourous may tragically hurt a woman. Women live in an environment where the males in the environment have the perceived power in many instances, and they perceive themselves as not having the power to push back. If we listen to the accounts that have been made public by women officers in the RCMP, we hear that is exactly what they have felt happened. They were marginalized, troubled by what happened to them. When they went to superiors for assistance, they felt they did not receive the respect they deserved.
However, I go back to the question of whether the people they went to really had the training, understanding and development of sensitivity for what the women faced. Did they really and truly understand? It is easy to say that they neglected and ignored, but maybe they did not have a true understanding of the damage being done.
We have to go back to education and to changing the system that has evolved in such a negative way. We have to give the tools to the RCMP as a whole to begin to address this problem. We cannot fix these things from the outside. We can start doctoring and putting band-aids on it, but the culture needs to evolve itself. Again, we need sensitivity training of relationships between men and women in the workplace, and as well visible minorities, because that is another new thing within the RCMP. All of these things are added to the day-to-day pressures that these good officers live under and the culture that has sadly reached the point it has, a point where we have lawsuits and individuals going very public with their stories.
From my own experiences as a representative in the trade union movement, the last thing harassed people want to do is to make that public. In their minds, they look at it just like bullying in a schoolyard and the people will do it again, or they will lose the respect of their co-workers. All of those things need to be addressed.
When the bill went before the committee, the NDP went to committee in good faith. We understood that the situation had to addressed. We cannot support the bill in its present form because it does not go far enough.
The government has the idea that power can be vested in one person, that person being the head of the RCMP. The government believes that individual will create the environment. That individual is going to need exterior help, such as experts who deal with harassment situations and training experts to assist the people in charge of individual departments. A comprehensive training cycle has to be put in place or this will not work.
It has taken many years for this to evolve. We never heard stories like this before, and it is not because people were silent. We never heard about it because it was not happening. The pressure on modern-day police forces is beyond anything.
Being a child of the fifties, I am from the days when we did not lock our houses or our cars. Police officers in those days very rarely faced somebody with a firearm. The environment we lived in was different. Again, I want to stress that I am not justifying what has happened, but stress has to be part of the equation so we can understand what is happening to these officers and the spillover effect of that evolving negative culture. It totally is out of hand.
Many women RCMP officers have come forward, and I encourage all of them to come forward. They need to understand that there are people who sincerely want to see change. We want to correct the tarnished record of the RCMP. We also want those in charge of the RCMP to have the tools they need to create and sustain a healthy workplace, and I cannot stress that enough.
Members can probably tell that I speak with a great deal of sadness and that is because, as I said earlier, I wanted to become an RCMP officer, but that was a long time ago. I am talking the fifties.
The NDP went to committee in a sincere attempt to make the bill better. We can do better for our RCMP so that we can remain proud of the people who work so hard for us and put their lives at risk, but work in a difficult environment. There is a culture in the RCMP that has been tainted, and we have to do everything we can to fix that.
Mr. Speaker, it is very difficult to follow a speech like the one given by the hon. member for .
He spoke about his own personal experiences, and I think that, in so doing, he attacked the very heart of this bill. We are talking about the impact that this can have on individuals and what can happen to people who have problems in the workplace, particularly those involving sexual harassment.
When a debate is held on this type of issue, it is very important to point out that criticizing those who put their heart and soul into serving their community, for example police or RCMP officers, will not advance the debate.
When we talk about matters pertaining to National Defence, Veterans Affairs or the RCMP, our opinions are often criticized and simplistic arguments are often made. Some would say that it is only natural for us to say such things since we do not support our police officers or our armed forces. It is very important to point out that nothing could be further from the truth.
Contrary to what the Conservatives believe, when we engage in a debate and have the courage to take a stand and say that the bill does not go far enough, it is because we have a great deal of respect for the work that is done and we think that it is important to implement measures that will allow RCMP officers to operate in a healthy work environment and that will improve the working relationship between the police and the people they have the duty to serve and protect.
Of course, we will oppose the bill at third reading. As always, we optimistically tried to make amendments to the bill based on the testimony given in committee, but as always, our attempts were in vain.
I would particularly like to acknowledge the work done by the hon. member for , our public safety critic, and the hon. member for , the deputy critic. They certainly worked very hard to put forward these amendments.
I want to point out that these amendments were not based on some radical ideology, as the government claims. They were based on testimony from experts in committee. These experts have been involved with this issue for a very long time. It is not a new thing.
The first version of this bill, Bill , was introduced during the 40th Parliament. It is not to be confused with the omnibus Bill , which was introduced last spring.
The amendments came out of the testimony, but they were unfortunately all rejected, as usual. I think that is very disappointing. When we hear the points raised by witnesses and propose changes that do not necessarily change the spirit of the bill, but instead help make the measures in it more precise, effective and transparent, I think that the government should be more receptive to the proposed amendments. However, true to form, the government rejected all of the amendments outright.
The member who spoke before me talked about his experience with unions. With respect to the harassment within the RCMP, it is the only police force in Canada that does not have a collective agreement.
People will say that other measures will be put in place to ensure that workers' rights are respected. They are workers, because they work for us. However, when there are no appropriate measures in place, it becomes hard to defend their rights in cases of harassment. This is not the only workplace where harassment is a problem, but as my colleague pointed out, harassment is quite prevalent.
RCMP members have to deal with certain cases and, as one may well imagine, with a very heavy psychological burden in some situations. Sometimes that means that relations between the various individuals involved may be tense and negative behaviour may result. When you take all that into consideration, you realize how important it is to establish ways to manage those problems more effectively.
Continuing on the subject of harassment, when we say sexual harassment, we are talking about an issue that mainly affects women. That may seem to be a prejudicial view, but it is unfortunately true. From the standpoint of gender equality, it is even more important to address the problem of harassment when you want to encourage women to consider taking on any role in our society.
Government members will no doubt tell us that this bill would put in place a system that will solve that problem. We do not believe that is the case, particularly given the structure that would be introduced to do so. That is really our biggest concern in relation to this bill.
To put the matter simply, the government wants the police to investigate the police and the commission to be accountable to the minister, not to Parliament. The lack of political will that this minister has shown for some time now is becoming a problem. After all, when discretionary or decision-making authority lies solely in the hands of one minister, we have to rely on his political will, and he seems to have no such will at the present time.
On the contrary, if we asked the commission to report directly to Parliament, there would be more transparency, more answers and a structure more accountable to the public, which the RCMP is supposed to serve. That would also be good for people on the force, RCMP members, particularly those who are victims of harassment.
To put it simply once again, when we talk about the police investigating the police, this is really the problem that emerged from Justice O'Connor's report in the Maher Arar case. I am very interested in that case. At the risk of making myself seem very young, I was just a student when that report was issued in 2006, but I was very much involved and very interested in politics and current affairs, and I supported various causes.
I remember seeing the report at the time. One of the issues of great interest to me was the way in which our police forces and our armed forces acted, even though we were still in the post-September 11 phase five years after the fact. People in Canada, the United States and Europe were trying to adjust to this new reality as a society and give our police forces powers while protecting citizens' rights.
That report was an attempt to balance those two realities. However, this bill does not take its recommendations into account. Justice O'Connor recommended establishing an independent commission that would actually have been able to go further in changing the RCMP's culture and solving the harassment problem in particular.
We in the NDP want to see more concrete measures. That is why we oppose this bill, which is far too flawed. We want something much more concrete, and these are precisely the kinds of measures we will put in place in 2015 if we have the opportunity to form the government, in order to change this culture, protect RCMP members and ensure there is a better relationship between them and our communities.
I await your questions and comments.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in this place on behalf of the residents of , in the great city of Toronto, for whom this issue is of great concern and of great interest. The idea of, in particular, a civilian oversight of the RCMP and a more rigorous accounting of its operations is something that certainly the people in my riding and the people in Toronto are very much concerned about, particularly in light of events that occurred in Toronto in June 2010. I am referring to the G20 conference and the events that led to essentially the biggest mass arrest in Canadian history, for which the RCMP was the lead law enforcement agency.
We note that Bill does seek to reform the RCMP public complaints commission by establishing a new complaints commission for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and implementing a new framework to handle serious incidents involving the members.
The problem, though, is that while the name may change, the powers would not really change. It 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 .
