Speeches | Second Reading of my Enhancement of Civilian Review and Oversight in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Bill

19 June 2015

Hon. Grant Mitchell moved second reading of Bill S-232, An Act to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act (Civilian Review and Oversight Council for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Ombudsperson) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

He said: Mr. Speaker and colleagues, this bill is Bill S-232 and it's entitled An Act to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act (Civilian Review and Oversight Council for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Royal Canadian Mounted Police Ombudsperson) and to make consequential amendments to other acts. The short title is Enhancement of Civilian Review and Oversight in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Bill.

I did not develop this bill alone and I want to thank my staff very much and, in particular, I would also thank the staff of the parliamentary counsel's office. They have done yeoman's service and unbelievable work to get this done in what is the most hectic period of time for their work.

This piece of legislation is the culmination of what would now amount to almost four years or three and a half years of work. In December 2011, when the new commissioner, Commissioner Paulson, was called before the Defence Committee, I asked him several questions about sexual harassment and harassment in the RCMP because there had been much information about that coming out in the press. All of a sudden I received a great number of calls from people who had been severely injured in the RCMP, many of them extremely severely, due to sexual harassment and harassment.

I pursued that issue for a number of months, as we do in the Senate with issues that capture our attention. Eventually I ran out of options in trying to get a study, so I moved a motion in the Senate requesting that the Senate ask the committee to do a study of sexual harassment.

I moved that motion in spite of not believing for one minute that it would be accepted, since it was an opposition motion about something that the chair of the committee disagreed with, but in what could only be described as miraculous and what should be described as giving a great deal of credit to the government side, the government side came to the opposition side, my side, and said, "We would like to support that motion. We would like to have a study of sexual harassment done by the Defence Committee," and that was passed.

As a result, and under the leadership of a great chair, Senator Lang, and a great deputy chair, Senator Roméo Dallaire — now retired, sadly — the committee produced a consensus report entitled Conduct Becoming: Why the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Must Transform its Culture. This report addressed in specific terms the need to change the RCMP at a cultural level. This kind of behaviour isn't in every corner of the RCMP by any means, but was clearly of consequence and significance, and certainly somewhat widespread — that's been acknowledged both by the minister and by the commissioner.

In this report, the committee dealt with ways to fundamentally restructure change and improve the culture of the RCMP so it could be a safe place within its structure for women, in particular, but men also, to work without fearing and suffering the consequences of harassment.

That report was well-received and to some extent has had an impact on the RCMP, and there seems to have been some initiative that arose out of that. But there was also more to be done and in those days I joined with the member of Parliament, the Honourable Judy Sgro, and we produced a further report after meeting with the injured and their families across the country. We did a series of roundtables to get that side of the story out and addressed. We produced a report in December 2014 entitled Shattered Dreams: Addressing Harassment and Systemic Discontent within the RCMP.

This report came also with a number of recommendations, including, for example, the need to establish a binding problem-resolution grievance process that exists outside the independence of the chain of command; establishing a national psychologically healthy workplace strategy with sufficient resources to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder and operational stress injuries; to develop resource-sharing arrangements among the Canadian Forces and other policing organizations for operations stress injury prevention — I could go on.

What's encouraging is that the Veterans Affairs Committee has now begun to address these issues largely in the context of the military but also, and explicitly, with respect to veterans of the RCMP. There is probably a need to address the issues of operational stress injury and post-traumatic stress injuries with other first responders, because it's becoming more evident, for example, that firefighters and paramedics are beginning to realize that they, too, suffer from operational stress injuries.

I want to congratulate the Veterans Affairs Committee that has done work on the vets, the military and the RCMP sides, and has made a commitment to further that work with respect to the RCMP. That's to be encouraged and to be welcomed.

It's out of that kind of context that this piece of legislation came. One of the recommendations that MP Sgro and I made in our report was that there be established formal civilian oversight of the RCMP, which, apart from doing federal policing, does great deal of municipal policing. I'm looking at Senator Tkachuk and there's a good deal of it done by the RCMP in his province. They are a remarkable force, made up of remarkable people who have served this country in remarkable ways over many decades.

However, there is this blight that needs to be addressed. We found out, with the concerns of the military, and they've re-emerged, but in the revolutionizing, if I could say, of the military following the Somalia catharsis, the military found a great deal of use and effectiveness in establishing outside, not military but public membership-driven review bodies that helped them make a transformation that now needs to be recalibrated, yes, but certainly helped them make a transformation.

What I did for this bill was to look at police commissions for major police forces across the country. In my city of Edmonton, where I live, it's clear that there has been a successful police commission; in Calgary, as well. Most major police forces across the country have independent review public oversight commissions that assist the police chief and the police force, first, in limiting the pressure that could come from politicians, which is something we want to limit when it comes to policing, while at the same time providing objective oversight.

I want to draw the distinction here between "oversight" and "review." These are terms that are often used interchangeably and they shouldn't be. "Oversight" is more proactive, more managerial, not quite day-to-day but more a board of directors kind of assistance for, in this case, a police force. "Review" is after the fact, looking at complaints, identifying problems once they've occurred and trying to recommend fixes for the future. This is an oversight body that I am talking about. That's the first thing that's in this legislation.

