I call this meeting to order.
Good morning, everyone, on this early Friday morning. Welcome to meeting number 71 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.
We will start by acknowledging that we are meeting on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin people.
Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format pursuant to the House order of June 23, 2022. Therefore, members are attending in person in the room and remotely using the Zoom application.
Pursuant to the order of reference of Friday, November 25, 2022, the committee continues consideration of Bill , an act establishing the Public Complaints and Review Commission and amending certain acts and statutory instruments.
Today we have two panels of witnesses.
With us in the first panel, for the first hour, we have the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. We have Michelaine Lahaie, chairperson, and Joanne Gibb, senior director, strategic operations and policy directorate.
Ms. Lahaie, you have seven minutes for an opening statement. Please go ahead.
Good morning, and thank you for this opportunity to speak to you today.
Bill will expand the mandate of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission—or the CRCC—to include not just the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, or RCMP, but also the Canada Border Services Agency, or CBSA.
I believe the CRCC is well placed to take on an expanded role based upon 35 years of experience in civilian review of law enforcement, and expert knowledge of the complaint and review process.
I’m pleased to see that the proposed legislation to establish the Public Complaints and Review Commission, or PCRC, incorporates a number of previous recommendations the CRCC made to the and this committee.
These recommendations include the following.
One, we recommend stand-alone legislation. Having the PCRC enabling legislation in a stand-alone statute reinforces its independence.
Two, we recommend statutory timelines to respond to PCRC reports. I am encouraged that Bill includes statutory timelines for the CBSA and the RCMP to respond to PCRC reports. Any system where accountability is critical must include clearly set out timelines that are publicly available and reported on.
Three, we recommend stakeholder engagement and public education. Bill makes public education mandatory. If adequately funded and properly resourced, it will ensure that those who want to access the complaint review process are aware of its existence, know how to access it and know what they can expect.
Four, we recommend annual reporting on the implementation of PCRC recommendations. Requiring the CBSA and the RCMP to provide an annual report to the minister outlining the status of implementation of the PCRC's recommendations increases transparency and reassures the public that they are held to a high standard of public accountability.
However, I would recommend that the committee examine the timing of that reporting in comparison to the timing of the PCRC annual report. Ideally, the PCRC would have an opportunity to analyze the implementation report and include any observations or concerns in its annual report to Parliament.
While I am heartened that the bill before you will establish an enhanced independent review and complaints body for the RCMP and the CBSA, I suggest there is an opportunity to further strengthen the oversight regime by making some amendments.
These amendments include, first, diversity and inclusion. In order to ensure diversity and inclusion in PCRC membership, I recommend amending clause 3(1) to include due consideration by the government of indigenous and racialized representation. Similar provisions exist in other federal legislation.
Second is on data collection. I recommend broadening the language of proposed paragraph 13(2)(f) so that the PCRC must report on demographic data, which includes but is not limited to race-based data. This will allow the PCRC to collect, analyze and report on trends across complainant demographics.
Third is on systemic investigations. Greater accountability is achieved through effective oversight not only for public complaints, but also through reviews of systemic issues. That is why I have long called for the removal of the condition on the initiation of specified activity reviews, or what we refer to as systemic investigations. Such investigations have yielded important RCMP-wide changes, but in order for the CRCC to initiate a systemic investigation, I must give notice to the minister that sufficient resources exist for conducting the investigation and that the handling of public complaints will not be compromised. In my experience as chairperson, both the public complaint process and systemic investigations are equally important to RCMP accountability.
Last is on chair-initiated reviews of a public complaint. At present, the CRCC must wait for an individual to re-engage with the public complaint process if they are dissatisfied with the RCMP's handling of their complaint. In the absence of a request for review from the individual, the process stops. Currently, if the chairperson is dissatisfied with how a public complaint has been handled by the RCMP, the CRCC would have to launch its own investigation of the same complaint. This is resource intensive and can take a year or more to complete. For reasons of efficiency among others, I recommend that Bill include a provision that would allow the chairperson to initiate a review of a finalized public complaint. Such an authority would permit the PCRC to examine some or all of the allegations contained in a public complaint.
Just as the chairperson can currently initiate a complaint with or without a public complaint being made, the authority to initiate a review would further enhance accountability.
In closing, Bill provides a robust mandate for the review of the CBSA and the RCMP. With appropriate funding, the PCRC will provide a much-needed independent public complaint mechanism for the CBSA, systemic investigations of the CBSA and an enhanced accountability regime for the RCMP.
I’m pleased to answer any questions. Thank you.
Thank you very much, Chair, and thank you both, Ms. Lahaie and Ms. Gibb, for being here today.
I'm pleased with some of the recommendations you have to strengthen this bill.
First off, with my background, I completely support the idea of having public oversight of law enforcement. I think it's absolutely necessary to maintain trust in that institution.
I do have some concerns and I'll get to those in a minute.
Currently, what are your timelines for getting complaints resolved using the CRCC, on average?