We on this side of the House have great concerns about that because we have concerns about the minister himself. We cannot forget that this is the same minister who extolled and hectored and lectured Canadians, saying that if Canadians did not stand with him and his flawed online piracy bill then they were standing with pedophiles—an outrageous and offensive comment that earned the scorn, the rightful scorn, of Canadians from coast to coast to coast.
The changes in the bill would essentially mean that any major investigation would be overseen by the minister himself, who ultimately would be the final arbiter of these investigations.
As well, the new commission would 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 the . These restrictions on the independence of the new commission would be a major issue for us.
As we have done on many bills that have passed through this House, we put forth many measured amendments to the bill, ones that would actually have beefed up the idea of civilian oversight and made it independent. Once again, the government ignored every single one of our recommendations and amendments.
This is particularly concerning in light of the 2006 report of Justice O'Connor of the O'Connor inquiry into the actions of Canadian officials in relation to Maher Arar, which called for the RCMP watchdog to be structured along the lines of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, which monitors CSIS. It would have the right to audit all RCMP files and activities and the power to subpoena related documents and compel testimony from any federal, provincial, municipal or private sector person or entity.
The present RCMP public complaints commission does not have review powers to ensure, systematically, that the RCMP's national security activities are conducted in accordance with the law and with respect for rights and freedoms.
This issue of civilian oversight and the independence of an agency that would oversee complaints is an important one. It is an important one for civil society. It is an important one for democracy.
I think it is important to note, as many of my NDP colleagues have during this debate, that we have enormous respect for officers in the RCMP. We understand that they are oftentimes working in extremely difficult conditions and situations, often chaotic, often situations where they have to make split-second decisions, quick decisions.
We understand that sometimes this is an incredibly difficult and pressure-filled job that we as Canadians ask them to do on our behalf, which is all the more reason why it is so important that we create and then maintain an independent oversight body for the RCMP. This is exactly what we had recommended.
We have seen some of the reactions from various stakeholders in Canada around this bill. We would also note that the former chair of the commission for public complaints, Paul Kennedy, commenting on the last iteration of this bill, Bill —and not a lot in terms of this part of the bill has changed—said that the legislation is riddled with loopholes and does not meet Mr. O'Connor's standards.
The law would allow the to make regulations concerning the watchdog's access to privileged information, such as classified intelligence or material about clandestine operations. It also permits the RCMP commissioner to deny the watchdog access to such information. The new law also lacks time limits for RCMP to respond to the commission's interim reports.
Many people may view this debate as a bit inside the bubble, as “inside baseball”. However, in fact, when we get down to the street level and go back to June 2010 and we think about what happened on the streets of my city, the biggest city in the country, the economic engine of this country, the cultural centre of Canada, we see what actually happened, especially right at the corner of Queen and Spadina.
Hundreds and hundreds of regular folks, most of whom lived in the neighbourhood, were kettled, or boxed in, in the rain, for several hours as the police pursued a tactic known as kettling. One of the many problems with what happened that night is that kettling is something the RCMP is not supposed to do. It is not part of their regulations. It is not part of their code, and they did participate.
A report into the RCMP's activities at the G20 was delivered in May 2012. It itemized, in rather minute detail, some of the issues that occurred that night. It also very clearly states that kettling was not part of the RCMP's mandate, and yet officers pursued it.
This is an example of why we need an independent civilian oversight body to build the public trust. I have to say that the events of the G20 severely damaged the public trust in our law enforcement agencies to both keep the peace and protect people who are peacefully coming together and expressing their democratic right of free speech.
I would like to end my comments there. I welcome any questions.
Mr. Speaker, on days like today it is discouraging to listen to what our adversaries opposite have to say. That just cannot be.
I am very disappointed, but not surprised by this government's approach, which is unproductive, indifferent and unfocused and whose failings have been laid bare. Today, the government is on the defensive because of its indifference. It is very evident this morning. Amendments put forward by the NDP included mandatory harassment training for RCMP members, a civilian body to investigate complaints against the RCMP, and an independent review body to avoid police investigating police. All these amendments were very reasonable and in keeping with what the many witnesses said. All these amendments were rejected.
Contrary to the recommendations in the O'Connor report on the Maher Arar case and the many witnesses who appeared before the committee, the government rejected the amendments and continues to favour an internal, perhaps even arbitrary, approach at the RCMP, as we would unfortunately expect, rather than an independent, external and transparent approach.
Unfortunately, Bill will not resolve the very serious problems that will continue to plague the RCMP. In the meantime, many people will suffer. We are obviously thinking of the women who experience sexual harassment.
Therefore, it is with great regret that we must oppose this bill for all the reasons mentioned and especially because of the lack of transparency and the government's blinkered approach to official opposition amendments.
The people in my riding of sometimes ask me whether I am fed up with Conservatives' behaviour. Of course we are fed up. We cannot take any more of this closed-mindedness, this sense of divine authority and omniscience, the way the Conservatives do not want to listen to and consider other points of view, the bad faith. We are fed up with how the Conservatives always make their ideological agenda a priority, but especially with how, particularly lately, they are always using the buzzword “transparency” and talking about accountability when they are the champions of silence, the champions of working behind closed doors.
I cannot help but see something that is very suspicious in the Conservatives' attitude. What are they hiding by always calling for transparency and officially talking about accountability, when they have an agenda that they will never reveal?
This is very disappointing for us, particularly for those of my colleagues who have been asking for reforms for a long time, such as the member who is sitting right beside me. It seems that we are still working on the issue of harassment within the RCMP. The NDP has been asking the government for ages to take care of this situation, which affects many people, particularly women. It is a governance problem within the RCMP, a problem with the internal culture.
The bill that the government put forward is not a solution at all. We were hoping for a proactive approach and a strategy to prevent these regrettable situations from happening again, but unfortunately, the outcome we are seeing today is a dry, disciplinary, impersonal and ill-considered bill in which the word harassment appears only once. It is unbelievable. As I was saying earlier, although the amendments we proposed in committee were very positive, they were rejected, and the opinions of many witnesses and experts were ignored.
Once again, as is often the case, the Conservatives took a serious, systemic problem affecting the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and addressed it in a simplistic and—quite frankly—lazy manner. What is needed today to change the RCMP and reassure the public is a major change to the culture of this organization, something that this bill does not allow for. On the contrary, in a few years, we will once again be faced with the same problem because harassment will continue to be a serious problem within the organization. This bill does not reassure Canadians that their formal complaints will be examined with the attention they deserve.
Robert Paulson, Commissioner of the RCMP, has repeatedly said that a cultural change is needed. He said the following before the Standing Committee on the Status of Women:
It's the culture of the organization that has not kept pace... We haven't been able to change our practices and our policies...
[T]he problem is bigger than simply the sexual harassment.
David Brown, who led a working group on the issue in 2007 at the request of the federal government, also said the same thing. The name of that group was the Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP. It could not be clearer than that.
And yet rather than a real change of culture on the inside and outside, through unambiguous leadership and listening on the part of the minister’s office, we have been treated instead to a sort of “light reform”, which ultimately will do nothing to solve the fundamental problems we have been raising in the House for several months now, if not several years. It will do nothing to change the problems that have brought us to where we are and that this bill is supposedly intended to solve.
The system proposed in this bill for investigating the police completely fails to meet the test of logic and common sense. Bill , which was cloned to produce the bill that is before us today, had provided that the RCMP would investigate itself in certain cases.
The strange structure we are presented with in this bill provides that in the case of serious incidents involving the RCMP—deaths and serious injuries—the provinces will step in and assign the investigation to an investigative body or police service. Otherwise, the RCMP may assign the investigation to another police service, and if that option is not available, the RCMP will carry out the investigation itself.
This means that the job of overseeing the RCMP is assigned in the first instance to provincial bodies, in spite of the fact that such bodies exist in only four provinces: British Columbia, Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Ultimately, and unfortunately, oversight of the RCMP is too often shifted to the provinces. This amounts to the federal government abdicating its responsibility and once again downloading the federal government’s costs onto the provinces.
I thought that the Conservatives wanted to reduce the size of government, since they told us they did, but that cannot mean that responsibility for the oversight of federal institutions has to be shifted to the provinces.
We are opposed to this Byzantine system because it can be simpler and more effective. We tried to do this through an amendment in committee, proposing that a national, independent civilian group be created that would systematically handle this and report to Parliament. Obviously, that amendment was rejected. We have to put an end to this system of the police investigating the police. Even the mayors of some municipalities are opposed to it.
