Thank you so much, Mr. Chair, and members of the committee.
First of all, I'd like to thank you all for your ongoing examination of benefits afforded our serving and retired members of the RCMP who have been injured on duty and for your invitation to be here today.
As the chair noted, I'm deputy commissioner Dan Dubeau. I'm here in my role as chief human resources officer. Steve is here in his role as assistant commissioner and assistant CHRO, but also as our national mental health champion, and Mr. Lebrun is here in the role of director general, national compensation services, which takes care of all our compensation benefits administered through VAC.
As Canada's national police force, the RCMP provides front-line policing services at the municipal, provincial, territorial and international levels, working in urban, rural and remote locations.
In many communities the RCMP is the primary and at times the only first responder. RCMP members are called upon to respond to a variety of situations, including criminal incidents, traffic accidents, fires, medical emergencies, and search and rescue efforts. By virtue of their duties, our members are continuously engaged in police operations and are regularly exposed to a multitude of hazards, including physical, chemical, biological, and psychological hazards that put them at risk for various occupational injuries and diseases.
These injuries may manifest themselves in the form of hearing deficiencies, operational stress injuries, and musculoskeletal injuries such as back and knee injuries. These injuries are attributed to, for the most part, hazardous occurrences resulting from assaults and violent acts from members of the public, falls, lifting and exertion, motor vehicle accidents, training-related accidents, and exposure to harmful substances and environments.
In this regard, based on Veterans Affairs Canada statistics for 2014 to 2016, the top four medical disabilities for RCMP clients are hearing loss, tinnitus, PTSD, and lumbar disc disease.
Furthermore, the RCMP has since undertaken an in-depth analysis of incidents causing injuries to its members. One of the tangible actions resulting from this analysis was the implementation of a risk-prevention program.
It is therefore an area of primary concern for the RCMP in our efforts to support the health and well-being of our members and to address this complex issue.
Our work is focused on prevention as well as providing support for members who are injured. In this regard, since the launch of its mental health strategy in 2014, the RCMP has undertaken considerable work to reduce stigma around mental health and to implement concrete strategies to promote wellness within its workplace.
At the core of our efforts, we continue to rely on our mental health champions, identified nationally, Stephen White, and in every division. Since appointed in July 2014, they have become leaders and supporters for rolling out national initiatives, for providing consistency, and for implementing local activities to respond to their distinct needs. Our approach of leading from the top and ensuring commitment and engagement from senior leaders demonstrates to employees that mental health is a key priority for this organization.
The RCMP recognizes that when its members fall ill or are injured, case management activities must take into account the very specific physical and psychological demands of police work as well as the variable nature of the policing environment. RCMP officers must regain a physical and psychological level of function that exceeds what is required for most members of the public. In this regard, under Assistant Commissioner White's leadership, the RCMP is investing in an enhanced disability management program for its members.
The program reflects industry practices in disability management, and in particular, a focus on early intervention activities to support members in their recovery and maintain their connection to the workplace. Once fully implemented in April 2017, this program will be supported by 30 disability management advisers across the force who will work proactively with members, supervisors, and divisional occupational health teams to coordinate support for early intervention and the return-to-work and accommodation planning process.
The RCMP is also in the process of acquiring disability case management and business intelligence software that will support case management activities in accordance with privacy requirements. This software will also provide ongoing program evaluation and trends analysis. This will inform prevention and wellness activities to support members' health.
For serving members and former members with an operational stress injury, Veterans Affairs Canada provides assessment, treatment, and support services through operational stress injury clinics. The RCMP has also entered into a partnership with the Department of National Defence so that the RCMP may access a DND network of clinics called operational trauma and stress support centres.
Former RCMP members who have an operational stress injury, or OSI, can access the network of operational trauma and stress support centres of Veterans Affairs Canada. RCMP members also have access to the assistance services of Veterans Affairs, which provides mental health services 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Furthermore, VAC offers a wide variety of programs of choice to former RCMP members, such as aids for daily living, dental services, medical services, medical supplies, occupational therapy, and psychological counselling, just to name a few.
On June 7, 2016, the Veterans Ombudsman released a report entitled “Supporting Ill and Injured RCMP Members and their Families: A Review”. This report contains an extensive list of benefits currently available to our serving members, our veterans, and our RCMP families. In addition to identifying the full spectrum of currently available services, the ombudsman indicated that, according to his projections, over the next five years the number of serving and discharged VAC RCMP clients is expected to increase by 20% and the number of RCMP members' survivors is expected to almost double. We thank the ombudsman for shedding additional light on the evolving needs of our RCMP veteran population.