I would agree. One of the concerns I have is that we're underfunded. We might still face the same issue we've had previously in that we don't have enough resources to meet the timelines as set out in the proposed legislation. We would certainly be open to any submission you would have to our group on where you think that needs to go.
One of the things that I think people still have some confusion about, Ms. Lahaie, is how the CRCC handles complaints now, what role the RCMP plays in that complaints process, and with the PCRC how that will be different moving forward.
Basically, what I'm getting at is what threshold has to be met for a public complaint to be handled by the RCMP detachment, where it originates, or before the PCRC, the new commission, steps in. How do you see that working so that the public understands there is some confidence they can have in this particular process?
What I would share with you is that right now, about 90% of public complaints are made to the commission. There was a point in time when it was about 60%, and 40% were going to the detachments. Now the majority of public complaints are made to the commission.
When a complaint comes in, we have a look at that complaint. In most cases, we send them to the RCMP for investigation. The reason for that is it's a resource-based decision. Before we received our program integrity funding, my budget was $10.5 million.
My choice has been to focus on complaints that are coming from individuals who are marginalized and who are vulnerable. That has been my focus.
The majority of public complaints, 90%, go to the RCMP for investigation.
I want to start by thanking you and your team for the work that you do and the empathetic and thorough investigations you conduct. The change we've seen since you've taken over the CRCC has been tremendous. I know it's not just you. I know you have a whole team behind you, but the leadership sets the tone for the whole commission. I want to thank you sincerely for your work.
I'm sure you've been following the testimony and know that I've brought up the issue of a reservist not being someone who can be subject to review. I'm wondering if you think that's something we can fix with a legislative change in the bill, or if a directive from the minister might help in directing to help fill that gap.
I know that right now, it's not something you can review yourself as a commission.
I also watched Mr. Sauvé's testimony, and I think that I fall somewhere in the middle there.
I currently have this authority. I can initiate an investigation at any time. I have that authority as the chairperson. What the commission needs is additional resources to be able to do that more often. I think there is great strength and sometimes having the agency look at these things, because for a minor issue....
Let's say a police officer swore at somebody in the course of giving out a ticket. I would suggest—and I know, Mr. Motz, you were of the same opinion when I watched one of the earlier sessions—those are the cases that the agencies themselves should be handling. But when we're getting into serious incidents of use of force or when individuals' personal liberties have been violated, then those are the cases where the commission needs to step in. I fall in the middle of this, but it really is a question of resources for me more than anything else.
Thank you for being here, ladies. We appreciate it.
You talked about how the commission works now, saying you conduct a review when a complainant is not satisfied with how their complaint was resolved. You recommended that the new commission have the ability to initiate a review on its own if the complainant decides not to pursue the process.
I saw in the news that, in January 2019, you rendered a decision on the disappearance and death of Amanda Michayluk, a young woman in Saskatchewan. In your report, you criticized the work of the RCMP officers involved. You called their conduct “unconscionable”, and said that the investigation was hampered by shoddy policing, tunnel vision and stereotypes. You also say in the report that the officers failed to conduct an adequate ground search.
I assume you were able to look into that particular case because a complaint had been brought forward. Had the complaint not been made, you wouldn't have been able to conduct a review. Do I have that right?
You talked about conducting systemic investigations, and that's something we've heard from a few witnesses, including the CBSA union president. He said that, in some cases, the specific officer's conduct is what needs to be investigated, but that in others, the problem seems to be systemic because it's coming from upper management.
He suggested that officers themselves be allowed to submit complaints regarding their supervisors to the commission. As of now, our understanding is that the commission was created specifically to address complaints from the public. However, what do you think of the idea? Should a separate commission be created? Could the same mechanism be used, and if so, would you need more resources?
You said you have about 90 people on your staff and a yearly budget of $15.2 million. The government said that it would invest $112.3 million in the new commission over six years, which is about $18.7 million per year. After those six years, the commission would get about $19 million annually.
Do you think that's enough funding, given that the new commission will have to review complaints against not only the RCMP, but also CBSA? I don't know whether it will amount to double the work, but the funding doesn't seem to match. What do you think? Does the funding seem adequate?
We've talked a lot today about resources. You mentioned—I was scribbling this down very quickly—that you have to bump a lot to the RCMP. We heard when they were here, and we heard from their association too, that when they go to do their investigations into complaints, they're obviously taking frontline officers off too.
Do you get push-back sometimes? We're hearing about a lot about resources. If we're going to pass this important legislation and there aren't the resources there to do it, then we're wasting our time. Let's do it right. Are you getting push-back from them also, then?
You mentioned at the beginning that a public education portion is mandatory. You submitted some documents to us. This was the flow chart of how your complaints system works. Quite frankly, I read the flow chart and it's still confusing. How do you make the process...?
If they're a new Canadian or someone who doesn't speak English or French, one of our official languages, how do they possibly get through this system and know where to go? I was shocked when you said that most complaints come to your office. I'll be honest and say that until we started this, I had never heard of your office. I'm from Ontario, so there aren't as many RCMP. They have the SIU here.