We made proposals here and in committee to that effect. Our amendments and the recommendations from reports, task forces, commissions and witnesses have been waved off by a government that is running headlong toward disaster. Its stubborn insistence on doing nothing of any real effect is astounding, and we find it particularly tiresome.
The bill before us is also an abdication of the minister’s responsibilities. The proposal to significantly increase the powers of the commissioner of the RCMP amounts to running toward the nearest exit; it is the easy solution.
This is another abdication: the government should have led the charge against harassment inside the RCMP with a vigorous reform. Instead it is choosing to set up and endorse a system that massively increases the commissioner's powers, in the hope that this will change something.
All the witnesses and experts who are familiar with this issue say that we do not need more powers concentrated in the hands of a single person and that what we really need is a new system of transparency and independent oversight.
The Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP, which the government created in 2007, had another idea in mind. It proposed reforms that would bring the RCMP into line with the internal governance methods and structures used in civilian bodies, with a board of management that would oversee and could challenge decisions of the commissioner, that would require accountability, that could hear complaints from employees and that would exist within a transparent structure.
Unfortunately, what the government is proposing is, once again, the complete opposite. Clearly, the solution in this bill, which is to put more powers than ever in the hands of a single person, when what is needed is to overcome an organizational problem, will solve nothing. In fact, it may well create more internal problems and discontent.
This is a clash between two different philosophies. When the Conservatives are faced with a complex problem, they propose more powers in the hands of a single person, more order, more hierarchy, more unchallengeable or arbitrary decisions and more discipline. When we look at the same problem, we call for a system that is structured, transparent, well thought-out and systematic and that will act in the public interest and respect the rights of RCMP members, certainly, but most importantly the rights of the public.
In this bill, what the Conservatives are proposing is unprecedented: an enormous reform that will replace the existing commission that examines complaints against the RCMP and reports its findings to the minister with a commission that will examine complaints against the RCMP and report its findings to the minister. That is very impressive.
In conclusion, the people in my riding are not taken in by this kind of obsession with the rhetoric of transparency and accountability, and they hope that we are going to oppose this sham as long as we can.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to have an opportunity to speak to Bill at third reading. It is an important area of public policy that needs to be addressed by the House. Unfortunately it is our conclusion that it has not been addressed properly by the House, because the bill would not do what it is expected to do.
As previous speakers have said, the RCMP is a storied institution in Canada. As the member for said, it goes back to 1873. It has not always been a perfect institution, and we all know that. It has been open to criticism from time to time in its history for some of the uses to which it was put by various governments.
When I started practising law, the RCMP was regarded as the senior police force in the country. Police forces around the country looked up to the RCMP for standards and training and discipline and proper procedures.
Of late, unfortunately, people have become disconcerted with the way the RCMP has been able to handle matters, particularly those of an internal nature. We have heard complaints for a number of years about harassment, particularly the harassment of women. There are outstanding lawsuits by 200 women complaining about harassment within the force and the apparent inability of the force to deal with that issue. As a result of some constant prodding by the NDP in the House, legislative action was deemed necessary and taken. Unfortunately, the bill does not address the kinds of issues that caused the need for this legislation to take place.
We have talked about the need for a more respectful force in terms of having a proper method to deal with sexual harassment and a proper response to the concern about that harassment, the need for a broader and more balanced human resource policy and the removal of some of the more draconian powers that are proposed for the RCMP commissioner. None of these were accepted in committee.
The government's response to these problems is to create a more powerful hierarchy within the RCMP and to give the commissioner more draconian powers than ever. As the member for said, the commissioner is going to delegate all of these powers to various deputy commissioners and others. Instead of having a more balanced approach whereby people would have a right to have their grievances dealt with and issues responded to, we are going to have a top-down hierarchy, which will not inspire confidence but create more of a paramilitary organization. That is an anachronism when it comes to modern policing in Canada.
Obviously there needs to be discipline within a police force, and all of that should take place, but when it comes to matters such as complaints about sexual harassment, there has to be a safe place for people to go. People have to know that these matters will be dealt with. They should have a clear expectation that the professional police officers throughout the force, from the bottom to the top, are well aware of and sensitive to what sexual harassment is and what it can do. Previous speakers have outlined some of the particular ways in which that should happen.
Through some 18 amendments at committee stage, we talked about what could be done to meet some of these needs. All of these amendments were rejected by the government. These amendments included adding mandatory harassment training for RCMP members, and specifically adding those measures to the RCMP Act itself, so that it would be clear that this was a response to the problem. We wanted to ensure that there would be a fully independent civilian body that would be able to review and investigate complaints against the RCMP.
This is important. The model that was proposed was a model like SIRC, which oversees CSIS. It is independent, with decision-making power, not just the recommendation power in the bill. That was provided for as well. It was turned down by the government.
Third, we wanted to add a provision creating a national civilian investigative body. We still have the situation of the RCMP being able to investigate itself when complaints are made of improper behaviour by police officers. That is not right. There is an elaborate procedure in place that maybe the provinces would undertake something first and if not, then the RCMP would do it and potentially there would be some civilian role in that, but that is not good enough. Some of the provinces do not have the capability of an independent review. Also, there are three territories that do not have an independent police force, and the RCMP does the work there. It is going to be a situation of RCMP officers investigating cases involving their own activities.
The fourth one, which I just talked about, was to have a more balanced human resources policy, removing some of the powers that were proposed for the RCMP commissioner and strengthening the external review committee so cases involving possible dismissal from the force could have an outside review. Now the situation is that the final authority is being given to the RCMP commissioner, with no possibility of appeal or independent review. That is not right.
One of the complaints about that was made by the president of the Canadian Police Association, Mr. Tom Stamatakis, who stated, “Without any additional, and most importantly, independent avenue for appeal, I would suggest there is a possibility that RCMP members could lose faith in the impartiality of a process against them, particularly in situations in which the commissioner has delegated his authority for discipline”. The contrast to that would be the example in Ontario, where a police officer subject to a disciplinary process has the right to appeal that decision against an independent civilian police commission.
These two go hand in hand. Having a proper policy and proper disciplinary process, but also an expectation by police officers themselves that the process is fair and impartial would allow for the cultural change that is required to take place. As the commissioner said, cultural change is required, but legislation cannot bring about all of the cultural change. In fact, he said that the culture of the organization had not kept pace. Commissioner Paulson stated:
—the problem is bigger than simply the sexual harassment. It is the idea of harassment. The idea that we have a hierarchical organization overseeing men and women who have extraordinary powers in relation to their fellow citizens, which requires a fair degree of discipline.
It is the hierarchical system that he says has been part of the problem. Instead of making mandatory sexual harassment training part of the solution, instead of having a more balanced approach in terms of management and perhaps a board of managers to oversee this, what we have done is strengthened the hierarchical system. We have not found a solution to the problem that caused and brought about the need for legislation. Instead of solving the problem, this legislation has actually made it worse.
The member for asked why members would not vote in favour of it since, in part, it went in the right direction. In fact, we think voting in favour of this bill would not provide a solution at all.
Mr. Speaker, it is important to note certain statistics, because sometimes, in order to understand why a bill has been has been introduced in the House, we have to understand what led up to it.
A number of people in the House have already spoken, but it is very important to remember that more than 200 women who are now employed or who were employed by the RCMP have joined Constable Janet Merlo to bring a class action suit against the RCMP for sexual harassment.
This has caused quite a stir in Canadian society, and justifiably so. It is difficult to come up with a more contemptible crime in the workplace than sexual harassment, or even harassment in any form. I spent 30 years of my life as a labour lawyer for businesses, where staff relations are very important. Everyone wanted to develop harassment prevention policies. The more people talk to each other, the more familiar they become with the issue and the more likely they are to do what they have to do to get rid of harassment. It is the employer’s duty to ensure that the workplace is free from any form of harassment.
The cases that I dealt with in my area of practice were often the most tragic ones. I thought that when I arrived here as a member of Parliament, I would see fewer of these cases. Treasury Board has a great policy, and I really do not see much wrong with it. However, as I often say, the devil is in the details, in the implementation.
I am sure that some of my colleagues are hearing the same kinds of stories from their constituents as I am. Constituents who are public servants, members of the RCMP or some other agency contact us and tell us their horror stories.
