The West Block Transcript – Episode 37, Season 13

Mercedes Stephenson, The West Block. Global News

Episode 37, Season 13
Sunday, May 26, 2024

Host: Mercedes Stephenson

David Cohen, U.S. Ambassador to Canada
Danny Smyth, President of Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police
Jodie Boudreau, RCMP Deputy Commissioner of Contract and Indigenous Policing

Ottawa Studio

Mercedes Stephenson: A stern warning from 23 American senators sent directly to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

I’m Mercedes Stephenson. The West Block starts now.

The blunt letter from senators on both sides of Washington’s political aisle was crystal clear: up your NATO spending or continue to fail the U.S. and the free world. We get reaction from America’s ambassador to Canada.

And, the latest in our look at the failings within the criminal justice system.

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This week, fail of the effect on public safety. We’ll hear from the deputy commissioner of the RCMP and the head of Canada’s police chiefs.

It was a direct hit. Nearly a quarter of the senators on U.S. Capitol Hill sent a letter with a pointed message to the prime minister, saying we write to urge your government to uphold the commitment agreed to by all NATO allies by increasing defence spending levels to 2 per cent of each country’s GDP. The letter goes on to say the American commitment to NATO is unwavering. But when it comes to friends in Canada, we are concerned and profoundly disappointed that Canada’s most recent projection indicated that it will not reach its 2 per cent commitment this decade, to the detriment of all NATO allies and the free world. Certainly not mincing their words there. The letter was signed by 23 senators, both Democrats and Republicans, including Jeanne Shaheen. We spoke with her about the issue of defence spending at the last Halifax International Security Forum.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat, New Hampshire: “There were plans adopted [00:01:47] by Canada, by all of the NATO allies to try and continue on that trajectory of defence spending in ways that were going to be important. So I look forward to seeing how Canada resolves those issues.”

Mercedes Stephenson: That was six months ago. And with this new letter, it’s clear that she, and many of her fellow senators, feel Canada is not moving fast enough to catch up.

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Joining me now is U.S. Ambassador to Canada, David Cohen. Always a pleasure to have you on, ambassador. Nice to see you.

David Cohen, U.S. Ambassador to Canada: Mercedes, thanks for inviting me back on your air. I always feel gratified that I didn’t screw up so much the last time that you’re willing to have me back.

Mercedes Stephenson: [Chuckles] No, no. I think I’m usually the one who makes the mistakes. You know, it has been a remarkable week in Canada-U.S. defence relations. We saw this letter and what was in it was not necessarily a surprise. It’s a refrain we’ve been hearing from the United States for many years, saying Canada, you need to spend more on defence. It comes in the wake of the Brits announcing that they believe that there should be a 2.5 per cent minimum spend. A lot of our allies, from the Brits to the Australians, are spending significantly more on defence. I’m wondering if the White House shares the view of these U.S. senators that Canada is not doing enough on defence.

David Cohen, U.S. Ambassador to Canada: Well I think the U.S. government position, including the White House, is that Canada needs to spend more money on defence. The threat environment in which we are all functioning today is fundamentally different than it was three years ago, five years ago, 10 years ago. Certainly at the time that the voluntary commitments to spend at least 2 per cent of GDP on defence was originally entered into a decade ago. So there’s just no doubt that Canada needs to spend more. But that’s not just the U.S. government and the White House. I think, I mean Minister Blair believes that. General Eyre believes that. I think that the Canadian cabinet believes that or else it would not have approved the defence policy update that was just entered into. But what you’re seeing here is the lead up to the NATO Summit in a couple of months, in July, in the United States and at the end of 2024, the way projections are looking, Canada will be the only country in NATO that is not spending at least 2 per cent of its GDP on defence and does not have a plan to get there. And that and is very important. So that Canada’s gone—has moved within NATO from being a bit of an outlier to being the outlier in the entire alliance, and I think that that is leading to increased scrutiny and pressure around meeting the NATO threshold. I have said, and it has been reported that somehow this is different than what was in the senators’ letter. I’ll argue that it isn’t different. I mean I have said that the United States government looks at Canada’s defence spending and its defence preparedness on a broader basis than any one single metric. We look at Canada’s ability to respond. We look at the trajectory of Canada’s defence spending. We look at their continued plans to increase defence spending. But that does not mean that Canada’s off the hook after the defence policy update, and I don’t think Canada thinks it should be off the hook. I talked to Minister Blair privately. I listened to him very carefully, publicly. He has been very clear, privately and publicly, that he knows Canada has to do more. He knows there has to be more investments beyond what is in the defence policy update. He has committed, he personally has committed that there will be more spending, and he’s even put a little bit of specificity in that now that was not there before, which is the desire for Canada to get back into the submarine business and to acquire a submarine fleet that he believes that would move Canada to the 2 per cent level, if not more. So there’s even, if I can, the beginning of a plan for how Canada will get to 2 per cent, which is through developing, re-developing a submarine fleet.