Could you explain how we could possibly make this a little easier? How are people finding you now?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I would like to begin where you left off on an answer to Mr. Motz.
You've heard this come up a couple of times in responses to Mr. Motz, Mr. Shipley and Mr. Julian. It's the idea that you've had to refer more cases than you would have liked to back to the RCMP.
What would best practice look like? In an ideal universe, where you said that from everything you've seen around the world, best practice would look like this, what would that look like?
I don't want to belabour the funding point. For me, personally...I can't speak for my colleagues, but I think that everybody we've heard from so far says we need to make sure you're able to do this right. I think that's an important construct for us to go into this with.
Looking at the CBSA now, you obviously have this added potential responsibility of all of this coming on. We've heard some resistance or some perspectives from the union. They've expressed some concerns about these things. You have to bring an entire agency, its team and its staff along for the ride, on the journey. In my experience, one thing that doesn't work well is when you impose a solution on people. Success often comes when you can bring people along.
When you think about day zero, once this bill gets passed, and hopefully it will, with some of the changes that you're proposing, which are excellent, how do you foresee making sure the CBSA folks on the front line come along on this journey with you so the outcomes are successful?
Ms. Lahaie, clause 38 of the bill provides for third parties to bring forward a complaint on someone's behalf, and that has been well received. Public interest groups, refugee advocacy associations and other groups would like the bill to go further. They would like it to give third parties the ability to report a systemic problem, to bring forward a complaint on their own or without the permission of the individual concerned. I wondered what you thought about that.
Personally, I don't think it's a bad idea, but I worry that it would increase the number of complaints and bog down the process. If someone takes the time to submit their own complaint or if a third party does it for them, the person is obviously hoping for a fairly quick response. However, if groups started bringing forward complaints about any issue, wouldn't it mean longer wait times for those who submitted their own complaints?
I still haven't made my mind up, so I'd like to hear your view.
Thanks so much, Mr. Chair.
I've really found this a very valuable session.
Thanks very much, Madam Lahaie and Madam Gibb.
We've talked a bit about resources and responding to the quantity of complaints. I'd like to address the issue of resources in terms of responding and getting it right, as you mentioned.
You talked earlier about having a contract resource for handling complaints from indigenous peoples whose first language is Inuktitut. We know that the number of complaints is proportionally higher because of the number of incidences among racialized Canadians who are often of diverse origins and indigenous peoples.
I'm concerned about the underfunding. It seems to be perhaps less than half of what is needed when it comes to responding to the needs of those communities. For example, if you are unable to hire an investigator who speaks Inuktitut, you have to rely on contract resources. How does that have an impact on your overall work?
In a world where you're adequately resourced, would you not be hiring investigators that can speak indigenous languages and some of the many languages of the diasporas of new Canadians?
Thank you to both of you for being here.
This is such an important discussion. As Mr. Motz said in his opening, certainly the Conservative Party, the official opposition, recognizes the need for very strong oversight on those who wield considerable power to enforce our laws, whether that's CBSA frontline officers or RCMP frontline officers.
I'm going to build on a lot of the questions that have already been asked about resourcing and how you're going to be able to manage this broader workload. It sounds like the funding that has been announced, although welcomed, is not nearly enough for what you'd like to do.
I have a few logistic questions. You mentioned that your average case takes six to 12 months to investigate. Is that an accurate assessment?
I think that as we are in the room, we step away from our desks sometimes, but we're generally in the room. However, to be counted for quorum in the House, you have to be on screen, and we're supposed to adhere to similar rules here as in the House.
I don't think anybody is going to be concerned if you disappear for a minute, but if there is a quorum call, for example, we may have to give a little bit of latitude there.
Anyway, thank you, Mr. Julian.
Mr. Chiang, go ahead, please, for five minutes.
I call this meeting back to order.
I'd like to welcome our second panel of witnesses for today. We have three groups represented here.
In person, from Breaking Barriers Together, we have Ms. Cheryl Jarvis, retired sergeant, Royal Canadian Mounted Police; and Janet Merlo, retired constable, Royal Canadian Mounted Police. With the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, we have Aviva Basman, president; and Kate Webster, co-chair of the advocacy committee.
With us by video conference we have from the File Hills First Nations Police Service, Mr. Dan Bellegarde, chair, board of police commissioners.
Welcome, everyone. Thank you for being with us today and helping us with our investigations.
We will start with up to a five-minute statement from each group.
We'll start with Breaking Barriers Together.
I believe Ms. Jarvis will start.
You have five minutes, please.
Breaking Barriers Together is a group of former RCMP officers and public service employees. We're all retired from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. We have made a group because we believe strongly in making the RCMP better.
We believe there are four areas within Bill that need to be addressed. Bill needs to include internal misconduct and a clear definition of what misconduct is. No RCMP members who are retired or serving or their family members should be involved in investigations of complaints by the commission. The use of non-disclosure agreements should not be allowed through the commission. All of the decisions the commission makes need to be binding. There needs to be some form to hold people accountable for what we feel needs to be done.