I am not going to get involved in legal matters between the government and its employees, but I can barely repress a shudder when I hear some of their stories. I see people who, five years ago, followed the proper procedure: they filed a complaint, talked to their harasser, criticized the behaviour, and ended up being harassed more than before. Then they went to see their supervisor, who looked into the issue and realized that it was true.
Within the Canadian public service, apparently when there is a harasser, an offender, he receives a promotion after going on a training course to become a little more aware of the issue. Although the government claims to be on the victims' side, victims still have to jump through all the legal hoops. If we spent as much time trying to resolve the issue and change behaviours, which are sometimes attributable just to a lack of education and political will to solve the problem, we could avoid these types of situations.
People who are broken come to tell us their side of the story. Many do not understand that it is a case of harassment. Harassment is about control; it is a way of trying to demean someone. If the harassment is psychological, the harasser is messing with his victim’s head. If the harassment is sexual, there will be repeated actions. However, sometimes a single unwelcome act may be serious enough to be called harassment. As there is often a power relationship between the harasser and the victim, the victim often feels caught between a rock and a hard place, caught between losing her job and coping with the despicable behaviour.
We must remember what led to the introduction of Bill . Let us remember the grand pronouncements by the .
He said he would fix the problem and introduce a bill to ensure that the RCMP takes care of the problem. As I said, 200 people have brought a sexual harassment class action suit against the RCMP, which did not protect the victims. That is why we need a meaningful bill.
When Commissioner Paulson was appointed, he said that this was a priority.
When I am called to speak to a bill, I like to read it first, which may surprise the Conservatives, who think we do not read the bills. On the contrary, we in the NDP read the bills. Based on some of the questions I hear in this House, it is clear that some people did not read the bill or they would not be asking the questions they are asking.
The preamble says it all. In fact, it lays out what we would expect to see throughout the bill, but we do not see those things anywhere in the provisions. The preamble says:
Canadians should have confidence in their national police force;
That goes without saying.
Whereas civilian review is vital to promoting transparency and public accountability of law enforcement;
That goes without saying as well, but these are concepts that the current government is not grasping. I think the government does not have the right definitions for these concepts.
Whereas civilian review should enhance the accountability of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to provincial governments that have entered into arrangements for the use or employment of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police;
Whereas all members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are responsible for the promotion and maintenance of good conduct and are guided by a Code of Conduct that reflects the expectations and values of Canadians;
And whereas the Government of Canada is committed to the provision of a framework that will serve to enhance the accountability of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and support its continued modernization;
A preamble like that augurs very well. Anyone reading it would say, “This is wonderful.” Again, the devil is in the details. A number of provisions in Bill give a tremendous amount of discretionary power to the commissioner.
My colleague from did a good job of illustrating how we are in the process of creating a more powerful hierarchy within the RCMP. We know that the police like to investigate themselves. They would opt to investigate themselves every time, if we let them. However, this is at odds with values of transparency and accountability. It is best to have independent agencies.
With respect to labour relations, certain parts of the bill, namely clauses 2 to 34, indicate how the commissioner can make certain decisions. He would not necessarily make bad decisions, but there is a real danger in having the commissioner make all the decisions. Such provisions do not bode well for transparency. The commissioner would make reports and recommendations at certain committees, but implementation of these recommendations would not necessarily be mandatory.
We noticed serious problems during the debate at second reading. We were confident that the bill would be carefully studied at the Standing Committee on Public Safety. And that does seem to have happened. However, as is always the case for a number of committees, the problem arises when it is time to listen to the advice of anyone other than the government. The Conservatives can never listen carefully or actively, and they always have blinders on.
They are so afraid of leaving just one sentence that they have not penned in a bill, not being able to take full credit, not being able to say that they are the best, and so on, that they prefer to be closed-minded and wilfully blind and pass weak laws that may be challenged and may not achieve the desired results. This attitude is unfortunate and does not solve the problem.
To those who think that women will breathe a sigh of relief today because of Bill and that women will finally be able to put to rest the issue of harassment, feel respected and believe that there will be transparency and accountability, I say this bill deserves a big fat zero.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by pointing out that I made a speech on this bill at second reading. In it, I clearly stated my concerns and explained what I felt was missing from the bill.
Now that the bill has been studied in committee, we can see the outcome. We had decided to give the Conservatives a chance, believing that they were perhaps prepared to create a useful bill for the RCMP.
At issue here are the RCMP, accountability, transparency and sexual harassment. We are not discussing a bill about changing the colour of the placemats, but about the RCMP. I was accordingly expecting a degree of openness and a desire to do much more.
The 23 amendments put forward by the Conservatives were mainly grammatical corrections to the French. Is it not rather amateurish for a minister of the Crown to introduce a bill and then have to make so many amendments to correct the grammar? It strikes me that something was really messed up here. It is unacceptable.
It would be understandable if it was a private member’s bill that had to be introduced quickly because the member’s name happened to come up by chance early on, but this bill was introduced by a minister of the Crown who had received assistance from the department and many people, and even so he was unable to submit a grammatically satisfactory product. From the outset, this shows us just how botched it is because it was not worked on enough. It is really not that great.
The focus of the amendments proposed by the NDP was sexual harassment. In the bill as a whole, sexual harassment is mentioned only once, even though this issue was raised many times because of the legal action taken by the women who publicly condemned the fact that they were subjected to sexual harassment. It is a major problem.
If we want our institutions to work properly, then real action is required to deal with sexual harassment. Simply expecting the problem to disappear magically will not do; practical measures are needed.
When I was a member of the military, we received training on sexual harassment from the very beginning of my recruit course. We received such training virtually every year. I cannot remember exactly how many times, but it was fairly often. Soldiers took the issue seriously precisely because some women had spoken out about it at the time. Sexual harassment training and the measures that were introduced can never solve all the problems, of course. Nevertheless, having talked with a number of women who served in the Canadian Forces—veterans who served in the 1970s and 1980s, for example—and having taken training myself, I can tell you that things have changed and that the problem was taken seriously. There is still work to be done, but the situation has vastly improved. It too is a federal institution.
It is therefore important to stop burying our heads in the sand. People say they want more women, but they also have to want them to remain. It makes no sense to launch programs and go to great lengths to encourage women to join the RCMP and our federal institutions unless we are prepared to take steps to ensure that they will stay. It makes no sense at all.
The Conservatives rejected all of the NDP’s amendments, the precise target of which was sexual harassment. This is unacceptable. I believe they did not even look at the amendments as such. They merely looked beside the amendment and decided to oppose it when they saw the letters “NDP”. That is not a responsible attitude. If we really want to improve our legislation and our institutions, especially the RCMP, partisan considerations must be set aside. If some members of this House find it difficult to do that, we should conceal the name of the party submitting the amendment and consider it with a view to providing a logical response, instead of operating in an arbitrary way. This is important in order to improve bills.
We want to avoid having to return three, four, five, six or seven times to a bill on the same subject, namely the RCMP, to make corrections that could have been made at the outset. The government could have put together a very good bill, a complete bill, by showing some openness of mind. However, it decided not to do so. In my view, this is a major problem.
So who pays the price? Women in the RCMP, who will not have access to a legislative system to help and support them. This is not acceptable. For partisan reasons, the government persists in refusing to accept amendments. I am frankly disappointed that the NDP’s amendments were not accepted. It is a pity. What bothers me is the knowledge that it is women in the RCMP who will pay the price.
From my youth, I have always fought for the opportunity to do what I want in life, and never to be limited because I am a woman. I made a career in the military for a few years, and I am proud of it. I would not want other women to decide not to make a career in the RCMP, telling themselves that the situation is intolerable and the government is unable to give them the necessary support. That is not acceptable. In my view, we really should be doing more to protect women and provide them with a safe work environment.
I would like to return to another subject. There has been talk of unionization in the RCMP for over 35 years, but there is no reference to it in the bill. I think that would have been something useful to explore, and it would have enhanced the bill.
Contrary to what the Conservatives believe, unionization comes with many benefits. Usually, unions are dedicated to the welfare of their members. Many social measures have been introduced to workplaces as a result of union lobbying. This bill, however, makes no mention of that. It sweeps it under the rug. Basically, the government is interested in what it is interested in, and that is all, which is a pity. The government could have introduced a solid, comprehensive piece of legislation if it had conducted an in-depth study and been prepared to discuss and accept amendments. The government could have done that for RCMP members. Yet, the government chose not to, which is a terrible pity.