In addition, the ombudsman stated in a press release, “Working conditions for RCMP members can be extremely challenging, and often dangerous. This can result in physical and psychological injuries, illness or death.”
In other words, our members, contrary to those of other agencies, are continuously deployed throughout their service, and that increases the risk of workplace accidents.
The ombudsman's report allows us to better identify the gaps between the services currently available and the needs of our serving members, our veterans, and their families. We have begun this review and we are working in close collaboration with our colleagues at Veterans Affairs Canada to determine whether changes need to be made to the support and services provided to RCMP members, veterans, and families.
The RCMP has also engaged its veterans' association in assessing the current service offering and to ensure that the needs of RCMP veterans are met. The RCMP has established an advisory committee with our veterans, and they have already begun identifying their priorities. Our veterans are closely examining how the recent mandate letters from our Prime Minister to the ministers of Veterans Affairs, Public Safety and National Defence affect them, and together we are identifying how we can best recognize the sacrifice made by our first responders and our veterans.
In addition, for our serving members, the RCMP's occupational health services offer a broad range of workplace health-related services that contribute to a safe and healthy workplace. These services are delivered by a team of professionals, which includes physicians who are our health services officers, psychologists, and nurses. This multidisciplinary team contributes to health evaluations of our members, participates in disability case management, and supports service delivery of our programs that have a health component. The health services officers and psychologists support the professional services in their respective scope of practice, including the review of medical information and acting as liaison with community providers when external examinations are required or with a member's own caregiver when health information is required in regard to the administration of occupational health programs.
With respect to health evaluations, the periodic health assessment is first conducted at the recruitment stage, and then at specific intervals, ranging from yearly for high-risk positions to every three years. These assessments are conducted to ensure a member is medically and mentally fit to safely perform his or her duty in a capable manner without harm to himself or herself or undue risk to other members and the public. Other health assessments are conducted in relation to specific assignments or as part of the disability case management process. The health services officer provides recommendations with respect to a member's medical fitness for duty and may include limitations and restrictions, in addition to providing return-to-work planning and input into the accommodation process.
While our psychologists actively contribute to the disability management process, they also proceed with follow-up and requests for employer-mandated psychological assessments, and are involved in determining accommodation needs when return to work is planned.
RCMP psychologists provide oversight on all psychological services provided to members by external providers. Finally, they are at the forefront of the post-critical incident debriefings and interventions.
The RCMP is continually trying to improve its programs and activities in order to reduce the incidence of mental illness and injury among its members, and to mitigate the harmful effects on their families and on police operations.
As an employer, the RCMP needs to know how it can mitigate and reduce operational stress injuries. In this regard, the RCMP is proposing a longitudinal research study that will examine the primary mental health diagnoses impacting our members, identify the root causes and competing organizational factors, and evaluate the effectiveness of evidence-based interventions.
This approach will allow the RCMP as an employer to identify areas within its sphere of influence and control, to adopt strategic and targeted interventions with the maximum potential to meaningfully and positively mitigate the contributing factors to PTSD and associated mental health conditions impacting our officers. I dare say when RCMP officers do fall ill or injured, it is critical for their recovery.
That means doing everything reasonable to help the officer recover and remain at work or return to duty as soon as it is safe to do so. This is not an easy task. Case management activities for RCMP members must take into account the very specific physical and psychological demands of our work as well as the variable nature of the complete environment. Police officers must regain a physical and psychological level of functioning that exceeds that required of most members of the public. Strong occupational health and case management activities are therefore required to support their recovery.
To support this goal, we are enhancing our disability case management activities, which are critical to supporting members' recovery and return to work. A primary focus of our efforts will be on early intervention. We want to reach out to our members early on to ensure they are able to access services, that we maintain a member's connection to our workplace, and that we facilitate the appropriate exchange of information required to accommodate a member's ability to remain at or return to work as soon as it is safe to do so.
Finally, we are in the early stages of assessing general duty constable tasks for hazard exposure, with the intent of identifying corrective measures to mitigate and eliminate those hazards, where possible. We have implemented the national standard of Canada for psychological health and safety in the workplace in our health and safety program. This standard includes psychological health and safety hazards in the workplace.
Prevention, support, and care are key to supporting our workforce. While the RCMP is cognizant of the financial cost of absence, our main focus remains on the human cost. As a police service, we need to ensure our members are healthy and fully operational so that we can deliver on our mandate and keep Canadians safe.
Thank you for this opportunity to participate in your discussions today.
We would be happy to answer your questions.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.