Breaking Barriers believes that Bill must include internal misconduct.
Daniel Touchette created a report that shows that $2.68 billion has been spent or is deemed to have been spent for internal misconduct within the RCMP. Despite all the promises that were made during the Merlo Davidson settlement process, the investigation is still causing incredible harm to the victims. The process is fraught with personal bias, cultural bias, threats and intimidation.
We still need to remember that it's the RCMP investigating the RCMP. We have to remember that hundreds of the complaints, through the Merlo Davidson lawsuit, were originally investigated by the RCMP and were found to be unfounded. As soon as those complaints went to an independent investigation area, they found, all of a sudden, that they were founded. This creates a lot of harm for the victims.
The Honourable Michel Bastarache, the independent assessor for the group, came up with three key areas in discipline that he found were a problem. There was perception of bias and the unfairness of the process, the likelihood of retaliation for making a complaint and the lack of meaningful discipline or consequences for the officers' actions. We've heard from hundreds of serving RCMP officers that this process is still taking place and that it is still a problem within the process.
The problem with the RCMP is the culture. It is a toxic workplace. Bill has the ability to address that culture and to try to make it a better place to work.
There are 130 of us identified in the Merlo Davison lawsuit who were victims of rape by other RCMP officers. Not one of those perpetrators, even though we have made criminal complaints, has ever come to justice for that. They retired with a pension, and there were no problems.
We need to remember that Bill is supposed to make all Canadians equal, feel safe and get fair treatment by the RCMP and by CBSA. Therefore, we need to allow internal misconduct to be part of that, so that part can be rectified.
We believe that no RCMP officers or their families should ever be involved in or have anything to do with serious conduct problems within the RCMP. We need to remember that they are part of the group. They have loyalties to the RCMP, even though they're retired. We need to make sure that they are investigated by external organizations.
We also need to remember non-disclosure agreements. The RCMP is famous for, when there's a problem, making sure that they cover things up by using non-disclosure agreements. All that does is allow for the victim to be silenced and for the problem to go away, and no one ever finds out about the problem. They need to be prohibited in Bill so that we can't hide those problems anymore.
The most important thing is that we can say, “no RCMP members”. We can say “internal misconduct”. We can say all of those things, but, if we don't make the decisions that the commission comes to binding, then we will be in the same place we are.
We've had recommendation after recommendation made for 10, 15 or 20 years that these are the problems, and that's what needs to change.
Until those decisions that the commission comes to are binding and will actually force them to make a decision to follow the direction that is given to them, the problem will continue. It won't change, and then we're right back to where we started.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the opportunity to testify before the committee today.
I am here with my colleague, Aviva Basman, representing the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers. We are a national organization engaged in advocacy, strategic litigation and education to promote and defend the rights of refugees and immigrants in Canada.
We are, overall, supportive of Bill . However, certain amendments are necessary to ensure that the resulting oversight body is both accessible and effective. The absence of oversight is especially problematic, considering the CBSA polices a sometimes vulnerable non-Canadian population who may lack English skills, may be traumatized, including at the hands of state authorities, and may lack secure status in Canada.
The stakes are high. There have been at least 16 deaths in immigration detention in the last 20 years. CBSA has faced allegations that it engages in racial profiling in carrying out its statutory duties, targeting certain groups for increased scrutiny, arrests and detention.
Our written brief focuses on three amendments, including red-lined provisions of how they could be implemented.
Our first recommendation concerns the ability of the commission to receive general or systemic complaints. As drafted, Bill does not require the commission to respond to complaints about systemic issues or general policy, and that's a problem. Often, abuse or mistreatment, especially on issues like racial profiling, is only apparent when one aggregates cases. The commission must be able to examine issues at a systemic level, as opposed to solely on a case-by-case basis.
While clause 28, the clause that permits review of specified activities at the commission's initiative or at the direction of the minister, may be a valuable tool, it is inadequate to address the issue. If the intent is that the commission had the power to investigate and address systemic issues, it must be able to receive systemic complaints. It must also be properly resourced to investigate and address them.
We appreciate the recognition at the outset of these hearings of the pervasive nature of anti-Black and anti-indigenous racism in policing and in our justice system. We applaud the intent that the commission be empowered to help in combatting this legacy, but the commission must be given the tools to properly do so.
The question of who is best positioned to identify and raise systemic or policy issues leads us to our second recommendation. As you are aware, Bill allows the commission to refuse a complaint simply because it is brought by a third party—that is, if it is not brought by someone directly affected, by a witness or by someone with express written consent.
As I mentioned, certain issues are only apparent when viewed in aggregate across a number of cases. It is third parties, such as human rights organizations, that are uniquely positioned to bring such systemic issues to the commission. You heard in compelling testimony from the Canadian Council for Refugees the myriad ways in which refugees and migrants are vulnerable in Canada and face substantial barriers in making complaints. We echo those concerns and are strongly urging an amendment that will allow for third party complaints. We have proposed specific wording in our written brief.