I would also like to briefly turn back to one of the problems with the RCMP: in some cases, it investigates itself. In my opinion, this was a golden opportunity to address the problem. The allegations that women were not taken seriously by the RCMP have recently been the subject of discussion. This is an important issue. The RCMP needs to properly address this issue. Unfortunately, if the RCMP investigates itself, or if an individual investigates himself, the findings may not be worth the paper they are written on.
It is important to understand that the purpose here is not to scold people unnecessarily. When an investigation is launched to determine what has occurred and what went wrong, the goal is not to castigate people and tell them that they are bad or have not done things properly. When a procedure is not followed and there seems to be a problem, the purpose of an investigation is to determine what the problem is, to address it and to find solutions. However, if this process is not followed, the problem will not be solved.
In closing, I believe that more could have been done for women and for RCMP members. It is really a pity that the government has this attitude. When we consider a bill, we must bear in mind that the ultimate objective of important legislation is to make genuine improvements and not to score partisan points.
I believe that something very positive could have been achieved. Unfortunately, the government did not even try to achieve anything with this bill, and that is a great pity.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill .
I would like to begin by saying how important the RCMP and the police in general are to me. My colleague also mentioned this in his speech. When we were young, several of us, including myself, wanted to be police officers. We thought that it was a noble occupation, that genuine conviction was needed to engage in it and that it was a way of dedicating oneself to society. This is part of the process, of the importance that I personally attach to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. I therefore have enormous respect for all those people who have served, and I know that my colleague opposite has previously served. I tip my hat to them. As a member of various committees, I have had the opportunity to question and speak with RCMP members. Quite frankly, I must say that I owe them an enormous amount of respect.
The purpose of this bill is to solve certain problems that exist at present time. Although we assert that we admire those individuals and that we believe they are doing a good job, as in any organization, there are always minor problems and matters that must be resolved. In this case, we really want to solve those problems. The initial purpose of this bill was to do precisely that. The NDP supported it at second reading so that we could study it in greater detail. However, we knew from the outset that it was somewhat flawed.
I would like to provide more details on the bill’s deficiencies and the positions that have been taken. The bill in fact addresses the process for dealing with sexual harassment complaints within the RCMP. It was introduced in response to the headline-making scandals. It constitutes a government reaction to this problem. Unfortunately, it appears to have been an improvised reaction, since the government's bill contains numerous flaws. I will elaborate on that later.
With Bill , the government wanted and we wanted to solve existing problems and address instances of misconduct. There were abuses of power, intimidation and harassment. So we wanted to give the commissioner the power to decide what disciplinary measures should be taken in those cases. However, one of the issues with Bill C-42 is that it does not solve the problem and, according to some witnesses, even creates more problems. To answer my Liberal colleague's question, that is why it creates more problems. I will come back to this a little later.
The purpose of Bill was also to add clauses respecting labour relations and to give the RCMP commissioner the power to appoint and dismiss members at his discretion. We see a problem with that. Also, the bill does not go far enough. Commissioner Paulson stated that current legislation was not enough to retain the public's trust and that serious reforms were needed. That is what led to the introduction of Bill C-42. We knew there were flaws and a problem regarding the public's trust in the system.
Once again I repeat how important it is for me to protect RCMP members, the men and women who are doing an outstanding and necessary job to maintain order in the society we live in. It is important for us as legislators to protect the RCMP. We have the opportunity to do it. We see what the public is calling for and what Commissioner Paulson, in particular, has demanded. The public has spoken, and that is why the government ultimately decided to move forward.
When we look at what has happened and where we are headed, we see that this is not enough. We would like the bill to result in a working environment that is more open, more co-operative and, especially, more respectful of all concerned. It would also benefit the RCMP if we brought in legislation that would achieve greater transparency and a better workplace. That would be good for the public and for the RCMP.
However, the minister has not really done his homework and has not gone far enough in this area, particularly with respect to disciplinary investigation procedures.
Here is what is happening. We are creating a new commission, except that, when we look at and analyze the bill, we see that, in actual fact, the RCMP public complaints commission already exists. However, there is no separation here; by that I mean that we do not have an entirely independent commission. We know that the commission already exists, but once again we are ensuring that police officers will manage police officers, or that RCMP people will manage RCMP people.
This commission has to be independent if we are talking about transparency and something more public. Its members must report to people other than the same people who must manage all this. In my opinion, this is one of the more important factors that has not been addressed in the bill for which we made recommendations.
We also have other restrictions in this area, particularly regarding the new commission's ability to conduct independent investigations. Its findings would serve only as a basis for non-binding recommendations. Consequently, recommendations would be made to the commissioner or to the Minister of Public Safety, but they would not be binding. Once again, we see that the "new commission"—as my colleagues opposite call it—would not be independent and would only issue non-binding recommendations. So ultimately nothing much is changing in this area. This is one of the major problems we had.
The second major point that really troubles me about this bill is that it does not address the problem of sexual harassment within the RCMP. On the other hand, I have sometimes heard it said that, if there is not really any sexual harassment, then it is not a big problem. We have to be honest, open our eyes and take off our rose-coloured glasses. This is a problem, but one not exclusive to the RCMP. We must not necessarily point a finger at it alone. Once again, I restate my enormous respect for the men and women who work at the RCMP.
However, we must protect the women who work for the RCMP. We know that our society is evolving. More and more women are entering the labour market. In some places, people's attitudes have not changed. I am not necessarily saying that this is the case in the RCMP specifically, but there are problems that we wanted to address. We really wanted to tackle this issue, to stop burying our heads in the sand and look at what we can really do to get rid of sexual harassment. Unfortunately, once again, this bill is not the answer.
Justice O'Connor made many recommendations. Fifteen of his 23 recommendations concerned the RCMP. As I mentioned, and I would like to mention again for the benefit of my colleagues, in the beginning we supported this bill. We found that it was indeed a step in the right direction. We wanted to move reasonable proposals to resolve the problems I mentioned a little earlier. We put forward 18 amendments that I find very thoughtful and reasonable.
For example, we wanted to include mandatory harassment training for RCMP members in the RCMP Act. How can anyone be opposed to that? Here again, it is obvious that if we bury our heads in the sand and put on our rose-coloured glasses we can say that harassment does not exist. The government is saying that maybe it does exist, that it problably does, that yes, it does. Now we have to take measures. We in the NDP understand that prevention and education are important. The members on the other side are primarily talking about repression. If we want to eradicate certain societal ills, harassment prevention and education are crucial. Among other things, this is what we are proposing here.
We also asked that a completely independent civilian body be established to review complaints against the RCMP. I think it is obvious that a certain degree of independence is essential. Here again, it is not only for the benefit of the RCMP, but also for the public’s benefit. Both the public and the RCMP would come out ahead.
Our goal in establishing this independent body is to reassure Canadians. Obtaining the public’s trust will help the RCMP directly. We must not forget that the RCMP works closely with the general public. It is important to show some transparency and some sincerity, and let Canadians know that not everything is being done behind closed doors. We know that is how the Conservatives prefer to do things, and unfortunately, it comes through clearly in their bills.
We are aiming for openness and consultation. Let Canadians be part of the process.
Moreover, we want to avoid cases where the police investigate themselves.
This bill does not really address the root of the problem, and one of the things that was really disappointing was that none of the amendments we brought forward, and I mentioned all of them, were accepted. We have a government whose members are not listening and not consulting. Unfortunately, that is why we have a bill that is flawed.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in this House to speak to this very important bill dealing with the RCMP.
It is important to me and to people in Surrey, British Columbia, because as members may know, Surrey has the largest RCMP detachment in the country. The men and women who work in the RCMP in Surrey do tremendous work to make our communities safe. In fact, I was very proud to have an opportunity to present Diamond Jubilee awards to a current member and a retiree in the last month. I am proud to work with the RCMP on a regular basis and to look at issues that deal with the RCMP on a regular basis.
As the House of Commons, we have a duty to restore public confidence in the RCMP, and we have an opportunity with this bill to do that.
The preamble of the bill states that the goals for this bill are transparency, improving conduct, strengthening the review and complaints body, and dealing with the climate of sexual harassment that exists in the RCMP. Those are all good goals, and we supported these goals at second reading, hoping that we would be able to scrutinize the bill more fully at the committee stage.