The second thing would be the review function, which would be done by a Royal Canadian Mounted Police ombudsperson.

I will describe what this bill would accomplish and what it would do once it's passed by this house and then by the House of Commons. It would, I believe, make a huge difference to how the RCMP could function, how it could begin to change its culture more rapidly than it's been able to do to this point, and how it could function, I would argue, even better than it already does and function under a structure that has become very traditional — if I can use "traditional" in modern police forces — which has become very widespread in the management of police forces.

The first part of the act will establish a council known as the civilian review and oversight council for the RCMP, not to be confused with the Civilian Review Complaints Commission which already exists and which does after-the-fact reviews and perhaps some proactive policy or issue reviews.

The council will consist of a chairperson, a vice-chair person and not more than 11 other members to be appointed by the Governor-in-Council. The objects of the council would be to review and oversee, in an independent manner, the operations of the force in order to enhance its effectiveness and efficiency, and provide an essential balance between public accountability and police independence.

Selection for the council would first need to be pre-approved by the committees of the Senate and the House of Commons that approve matters with respect to the RCMP — so our Defence Committee and their counterpart.

Selection must also consider regional representation.

The powers of the council would include reviewing draft budgets and other financial reports and statements of the force; monitoring the allocation and expenditure of funds by the force; reviewing the planning, development and implementation of the strategic priorities and plans of the force; reviewing programs and initiatives of the force and their implementation by the force — "the force," of course, being the RCMP — reviewing existing and proposed amendments to policies, procedures, guidelines or practices of the force; overseeing any internal audit of the force; and conducting studies of any matter relating to the operations of the force.

The council must provide reports to the minister, including recommendations, and a report to Parliament at least once per year under the provisions of this bill.

The council would have access to any information in possession of the force with the exception of attorney-client privilege or items of national security designation. That's the review and oversight council or commission for the RCMP.

The second feature of this bill is an ombudsperson. The Governor-in-Council would appoint the ombudsperson after the approval of the House of Commons and the Senate — the respective committees that I mentioned earlier. The ombudsperson would employ employees and services necessary to fulfill his or her function. The mandate of this position would be to, first, act as a neutral and objective mediator, intervenor, investigator and reporter on matters related to the force to ensure that individuals are treated in a fair and equitable manner; second, contribute to a substantial and long-lasting improvements in the welfare of members and civilian employees of the force; third, identify and review emerging and systemic issues relating to the force that affect members, former members or former civilian employees of the force either individually or as a group; fourth, assist members, former members, civilian employees or former employees of the force in accessing existing channels of assistance and redress within the force; and, fifth, facilitate access of members, former members, civilian employees or former civilian employees of the force to programs and services by providing them with information and referrals.

There are limits to what the ombudsperson would be able to investigate, for example, decisions by a province. His or her powers could be delegated. The ombudsperson would be independent of rank and level within the force and would report directly to and would be accountable to the minister.

Complaints to the ombudsperson can be made by current and/or former members and civilian employees, those applying to become either and persons acting on behalf of an individual. The ombudsperson can begin a complaint of their own initiative. If they do not investigate a complaint, a rationale must be provided to the complainant.

A complainant must first lodge their complaint with the applicable complaint mechanism available under existing legislation. If an investigation is launched, the ombudsperson must inform the commissioner, the provincial minister, the federal minister, et cetera. Complaints must be completed within public service standard time limits.

The ombudsperson can hold hearings during an investigation. The ombudsperson may obtain any document or information that is relevant to the investigation. The ombudsperson may summon and examine any person they like after investigation —

(Debate suspended due to adjournment. Speech continued at next sitting of the Senate.)

Hon. Grant Mitchell: Thank you all very much. I appreciate that. I actually have two bills to speak to. One I just have to finish a little bit, just moments, under Senate Public Bills, Second Reading, and it happens that I presented Bill S-232, which was the bill that would establish a civilian review and oversight council for the RCMP, as well as an ombudsperson. I know it will come as a surprise to my colleagues that while I am usually precise almost to the second in the way I present and speak, I managed to be maybe 30 seconds short for the 4 p.m. deadline, so I have to finish my speech on that, and I may overlap a little bit so Hansard can know where I was and where I'm going on that.

I was listing what the ombudsperson would do and, at this point in the list, the ombudsperson may summon and examine any person they like. Further, after investigation, the ombudsperson can recommend that: one, an issue be referred to an authority for future consideration; two, an act be remedied; three, an omission or delay be rectified; four, a decision be cancelled; five, that reasons be given for a decision or an action on a certain issue; six, that a practice or procedure be altered; seven, that an enactment or other rule of law be considered; and, eight, could recommend any other measure.

Further, the recommendations are not binding. If the ombudsperson feels that the matter has not been adequately dealt with, the ombudsperson may submit a report to the minister; and, finally, the ombudsperson must provide a report to Parliament once a year, a copy of which may be tabled in each house.

The third major section of this bill, after establishing the civilian review and oversight council for the RCMP, after creating an RCMP ombudsperson's position, is simply to make consequential and related amendments to other acts.

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