Our third recommendation relates to overbroad limitations on the commission's jurisdiction, including expansive language requiring that a complaint be refused if it has been or could have been adequately dealt with or could more appropriately be dealt with according to another legal process. This section does not require that any other procedure be under way before the prohibition applies.
Restricting the commission's jurisdiction to investigate alleged misconduct on the mere possibility that another agency might investigate is deeply problematic. We urge that this clause be amended to set out specific circumstances where an investigation may be refused. We recommend a similar amendment regarding ambiguous language in another part of the same clause.
As I mentioned, we have proposed specific wording in our written brief to address these concerns.
Finally, having reviewed the written submissions of other civil society organizations, we endorse numerous additional recommendations. We welcome the opportunity to elaborate on those issues in questions.
Thank you. Good morning, Mr. Chairman, and good morning to the committee and my fellow panellists.
I'm from Little Black Bear's Band of the Assiniboine Cree in Treaty No. 4 territory, a board member of the Canadian Association on Police Governance, and chair to First Nations Police Governance Council. I'm also chair to File Hills' board of police commissioners, a first nations police service in Saskatchewan.
There are 36 self-administered police services in Canada. There are 22 in Quebec, nine in Ontario, only six west of Ontario and none in the north and in the Maritimes. That's because primarily there are federal-provincial-territorial policing agreements...20 years where the RCMP provided contract to leasing to that jurisdiction.
There are 114 RCMP detachments in Saskatchewan, many of them near the reserves of my people. Some are in larger cities like Yorkton, Battleford, North Battleford, Swift Current and Lloydminster. Alberta has about 118 detachments. British Columbia has 149. Manitoba has 86. New Brunswick has 39. Newfoundland and Labrador has 43. The territories have 22. Nova Scotia has 55. Nunavut has 26. Ontario has 13. P.E.I. has seven. Quebec has nine. Yukon has 14. Clearly, interaction between the RCMP and the public, particularly first nations people, is highest on the Prairies.
I'd briefly mention the Colton Boushie complaint of sloppy investigation. We find that on use of force complaints.... Recently there was an incident where an RCMP officer was accused of violence against first nations women. There are pictures of black eyes and bruises...concussions. Unfortunately for the officer, one of the women is a lawyer.
My first recommendation to the commission is that there should be a large footprint in the west, particularly a potential suboffice in the Prairies, possibly in Edmonton.
The board of police commissioners, municipal and first nations police services across the country are there to provide governance, not particularly oversight as such, although many boards have a particular emphasis on dealing with public complaints as well. They are the link between the police service and the community.
First nations with community tripartite agreements have something called a community consultative group, which is a far cry from a board of police commissioners.
As far as I know there are no police boards in any of the detachments that the RCMP has to be accountable for.
That brings it closer to the community. Boards are the voice of the public, and I don't know in terms of dealing with public complaints, but they should be the first level of dispute resolution.
Accessibility and protection of complainants is a problem in some of our areas. Small communities with an external police service will have a natural fear of reprisal through over-policing and under-protection. The “starlight tours” in Saskatchewan.... In the 1970s, Neil Stonechild froze to death in Saskatoon after being left on the road.
Now that has led to the development of something that I think is important.
A special investigation unit in Saskatchewan was set up after the “starlight tours” inquiry, the Stonechild inquiry, as it's called. It's managed by the federation of [Inaudible—Editor
] indigenous and works closely with Saskatchewan's Public Complaints Commission and the Saskatchewan Police Commission. They provide access to first nations who would otherwise not go to a system that they distrust, perhaps a system they do not have access to in the first place. It does provide that bridge, I think. This might be important.
Bill has a lot of RCMP discretion still built into it on whether to deal with complaints and how they deal with them. Also, a recommendation there would be to deal with complaints of various seriousness.
I think that most police services have what I would refer to as professional conduct and standards units that deal with the administrative or other complaints that can be dealt with without having to go through the long road of, essentially, an inquiry by the commission, which may take a year, or more than a year to deal with.
The thing is to work with first nations infrastructure for public education and to build trust in the complaints process and to move things along, the advocacy that first tribal councils, PTOs, as they're called, as well as various police boards across the country can provide, and also training and education for commission members. Investigators and staff have to be culturally sensitive and trauma-informed when dealing with first nations people in the communities. There should be some discussion on that.
I'll set that before you and wait for your questions.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to all the witnesses for being here. I very much appreciate your presence and your testimony.
I have some questions for Ms. Jarvis and Ms. Merlo.
Thank you very much for your courage and for sharing your thoughts and your lived experience of how this bill can be improved to better protect RCMP officers themselves, along with others who are making complaints.
I have some questions on how we can address some of the things you've said. I think we're hearing commonality with others who have come forward.
When the CBSA frontline union president, Mark Weber, was here, he mentioned that there are cases. He gave the example that there was a middle manager who had ordered a strip search of a busload of kids. He wants to see Bill have the ability for officers to make those complaints about their superiors, certainly when they impact the public, or perhaps in your case, other officers.
I got the sense that you share that perspective. Could you provide a bit more information on how Bill should be improved in that regard?