However, when we got to the committee, we heard witness after witness pointing out that the bill actually does not address a number of the issues that have been plaguing the RCMP over the last number of years. In fact, for the last six or seven years, the Conservatives have mismanaged this file so badly that the reputation of the RCMP has taken a beating.
Bill fails to act on any of the recommendations set out by Justice O'Connor in the Maher Arar inquiry that aim to improve the standards of review for the RCMP to meet the needs of Canadians. The bill is supposed to fix years of mismanagement of the RCMP by the Conservatives. The Conservatives presented Bill C-42 as a solution to a dysfunctional RCMP, but it fails to improve any of that.
The bill not only falls short of addressing sexual harassment within the force but also falls short on a number of other areas that the NDP tried to amend in the committee. The NDP put forward a number of amendments meant to ensure that Bill C-42 effectively meets the challenges the RCMP is facing.
Since I was elected in 2011, the NDP has made hundreds, if not thousands, of proposed amendments at the committee stage. I am quite surprised that not one of them has been accepted by the government. One would think that maybe one, two, three or ten would make sense to the government; no. It has consistently rejected all amendments.
Those amendments are based on consultations that happen in the committee. Experts come to the committee and provide expert testimony, but we know the Conservatives do not like to consult. On the aboriginal file, we have seen them fail to consult aboriginal people time after time. This is a similar case.
We had experts at the committee who provided testimony that gave good solutions as to how we could restore confidence in the RCMP. Again the Conservatives failed to take any of the amendments from the NDP. Some of those amendments included adding mandatory harassment training for RCMP members and ensuring a fully independent civilian review body to investigate complaints against the RCMP.
The credibility of the RCMP has taken shots in a number of high-level cases in British Columbia over the last number of years. I have talked to a number of people in my constituency and throughout British Columbia, and I have heard people on the radio as well talking about having a civilian body to investigate the RCMP. Throughout this country, Canadians have been calling for an investigative body that is independent of the RCMP.
Again, the Conservatives had an opportunity with this bill to put the RCMP on the right path and restore the confidence of the people of this country in the RCMP. However, they failed to do that. The bill before us does not address any of that.
Another of the amendments we proposed was to add a provision to create a national civilian investigation body that would avoid having police investigating police. Again, the Conservatives chose not to accept it.
We also offered to create a more balanced human resource policy by removing some of the draconian powers proposed for the RCMP commissioner and by strengthening the external review committee in cases involving possible dismissal from the force.
I would point out again that we saw the deterioration start under the Liberal government, and it has continued under the Conservative government.
The Liberals did not even offer any amendments at the committee stage. We offered 18 amendments, but not one of them was accepted by the Conservative government. The Conservatives voted down every single one of the amendments, ignoring many recommendations made by witnesses at the committee. Witness after witness explained that legislation alone will not foster a more open and respectful workplace for all.
We need to see an ongoing effort from the RCMP and the government to modernize the RCMP. However, Bill lacks the transparency and accountability necessary for that change. The bill does not go far enough in directly addressing the concerns of women serving in the RCMP, who are calling for urgent action to foster a more inclusive and safe environment for women in the RCMP. As well, the bill has been introduced without the benefit of the findings of the internal gender audit of the RCMP ordered by the commissioner, which is currently under way but not yet completed.
The Conservative approach does not make women in the RCMP a priority, which is necessary if we want to deal with the problem of harassment in the RCMP. My concern is that over and over we see the government attempt to gloss over the real issues within the RCMP and implement quick fixes instead of actually looking at the root causes of the problems and addressing them. Again, the Conservatives had an opportunity to do that; we in this House owe it to Canadians to address these issues, but the Conservatives have fallen flat on that.
The scope of sexual harassment in the RCMP is massive. We have seen a number of women come forward to talk publicly about harassment in the RCMP, and there are currently lawsuits in front of the courts. We had an opportunity to address this problem, but again the Conservatives have failed.
To conclude, I stress that in my community of Surrey and in communities across this country, crime and violence are a reality. Many shootings have occurred in the greater Vancouver region in broad daylight. However, instead of investing in crime prevention programs, the Conservative government is actually making it harder for the RCMP to do its job. Our job is to help the RCMP, give its members tools and resources, and invest in our forces.
The Conservatives had an opportunity to improve the reputation of the RCMP. We must get to the root cause of the internal cultural problem of sexual harassment in the RCMP, and we need to finally have binding independent civilian oversight so that we can deal with the real issues of accountability and transparency and ultimately restore public confidence in our force.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to stand to speak to Bill , an issue that is not only of importance to all members in the House, but is of great interest to the public at large, from coast to coast.
To put this in context, I want to pick up on some of the themes that were mentioned by my hon. colleague from , who gave one of the most thoughtful speeches on this subject, or any subject that I have heard in the House in years. What he touched upon, and what is important, was the special relationship that Canadians have with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. I do not think there is a more memorable symbol of our country around the world than the iconic Royal Canadian Mounted Police figure. It has played a pivotal role in the history and development of Canada and is responsible for delivering police and community safety services in communities across our country.
This long storied history is not uncheckered. Like any organization, it has not been perfect. It has had its challenges in the past and it has its challenges today.
The job that we call upon of our RCMP women and men across the country to do is one that is of utmost importance to Canadians. It is one of the most challenging and difficult ones that exists. We expect these men and women to answer calls in the middle of the night, often alone, and to be first responders at times of crisis, tragedy and emergency. We expect them to be the first people on the scene of an accident to deal with death and injury. We expect them to put their lives on the line in defending our communities and keeping people safe. For that, all members of the House join together in expressing our deep gratitude and respect for the men and women of the RCMP.
At the same time, the RCMP is an organization that is facing some serious challenges. Is it possible in 2013 to create a national police force that has a proper civilian oversight structure? Is it possible to construct a labour relations framework that not only gives management the tools it needs to ensure there is an appropriate standard of conduct for the staff that work under it, as well as a fair structure for the men and women to ensure they have access to justice and are treated fairly and equitably? Is it possible to expect that we can have a national organization that can deal promptly, swiftly, fairly and adequately with important issues like sexual harassment? Is it possible to have a modern-day police force that meets the expectations of Canadians? I think all members of the New Democratic Party say, absolutely, we can do that and in fact we should do that.
Bill is the Conservative government's response to long-standing claims of sexual harassment in the RCMP and to some difficult scandals that have made headlines as a result of problems with the disciplinary process and, if we are honest, lenient disciplinary measures handed out to officers accused of serious misconduct.
Bill proposes to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act in three main areas. First, it adds new provisions to the labour relations clauses and gives the RCMP commissioner the power to appoint and dismiss members as he or she sees fit. Second, it seeks to reform discipline, grievance and human resource management processes for members. Last, it seeks to reform the former Royal Canadian Mounted Police Public Complaints Commission by establishing a “new” civilian complaints commission and implement a new framework to handle investigations of serious incidents involving members.
Because of the immense respect we have for the RCMP, we can talk about some of these challenges. We have had cases of deaths occurring in custody. In my home province of British Columbia, some very serious questions were raised about the conduct of RCMP officers when civilians died while in the hands of the police. Over 200 women have joined a class action lawsuit alleging sexual harassment against members of the RCMP and making the more disturbing allegation of a widespread, well-entrenched system of gender harassment within that structure.
Bill reiterates many of the provisions of Bill from the 40th Parliament. At that time, the NDP criticized that bill for not going far enough in dealing with these very important issues. A very significant difference from the former Bill C-38 and the present Bill before the House today is silence on the issue of unionization of the RCMP. I would like to start there for a moment.
There has already been a court decision that has struck down the labour relations structure in the RCMP as being unconstitutional. As I said when I was public safety critic, the RCMP is the only police force in the country that does not have the right to have its men and women freely choose their bargain representative and engage in free collective bargaining. It is a national embarrassment. It is also unjust to the men and women who all members of the House claim to support and respect. If we truly respect the men and women we send into dangerous situations, should we not also respect their ability to decide who will bargain the terms and conditions of their work and raise concerns as any other group in the country is free to do? I think we do.
It is not acceptable that to this day the government has not replaced the bargaining structure in the RCMP with a free collective bargaining structure that respects norms, a bargaining structure that not only every worker in the country expects but that is contained in international treaties to which Canada is signatory. The main reason we oppose the bill is that it refuses to deal with this very important issue.
