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RCMP's Role and Mandate

Rose pursuant to notice of November 25, 2021:

That he will call the attention of the Senate to the role and mandate of the RCMP, the skills and capabilities required for it to fulfill its role and mandate, and how it should be organized and resourced in the 21st century.

He said: Honourable senators, I appreciate your indulgence at this hour for me to rise on this inquiry. But I want to remind those of you who aren’t particular Order Paper aficionados that this inquiry has been on the Order Paper since March 14 and this is the first day since then that we actually got to this point on the Order Paper, so I want to take full advantage.

I rise on a matter of compelling national interest, one that has special relevance to members of this house, because it has to do with the health, competence and future of a once-great institution. That institution is the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. I speak as a former deputy solicitor general and deputy minister of public security. Also, prior to my appointment to the Senate, I served as the volunteer chair of the National Police Services Advisory Council.

As honourable senators will know, the RCMP was the subject of a recent, scathing report by the Honourable Michel Bastarache, a former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. The report was entitled Broken Dreams, Broken Lives and it makes for harrowing reading.

Justice Bastarache was appointed in 2017 as the independent assessor responsible for adjudicating claims of sexual harassment and assault by more than 3,000 current and former female employees of the RCMP, regular members, civilian members and public servants over a period of more than 30 years. He and his colleagues spent literally hundreds of hours interviewing women whose dreams of a rewarding career as members of an iconic Canadian institution were destroyed by what he calls “. . . a toxic work environment . . .” and an institutional culture that, in his words:

. . . has resulted in incalculable damage to female members of the RCMP as well as those working for the public service.

It is a damning report. According to Justice Bastarache, “The level of violence and sexual assault that was reported was shocking.”

This is not a problem of a few bad apples. It is a systemic problem. He says:

. . . the culture of the RCMP is toxic and tolerates misogyny and homophobia at all ranks and in all provinces and territories.

Justice Bastarache, like others before him — including a distinguished former Auditor General — described a deeply troubled institution whose problems stem from an outdated paramilitary culture, from poor management over many decades and, importantly for this house, a mandate that is simply too large and too heavily oriented to a provincial policing role that is no longer appropriate for a critically important federal organization. It’s too big to succeed.

The RCMP mandate today includes everything from municipal policing, even in large urban areas such as Surrey and Richmond, B.C.; to provincial policing in 8 of 10 provinces and three territories; policing on hundreds of First Nations and responsibility as Canada’s federal police service dealing with everything from organized crime to terrorism to drugs and human smuggling. To that, you can add responsibility for providing forensic and other technical services in support of police agencies across the country.

This is an enormous mandate. Many members of the RCMP will tell you this uniquely comprehensive policing role brings great advantages. They will tell you that time spent chasing police cars on the Trans-Canada Highway is useful training for white-collar investigations of money laundering or online sexual abuse of children. I don’t agree. Many Canadians, especially in Western Canada, see the RCMP as a much-loved symbol of a measured and responsible approach to policing in their communities.

The scarlet coat, the iconic image of the mounted police officer, the rigorous training at Depot in Regina — these are all seen as noteworthy elements of Canadian history and worthy subjects of national pride. Honourable senators, that was the view of the RCMP I grew up with, as I’m sure many of you did, and some of you joined. I not only believe but I know the vast majority of men and women in the RCMP are serving their community and country with honour. It is not the individuals as much as the institution that is often failing Canada today.

Today, we are asking the RCMP and its employees to do the impossible. An increasing number of thoughtful people in the criminal justice world see the RCMP today as an organization that is simply ill-equipped and unprepared to deal with the new challenges to public safety we face in 2021.

Challenges that require new kinds of people, different skills, different training, a different organizational structure and focus and a dramatically different allocation of resources. Is the RCMP in those eight provinces — all but Ontario and Quebec — a province police force or a federal one? Speaking as a former deputy minister of the federal department responsible for the RCMP, I can tell you the answer is never clear. In fact, the RCMP in those eight provinces sees itself as both federal and provincial, something that does nothing to clarify accountability when things go wrong.

Last April, we witnessed a tragic incident in Nova Scotia where 22 people were killed. There are questions over the immediate response and confusion over which level of government — provincial or federal — should be responsible for the subsequent inquiry.

Sadly, experience suggests the RCMP is a provincial force accountable to the provincial Attorney General when that suits the interests of the divisional commander, and a federal force when the advantage tips the other way.

One thing that seems to always be true is that the focus of the organization as a whole is on its traditional policing responsibilities at the provincial level — serving communities, responding to individual problems and dealing with local offences. After all, those eight provinces pay at least 70% of the cost of provincial policing, and in some cases as high as 90%. Many would argue that they should pay the full cost, let alone the bizarre situation of taxpayers in have-not provinces subsidizing police offerings in the other half of the provinces. What all of this means, however, is that in a very real sense, the provinces call the tune for a large part of the policing activity of a $3.5 billion federal organization with over 30,000 employees.

At the same time, the RCMP is widely seen as neglecting its critical federal role, a role that only it can play. Canada’s capacity to deal with 21st century threats such as money laundering, human smuggling, transnational crime, hate crime, illegal immigration and opioid smuggling is, in the minds of most observers, simply inadequate. Something doesn’t add up here. Our national police service is spending most of its efforts on activities the provinces can and should be doing while neglecting the job that only it can do. In summary, the RCMP is both too big to succeed and unfit for its purpose.

Honourable senators, I believe we need to take a look at this. I believe the members of this chamber are well equipped to do what Justice Bastarache recommended, which was to carry out:

. . . an in depth, external and independent review of the organization and future of the RCMP as a federal policing organization.

I’m not suggesting we go over ground already covered all too thoroughly by Justice Bastarache or by the office of previous reports on problems of the RCMP. Rather, I am proposing that we conduct an inquiry into the future of the organization; its role and mandate; how it should be organized and resourced to deliver on what we see as an appropriate role and an appropriate mandate for the 21st century; the skills and other capabilities required to be an effective national police force; related issues of recruitment, training and development; and any other issues that, in the view of the honourable senators, are relevant to the affirmation and renewal of a great national institution.

There should be no doubt in the mind of any Canadian that a vital national institution that we’ve all been brought up to admire and respect has serious problems that require rigorous examination, public debate and an openness by the government to consider significant change. Again, in the words of Justice Bastarache:

. . . the time has come for an in depth, external and independent review of the organization and future of the RCMP as a federal policing organization.

Honourable senators, this is a job we can do. It is a job where we have within our ranks the experience, knowledge and judgment to carry out this vital role both expertly and responsibly. We can even do it efficiently. I’ve always believed that one of the essential responsibilities of this legislative body is the care of Canada’s national institutions. We can exercise that duty in a relatively non-partisan way. We can bring a national perspective to national concerns.

The RCMP is too important a Canadian institution to be ignored at this critical juncture in its history. I am therefore suggesting the creation of a special Senate committee to inquire into the future of the RCMP with membership to be determined after consultation with all groups in this chamber. I hope that this inquiry can spark some Senate interest and urge senators who have an interest in this matter to speak so in the future of this inquiry’s discussions. Thank you.