I'll try to answer that.
We have found over the years that there is nowhere for the RCMP employees and personnel to go to report those types of things that are happening. They created an independent centre of harassment resolution as part of our lawsuit, but it's woefully underfunded and understaffed. It deals with harassment; it doesn't deal with a lot of the other issues that are there.
Yes, for years, even in my case, they did a two-year investigation of themselves and came back and said that nothing had happened, that everything was unfounded. Then later on, 3,200 women came forward in our lawsuit. I was the representative plaintiff after the RCMP said that everything was unfounded.
As long as you have that entity investigating themselves on internal misconduct and internal crimes that are happening, nothing is going to change because they investigate themselves. “Unfounded” seems to be the word that results.
It's just one thing after another, year after year. Like my partner here said, we still hear from women, almost weekly, who reach out to us for help and advice because they're stuck in some level of hell within the RCMP, with nowhere to go to make those complaints.
On the first day, when was here, I saw the meeting. He said that Bill was to give all Canadians an equal, fair and respectful place to make these complaints. But if you don't include internal misconduct, what you're doing is basically leaving out all the employees, the public servants, the volunteers, all the people who work within the police force, support staff and members, who still have nowhere, really, to go.
Certainly. Not only does it impact perhaps the morale between officers—having to investigate a buddy or something like that—but also, I would imagine, the experience from the complainant internally on whether they can trust that investigation.
I'm hearing that, in your case in particular, you felt very much that you could not trust the finding, and that 3,200 women came out saying similar things to you after they said that yours was unfounded. I'm very sorry, ma'am, that you had to deal with that.
Just to conclude, I want to commend you both very much for what you've done. It's bravery like this—although it probably seems very slow—that really does spark a conversation that is desperately needed. It takes those first ladies to come forward to do that. I can understand on a personal level how difficult that must have been. I really appreciate your courage. Thank you very much.
I have about 25 seconds left. If there's anything concluding on this in terms of the importance of RCMP officers not investigating themselves when it comes to things like this and the point that Bill needs to have a mechanism to allow external review on not only public complaints but internal complaints, do you want to give your last few thoughts on that to wrap it up?
I want to thank you all for being here with us today, as well as Mr. Bellegarde, who is here remotely.
All of what you're sharing with us is incredibly helpful and insightful in making sure that we are able to get to a good outcome on Bill and the whole question of oversight.
I'd like to start with you, Ms. Webster and Ms. Basman.
For the work that you are doing, thank you. You speak for a lot of folks who don't have a voice and folks who have, in many cases, never had a place where they can go to try to address some of the issues that they have dealt with, particularly with CBSA.
As I look at this whole question of oversight for CBSA, there are really two things that come to mind. One is the need for institutional, systemic, cultural change to occur in the organization. We've all heard stories. Some of us with names like mine have experienced those things at the border. I think we have to figure out how we address this.
I'm also very conscious of the fact that you are bringing transformative change, hopefully though this legislation, to an organization that has never had this type oversight before.
What do you think needs to happen to ensure that the organization, particularly those on the front lines who may never have had this type of oversight before, comes along in a way that is positive? I don't believe you can get to a good outcome by trying to beat people over the head with a hammer. I think you have to do this in a way that ensures people understand their obligations and responsibilities and that you give them the tools to be successful in that.
What are some things you would like to see happen from an implementation perspective going forward?
We certainly agree that the question of culture change at CBSA is something critical. That does relate to our first and second recommendations, really, in terms of the need for the commission to be able to receive systemic complaints and for those complaints to come from third parties. That is one mechanism whereby broad issues that are arising across a number of cases and perhaps impacting the most vulnerable, who may not feel comfortable bringing a complaint.... If there's a pattern of behaviour that becomes apparent to a third party, I think that mechanism is critical.
The other way, I would say, that we could tweak Bill relates to the data collection and publication. We are certainly happy to see the inclusion of the collection of disaggregated race-based data. We do note, however, that the way in which that data proposes to be collected is going to inherently give a partial picture. Not only is it partial in terms of the demographic data, but it's just collecting data based on race. We certainly have heard at our organization and among partner organizations a lot of complaints regarding discrimination according to religious background, nationality, language and individuals with mental health issues facing disproportionate enforcement action by CBSA, so we think that there's an important element of collecting a broader demographic set of data.
Also, collecting data solely from individuals who make complaints doesn't tell us who isn't making the complaints. We miss the most vulnerable individuals, who still face barriers in bringing complaints to the commission. We would suggest that it's important that CBSA and the RCMP be empowered to collect data regarding who they interact with on a more regular basis so we have a broader picture of what that population looks like. Who is complaining and who isn't? What systemic issues are coming through third parties that give us the evidence and the facts upon which to make policy recommendations to see that change?
Thank you, Ms. Merlo and Ms. Jarvis. I won't repeat what Ms. Dancho said, but I completely agree. Thank you for your bravery. You have no doubt helped hundreds of women. It's a shame that the changes we want to see still aren't coming. Nevertheless, I am certain that you will help us arrive at those changes eventually.