When we talk about sexual harassment, as my friend from so eloquently pointed out, one of the many workplace issues that organized labour has worked toward in the county and has helped improve is the situation of harassment in the workplace, including sexual harassment. It is only by changing workplace culture and the attitudes not only of management but of the men and women who are in a bargaining unit or performing labour that we can make meaningful progress.
The fact that the government has failed to act as the court has directed it to—that being to replace the unconstitutional labour relations structure with one that actually conforms to our law and the legitimate desires of the men and women in the RCMP—is a contributing factor to the poisoned context and situation that occurs in many RCMP detachments across the country.
The NDP supported the intention of Bill to modernize the RCMP and address issues such as sexual harassment in the force and voted for the bill to move to committee because we believed that it was important to work with the government to bring in effective legislation. We made that good-faith attempt.
The New Democrats members on the committee proposed 18 amendments to help strengthen the bill and make it conform to not only the necessities of good legislation but also the dictates of previous commissions and the requests of very informed respected people who were knowledgeable about the RCMP, such as former RCMP complaints commissioner Paul Kennedy, groups such as the Supreme Court of Canada and people like Justice O'Connor, who made recommendations in the aftermath of the Arar inquiry as to how the RCMP could improve its standards. These are eminent non-partisan people who have made a number of deeply thoughtful suggestions as to how we can modernize and improve the RCMP. The NDP wanted to help build that legislation.
Unfortunately, the Conservatives rejected every one of those 18 amendments. For Canadians watching, this is a common daily occurrence in the chamber.
I have been in the chamber long enough to know that no party has a monopoly on good ideas. Sometimes they come from the right, sometimes from the left and sometimes from the centre. However, the Conservatives have an unprecedented fashion, governed by rejecting virtually every idea that comes from any other part of this chamber, because they are hyperpartisan and extreme.
We hear the hon. members clapping when they are called extreme. I will leave it for Canadians to judge the thinking that goes behind that.
I want to point out, as well, that the bill fails to directly address the issue of sexual harassment in the force. It fails to bring a civilian oversight body that is truly independent. It fails to deal with the unionization requirements of the workforce. It also fails to put in an adequate system that would deal with sexual harassment.
The New Democrats remain ready and willing to work with the government to fix those problems and we urge it to do so. The men and women of the RCMP and the public deserve to have a modern RCMP that upholds the finest traditions of this force and makes it prepared for the century ahead.
Mr. Speaker, as always, it is a great honour to stand in the House and represent the people of Timmins—James Bay and to speak on the issue of reforming the RCMP, which is a very serious issue.
Mr. Charlie Angus: Mr. Speaker, I see the member for is attempting to shut down my ability to speak, but he should realize this is not grade 6; I am actually here to speak.
In my region in terms of police issues, we see the Nishnawbe-Aski Police underfunding and the post-traumatic stress that is being faced by front-line officers. Our officers and our citizens expect that the people we put on the front lines will have the benefit of a secure work environment. That is a fundamental for them to have a secure work environment so that they can go out and create safety in our communities. Whether or not it is the Nishnawbe-Aski Police who in northern Ontario are dramatically underfunded and are servicing communities without backup, without proper radios in their detachments and with jail cells that are often in third world conditions, they put themselves above and beyond time and time again.
We look at the RCMP, which is perhaps one of the most famous symbols of Canada. As Canadians, we do not often brag about our history. We think our history is boring, but there is something to be said about the fact that we have a tradition in this country where we had a system of law and order. The Dakota Sioux talked about crossing the famous medicine line that was the 49th parallel; it was to go from lawlessness to the idea of the rule of law. That was because of our North West Mounted Police at the time.
Canadians, whatever their political stripes, whatever region of the country they are from, are invested in the RCMP. We all agree it has been very distressing that we have a very troubled force—the undermining of the force, the issues of harassment and the issues of leadership.
The bill purports to address the issues of harassment at the RCMP, where we have an unprecedented case of 200 women police officers who came forward in a class action lawsuit over the issue of harassment, which is intimidation, threats, the demand for sexual services that is completely unacceptable. It is a culture that has gone on far too long. I would like to quote Robert Paulson, the RCMP commissioner, who agrees on the need for this reform. “It's the culture of the organization that has not kept pace”, he said.
We haven't been able to change our practices and our policies, or provide systems that would permit women to thrive in the organization and contribute to policing, which they must do....
I've said it publicly, and I'll say it again. I think the problem is much bigger than simply sexual harassment. It is the idea of harassment. The idea that we have a hierarchical organization overseeing men and women who have extraordinary powers in relation to their fellow citizens, which requires a fair degree of discipline.
How do we address this poison that has affected and undermined our national police force? We were hoping we would be able to work with the Conservatives on bringing forward legislation that would get to the core of the problem and snuff this problem out once and for all. Unfortunately, once again we have a government that believes it is above democracy, that does not accept amendments, that does not accept debate. We have a government that is unprecedented in its use of shutting down debate in the House of Commons, of shutting down organizations like the round table on sustainable environment and the economy.
Conservatives are very threatened by anything that challenges them. It is a level of anger and paranoia. I have never seen such sore winners in my whole life. It is disturbing because the idea of democracy is that Canadians send us to the House of Commons to work together, and the muttering and the anger I see on the other side is reflective of very defensive and insecure people who are afraid to actually get to the bottom of the issue.
The New Democrats brought forward a number of good-faith recommendations, and some of those recommendations are key to addressing this, one of which is to address the issue of harassment. That is what the bill is about, but the government does not want to say it. The other is the need to establish a civilian oversight board. If we ask any Canadians how they ensure police services are accountable, they would say we should have an independent civilian board.
Unfortunately, what we see with the government is the idea that it will just give the RCMP commissioner the power to fire someone he feels has broken the rules.
It is important to move the process along for dealing with people who perpetrate harassment, but we also recognize the need, again through civilian independent review, to be able to look at the whole instance. It is not just about holding people accountable, but it is about ensuring that officers are actually able to have the right to due process.
This is a government that refuses to recognize the desire of the RCMP to put in place a members' union so that they could be protected and so that there is a balancing act.
Let us look at what the Canadian Police Association has said about this bill. Mr. Tom Stamatakis said:
Bill C-42 provides the commissioner with extraordinary powers in this regard, powers that go beyond what one might find in other police services across Canada.
Again, it is unbalanced. The government is not looking at what other police services do. One would think that the government would actually listen and look at other areas that work, but the government is very paranoid and actually seems to believe it is infallible. It does not look to other services; it just ignores them. It is ignoring the president of the Canadian Police Association.
The Canadian Association of Police Boards president, Dr. Alok Mukherjee, said:
We...share the concerns that have been expressed...about...the...provisions of the bill. We fear that they could undermine true, effective oversight.
The Canadian Association of Police Boards opposes the government's plans.
Mr. Ian McPhail, who is the interim chair of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police says:
The credibility of any civilian review process will be lost if the agency subject to review is in a position to control when investigation may or may not occur.
These are serious objections. They are not frivolous. If we had a sense of working for the common good in this House of Commons, we could have fixed the problems in this bill. We could have ensured that this bill had the power to deal with the issue of harassment, that we had a civilian oversight board, and that we had started to put in place the mandatory harassment training. It is needed in that organization. When there are 200 officers coming forward in a class action law suit, it is needed.
In terms of restoring the trust of Canadians, in terms of addressing the legitimization crisis, especially now with the allegations of potential sexual crimes on the trail of tears, Canadians need to know that if they bring forward allegations they will be investigated, they will be investigated fairly and independently. That is not what this bill does.
This bill actually creates another cone of protection around the leadership in the RCMP and, by extension, the government in that they would be able to limit the reviews, fire the troublemakers and not address the fundamental problems.
As parliamentarians we need to realize that this is not just about the attack notes that come out of the PMO on any given day. This is about saying there is a long-term systemic problem; it has been identified; it is undermining the officers and the communities they represent; and it is incumbent upon this House to begin to address this.
Let us look at some of the amendments that were turned down: adding mandatory harassment training for RCMP members, specifically to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act; ensuring a fully independent civilian review board to investigate complaints against the RCMP; adding a provision to create a national civilian investigative body that would avoid police investigating police; and the issue of creating more balanced human resource policies by removing some of the draconian powers that actually exist with the RCMP commissioner now.