You talked about how important it was to get rid of non-disclosure agreements, stressing that they allow for victims to be silenced. It also raises questions from a financial standpoint, as you point out on your website, if I'm not mistaken. You said that hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are being used to compensate victims of RCMP misconduct or crimes, but that neither the RCMP nor the federal government is doing anything to fix the problem. Just think of all the things that could be done if Canadian communities had that money to invest in law enforcement.
I'd like you to talk specifically about the importance of banning the use of non-disclosure agreements, both for victims and for law enforcement, as you mentioned. I don't know how that might fit into Bill , but I'd be happy to hear any suggestions you have.
I think one thing that has made the problems in the RCMP so bad is that the people who've complained along the way and the settlements they've had have rendered those people then voiceless. In order to settle their complaint, they are forced to sign off on these agreements. Part of the reason we all got so sick and got to the point we did was that no one could talk about it. I think if people's voices weren't taken away in these non-disclosures, if people could speak publicly, it would help their journey to get better after they've gone through these issues.
There seems to be a groundswell of movement right now to deal with non-disclosure issues as well as whistle-blower legislation that needs to be made better in Canada. We're one of the worst countries in the world for whistle-blower protection laws. I think those non-disclosure agreements just need to go. They're something of the past. In order to heal and move forward, everybody needs to be able to talk.
It needs to be transparent. The whole process needs to be transparent. By doing that, I think that's how you restore public faith, because 90% to 95% of the RCMP are good, honest, hard-working police officers. It's just that potent minority that needs to be dealt with. If everyone is rendered silent and forced to sign these agreements, then, as we have seen, it just continues.
I imagine that when someone goes to the trouble of bringing forward a complaint, they have experienced something traumatic. They certainly relive that trauma as they go through the complaint process, so it's understandable why someone wouldn't want to keep going and take the complaint to the commission.
I heard Ms. Lahaie say earlier that, in some cases, the commission would like to have the ability to initiate reviews on its own, without a complainant first submitting a complaint or requesting a review of their file. What do you think of the idea? Do you feel the commission should be able to initiate a review of a case on its own initiative?
We feel that no RCMP officer can be involved in either the commission or investigating complaints that come to the commission. The complaints need to be independently investigated. They cannot go back to the RCMP to investigate, which unfortunately is what happens.
As well, all the decisions made by the commission need to be binding. As was brought up earlier, when they determine that an officer has broken the rules and has created misconduct or whatever, they send their recommendations off to the RCMP. They never hear what happens. Unfortunately, what happens is that nothing happens, usually.
If the commission comes back and says that an officer needs to be terminated, it does not matter if they are a friend of the commissioner or a high-ranking officer: They are terminated. Unfortunately, though, what happens a lot of times is that if you have friends, nothing happens.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I want to thank our witnesses for their very, very powerful testimony.
Ms. Jarvis and Ms. Merlo, my colleagues have already spoken about your courage in coming forward. There is no doubt that your testimony...which I found profoundly disturbing. Many of the facts we were aware of, but it's unbelievable when you think about crimes being committed within the RCMP that have happened with impunity. Be assured that your testimony has an impact. Everyone around the table takes this very, very seriously as we look forward to the next step, to actually making Bill respond to the issues you are raising.
I wanted to ask you both two questions. First, a toxic workplace is so often a symptom of what can be a very toxic approach by an organization. In other words, we can't pull apart how the public may be treated in certain situations from what is happening internally. You've spoken to that toxic workplace. Is that essentially your message, that if we're taking a complaint process seriously, we need to make sure that the institution is functioning at the highest possible level, with respect for both police officers and the public at all levels?
It is 100% my point. Because so many victims can't speak about what happened to them, they can't disclose that millions of dollars have gone missing in the RCMP and that nothing has ever happened to the individuals responsible for that.
Unfortunately, when the victim comes forward, they become the one who's considered to be the bad actor. They're the one who has to retire. The other individual continues along with a great career. Nothing happens to them. That's the problem. The victim is always the one who signs the non-disclosure agreement and the perpetrator continues their career. Nothing happens to them. That needs to change. By getting rid of the non-disclosure agreement, the victim can actually come out and say publicly what happened.
If these things come out publicly, there will be an incredible outcry about what's actually going on. Lots of times we feel that people think we talk about conspiracy theories. If they only knew what was really going on in the organization, they would be horrified.
I would like to move on to Ms. Webster and Mr. Bellegarde.
We had testimony, just before you came on, from Madam Lahaie, the chairperson of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission. She's raised broad concerns about the lack of resourcing.
Given what you, Ms. Webster, pointed to in terms of treating new Canadians and non-Canadians, and responding to some of the horrific cases within the CBSA, and your comments, Mr. Bellegarde, about some of the appalling treatment of indigenous peoples, is it not fundamentally important that we get the resourcing right?
Ms. Lahaie spoke about how the most reasonable likelihood is that this commission could be resourced at about 50% on the dollar of what is actually needed. Are those concerns that both of you have?
Thank you for that question.
The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers absolutely agrees it is important to get the resourcing right. We feel strongly and agree with what Ms. Lahaie testified, that there is equal importance in investigating individual complaints as well as systemic issues. It's critical, therefore, that the commission be able to do both and not be prevented from either conducting specified activity reviews or, as we are also suggesting, investigating systemic complaints, because it might take resources away from investigations of individual complaints.
We agree with the various witnesses before you who have emphasized the critical importance of systemic issues in order to effect culture change and tackle, for example, systemic racism. We see, as my colleague testified earlier, the types of regular abuses of authority through our members and our own clients in their engagement with the CBSA, particularly in the removals context and in the entry to Canada context. Those need to be investigated.
Absolutely. I think resourcing has to be looked at from two perspectives. One perspective is from the operations of the commission itself. It has to be adequately resourced. I don't know exactly what level of complaints there will be.
It's also for the advocacy groups or for the individuals who are coming forward. Many of the people who would like to have public complaints put forward do not have the resources to do so. That issue of accessibility is critical to trust in the process and the accessibility to get the kind of support they require in order to put a public complaint forward.
It has not been easy for people to challenge such an overbearing institution like the RCMP in the lives of first nations people in the west, beginning with the North-West Mounted Police. It's going to take a lot of support.
That's why I brought up the special investigation unit of the FSIN, which is funded through the province, but it deals with municipal and RCMP complaints in the first stage. They then move on to the other institutions within the province.
We've never been very successful with the RCMP. It's cumbersome. It's difficult to get an answer and it just takes too long to go through it.
We absolutely need the kind of resources to make this commission work—$45 million, I think.
Thank you for your question, Ms. Michaud.
In our written brief we do provide a concise red line for how we would suggest approaching the question of third party complaints. We're happy to see that third parties can, under the current draft of the bill, bring complaints with the express written consent of an individual.
However, we would like to see the bill amended to explicitly allow the filing of complaints as they relate to systemic or policy issues. This could easily happen through changes to clause 52, which currently allows the commission to refuse to deal with a complaint if it's not from an individual. That is the sort of circumstance where the commission has the power to decline jurisdiction. An easy tweak there would allow organizations to bring those complaints.
I would note additionally that third parties are critical and are only really helpful in bringing these types of complaints if they are well informed. Part of that comes from the experience of their members, such as our organization, but also part of that comes from publication of information from the commission itself.
Right now there are limitations on the types of publications that are available. Certain reports are only published in summary, as opposed to the full report. We would like to see more transparency because that can inform further third party complaints going forward.
We would also like to see, in a similar vein, the commission having more powers of redress, not only in terms of actually enforcing recommendations, but also in being able to suspend removal or have interim measures available. This would allow a complaint to go forward to inform the commission and its activities without an individual being deported in the midst of that process.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to all of our witnesses for the very powerful and very wise testimony that I think will help us, as committee members, to work on the shortcomings of the bill, for sure, and improve the legislation so it's the best possible legislation.
As Madam Lahaie mentioned in the previous panel, we also have the problem of substantial under-resourcing. That is a major problem.
I had asked Ms. Basman and Ms. Webster about the CBSA side. I didn't really have the time to follow up with Mr. Bellegarde, so I'd like to follow up with him now.
On the resource side, as Ms. Lahaie testified, for complaints in Inuktitut-speaking communities in the north, for example, the commission does not have the resources to provide those supports in Inuktitut.
How important is it that this commission be adequately resourced? For example, when it comes to indigenous communities where there may be a language like Inuktitut where the investigator would be much better off having that language, how important is it to ensure indigenous representation within the new commission and support for indigenous languages with adequate resources?
I think it's critical. Again, it speaks to the question of accessibility, respect for the process and trust in the process.
In northern Saskatchewan there was something called a Cree court, where the judge addressed the defendants in Cree. The interpreter was there for the RCMP and for the defence lawyers. This really assisted the individual communities to have a trust in the system, so I think it's critical.
In Saskatchewan, northern Ontario and Alberta, Cree is one of the main ones, as well as Dene. We have others besides Inuktitut.
There are people in the communities who are working as justice officers or justice advocates when they have tribal councils, supporting them in the north, so I think the infrastructure is there. The question for the commission is how best to use that infrastructure to have a mutually agreeable way of dealing with public complaints so that the advocates, the complainants themselves and the commission, at the end of the day have a really solid relationship built on language, if you want to call it that.
Absolutely, we do need consideration. There are 68 first nations languages in the country. Not all of them are required, of course, but for those who need them, we're going to have to find a way to provide them.
That brings this panel to a close.
I would like to thank the witnesses.
You've been most helpful. I appreciate your time and your expertise. On behalf of the committee, I thank you.
To the members of the committee, I would remind you that we are trying to get in as many amendments as are reasonable by the end of day Tuesday. There may well be additional amendments that flow from our Tuesday meeting, but the more we can get and the sooner we can get them, the better we can get the context of what we are working with.
We are adjourned.