This is not about a witch hunt. This is about ensuring that the RCMP officers, male and female, who go into their workplace and put their lives on the line in community after community across this country, can do so in an environment where they can be safe, free from intimidation, free from sexual threat, and at the end of the day that they can be promoted based on their merit, not on their sex.
Unfortunately, the government ignored every single amendment, just as it has done with every attempt in this House to move forward legislation. It refuses to work with anyone else. It believes itself infallible. Once again, it is showing the error of its way, and we have a bill that will not address the fundamental problem, which is the harassment in the RCMP.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to discuss concerns about Bill .
There is absolutely nothing wrong with government members or anybody introducing legislation for better transparency, better accountability or better working arrangements within any department. The unfortunate part is that Bill would leave out many issues.
I have been following the RCMP and have been a fan for many years. I have been following careers and have tried, through my Veterans Affairs advocacy, to ensure that veterans of the RCMP receive the benefits they so rightly deserve.
Let us go back to how some of these things have happened. It was the current government that appointed, for the first time in my memory, a civilian to be the commissioner of the RCMP. If the Conservatives had tried to do that to the military and make a civilian the CDS, there would have been a riot and an uproar. For whatever reason, they thought it was okay that a civilian, Mr. Elliott, could look after the RCMP. Right away we could see that the rank and file RCMP members across the country were really upset. Many of them in my own riding were upset. They said that was not the way to go.
Young people join Depot and do the training and put on the yellow stripe. Probably the proudest day in many of these young men and women's lives is to wear the red serge. Maybe someone has ambitions and wishes to grow within the RCMP and maybe one day be the commissioner of the RCMP. Basically, the Conservatives said, “Don't worry about it. We're going to hire one of our friends and make him or her the commissioner of the RCMP”. That was such a wrong thing to do. It is nothing against Mr. Elliott personally. It is just that he never wore the uniform. I honestly believe that the only person who should be the commissioner of the RCMP or the CDS of the military should be someone who has actually worn the uniform at one time. That is my personal belief.
Only the Conservatives can do this. The RCMP has an organization called the Pay Council, which negotiates with government its pay and benefits for future years. In 2009, after many months of negotiation, they negotiated a 3.5% increase, which was fair in 2009. That was negotiated between the Government of Canada and the Pay Council of the RCMP. It was an agreement. On December 23, in the afternoon, an email went out from the minister's office saying that the 3.5% they had negotiated was completely off the board now and that they were getting 1.5%, end of story. It was just before Christmas. It was the Conservatives who did that, not the NDP, not the Liberals, not the Bloc, not the Greens, and not the independents. The Conservatives did that. Just before Christmas, they rolled back the pay increases of RCMP members without consultation. Just like that, it was done. Mr. Elliott said that there was nothing we could do at that time.
Also, on the desk of the former public safety minister, Mr. Stockwell Day, there was a long-standing request for members of the RCMP and their families to have access to the VIP, the veterans independence program, which is a great program for those in the military who receive it, although many of them do not. It allows members of the military and their families to stay in their homes longer as they age and require help with groundskeeping and housekeeping services. RCMP veterans have been asking for the same program for many years. What did they get from the Conservatives? They said no, even though it has been a request on the desk for many years.
The third factor in the abuse of RCMP veterans is that recently the government had to be taken to court to settle the SISIP clawback. These are pain and suffering payments. They came back. That ended up costing taxpayers $880 million, $150 million of which was interest and legal fees, which never would have had to be paid if the government had only listened in 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2007. Especially in 2007, before the legal proceedings started, the government could have saved an awful lot of money and a lot of aggravation on the SISIP clawback. The veterans won their case, and now those cheques will eventually be going out. We are glad that it has happened.
Did the Conservatives learn from that mistake? No. What have they done now? About 1,000 disabled RCMP veterans in the country have a lawsuit against the government on literally the exact same thing, a clawback of pain and suffering payments from their superannuation. Did the Conservatives learn from the expensive SISIP clawback legalities they went through after five years of litigation? No. Their answer is, “Take us to court”.
Given these three examples of the Conservatives' attitude toward the men and women of the RCMP, RCMP veterans and their families, it is no wonder that we on this side of the House distrust them when they bring forward legislation that is faulty at best.
We agree with the fact that there are certain elements of the RCMP that need changing, internally and structurally. We understand that, and we are willing to work with the government to see that it happens.
When my colleagues introduced amendments at the committee stage to improve the legislation, with very little discussion, the response from Conservatives was, “No, we are not accepting any opposition amendments. It is our way or the highway”.
As I said before, the justice committee was doing a justice bill. My hon. colleague from introduced some very relevant and important amendments that would have strengthened the bill and made it constitutionally legal in many ways. He is one of the finest human rights people in the entire world. He is one of the most respected people I know. He does not do things on the fly or willy-nilly. He is a thoughtful and intelligent person. He introduced amendments, and the Conservatives said, “No, we're not going to do it”.
It got to third reading, when amendments cannot be introduced, and all of a sudden, the government realized that maybe it should have listened to him. The bill went to the Senate, where a senator introduced amendments that were almost word for word the amendments the hon. member for introduced at the committee. It is incredible. What level of arrogance does the government have when it thinks that nobody in the opposition has an idea that may improve something it is bringing forward? It is incredible.
I have said for many years that it took the Liberals a long time to develop that arrogance. The Conservatives developed it very quickly, and I do not know why. Individual members of the Conservative Party are very good people. I do not know why they think they are the only ones who have all the answers. Many people came before committee and brought forward amendments that we in the opposition took from them to give the government. The answer was no.
The three examples I have given show exactly how the government treats RCMP members and their families. It is no wonder there is distrust. It is no wonder the morale among some members of the RCMP is really low.
I have been helping a veteran RCMP member for many years with his case with DVA. He lives in my riding. He said the proudest day of his life was when he put the red serge on at Depot. It was the proudest day of his life. He said the happiest day of his life was when he took it off. What did the RCMP or the government at the time do to make him so upset with the organization he had been willing to live and die for?
We in the NDP want to tell the government that we understand what it is trying to do. We are willing to work with it in this regard. It is going to have to bend to make this bill an awful lot better. If it is not willing to do that, then obviously, we are going to have to oppose this legislation.
I say, in closing, that the men and women who serve the RCMP have unlimited liability. We in government or in the opposition have the ultimate responsibility to see that their needs and their families' needs are met.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore for the tone and content of his remarks. I think he has summarized our objections to the bill in a very comprehensive way, from the heart and out of principle.
Given the nature and subject matter of the bill, I also want to recognize and pay tribute to my colleagues from London—Fanshawe, Churchill, Halifax, and the many others who are volunteering to be recognized today, with the notable exception of the member for , for the contributions they have made to this important subject matter, which includes not only the serious issue of sexual harassment in the workplace but also the issue of restoring confidence and pride in our national police force, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
For whatever reason, we know that the image of the RCMP has suffered in recent years as a result of unresolved allegations, investigations and complaints regarding the operations and functions of that workplace in the context of harassment and in the broader context of bullying, a word that has come up a number of times in comments by learned members in the House. Bullying has almost become a motif or theme throughout a great deal of the objections we have heard, and I think we cannot separate the two.
I am also proud of the opposition day motion that my colleague put forward, the motion regarding an anti-bullying policy or strategy for this country. It is a shame that the anti-bullying initiative was turned down, because the issue we are dealing with today could be quite appropriately dealt with in the context of that anti-bullying legislation.
The reason I wanted to compliment my colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore is that he got to the root of the problem, which is that it is actually too late to be debating the merits of the bill now that it is at third reading.
We tried to amend the bill at committee stage. We supported the bill at second reading in the hopeful belief that there was an intention of co-operation by the government side members to accommodate some of the legitimate concerns we brought forward. The theme of the speech by my colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore was with respect to an arrogance in this place, the likes of which we have never seen in the government, as it has refused to allow a single amendment to a single piece of legislation in the entire 41st Parliament.
I was a member of Parliament during the majority Liberal government. We were a small party, about the size the Liberals are now, and almost as irrelevant as the Liberals are now. However, we did have one member on each committee, just as the Liberals have now. I can say without any fear of contradiction that during the Liberal majority years, my colleagues and I used to get amendments through on pieces of legislation at committee. That is only reasonable, because in a Westminster parliamentary democracy there is an obligation on the ruling party to accommodate some of the legitimate issues brought forward by the majority of Canadians who did not vote for the majority party.