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Mercedes Stephenson: And that submarine fleet, which they’ve talked about but they haven’t actually committed to, they’ve said they’re…

David Cohen, U.S. Ambassador to Canada: Yep.

Mercedes Stephenson: Have they told you that they’re going to do that because I wonder if that’s a way to get into AUKUS which we’ve been asking to get involved in.

David Cohen, U.S. Ambassador to Canada: Right. So I don’t think having a submarine fleet is key to Canada becoming engaged with AUKUS. A couple months ago, the AUKUS members put out a statement that actually laid out what countries would have to do if they wanted to participate in AUKUS. And right now, AUKUS isn’t talking about “admitting” additional members, and Canada’s interest in being involved in AUKUS not necessarily to be a member, but the real ask from Canada is they want to be involved in Pillar 2 of AUKUS, which is the technology work, the advanced technology work and they don’t need a submarine fleet to be able to be able to do that technology work.

Mercedes Stephenson: Specifically you’d have to have a nuclear submarine fleet to do some of the other stuff.

David Cohen, U.S. Ambassador to Canada: And Canada argues, and I think they are accurate in arguing that they have technology expertise, developing technology, engineers, scientists that are doing work that would be of value to the AUKUS partnership as part of Pillar 2 and they would like to be in the jargon of the announcement that was made a couple months ago, they would like to be formally invited to do consultations with AUKUS in Pillar 2 that is in this technology space. You don’t need a submarine fleet or a nuclear submarine fleet to be able to do that. But I also think there’s no doubt that by Canada increasing its military spending by Canada not being this single outlier in terms of NATO defence spending by investing in a submarine fleet by continuing to accelerate its investment in NORAD modernization. The steps that it took in Lithuania to upgrade its presence, the commitments that it’s made in Haiti, all of that makes Canada a more credible international partner in all of these defence spaces, including AUKUS.

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Mercedes Stephenson: I do want to ask you about another topic and it’s one where there has been distance, visibly, between the United States president’s position and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s, and that’s the international criminal court, saying that they are seeking arrest warrants to for senior members of the Israeli government as well as senior members of Hamas. Are you disappointed in Canada’s reaction?

Breaking news from Canada and around the world sent to your email, as it happens.

David Cohen, U.S. Ambassador to Canada: So I really don’t like doing this, especially with you, but you at least a little bit understate what Prime Minister Trudeau has done. I mean he has said that Canada respects the court, but he has quite clearly said that you cannot draw equivalence between Hamas and Israel. And I think that’s the fundamental premise in the United States’ position, which is Hamas is a terrorist organization. Hamas invaded Israel. And Hamas inflicted the largest loss of Jewish lives since the Holocaust. And they are not a state. They’re not a nation. They’re a terrorist organization, and to in any way try to make equivalent Hamas to a democratically elected Israeli government of a nation state, whether you agree or disagree with what Israel is doing now to defend itself from a terrorist invasion from Hamas. You always have to go back to that. This is not like Israel being an aggressor. Israel is defending itself from a terrorist attack and to make equivalent the actions of a democratic re-elected government defending itself with an offensive terrorist organization is simply outrageous as the president has said. And I mean I think the president got this right. By the way, the United States has also been consistent over a long period of time in arguing that the ICJ doesn’t even have jurisdiction over Israel, which is something that has not been addressed. So the United States’ position here is clear. It is unequivocal. It does go further than the Canadian government has gone, but I’m going to give you the same answer I give on many things. I’m the United States ambassador to Canada. I’m not an elected official in Canada. It is not my position to tell Canada what to do. Every nation must make its own sovereign determinations about how it wants to position itself. I’m very proud of the way the United States has positioned itself. And I think the United States and the United Kingdom have positioned themselves in the right way on this subject, and it’s up to Canada whether they would like to do the identical thing or whether they would like to do something less than what the United States and the United Kingdom have done.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Ambassador Cohen, thank you so much for joining us today.

David Cohen, U.S. Ambassador to Canada: Thank you for having me.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, continuing our look at Canada’s justice system. We ask if there has been any change for violent repeat offenders who are out on bail.


Mercedes Stephenson: Bail reform is a contentious issue both inside and outside of the criminal justice system. The Liberals introduced a bill in legislation amending it that came into effect earlier this year, but it’s still too early to tell if it’s made any difference. The amendment comes after many cases of those released on bail, re-offending. But this recent case, one of the most heartbreaking, reignited the issue. A baby and two grandparents were killed on an Ontario highway by a suspect who was out on bail, driving the wrong way.

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And to get the point of view about bail and the effect on public safety from the frontlines of policing, we’re joined by the head of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the Winnipeg Police Chief, well one in the same person, Danny Smyth. Thank you so much for joining us today, Chief Smyth.

Danny Smyth, President of Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police: Good morning. Nice to join you.

Mercedes Stephenson: This is obviously a topic that has seized a lot of headlines, a lot of really high profile and terrible cases that we’ve seen unfold lately of violent offences carried out by people who are out on bail. The government has brought in changes to the bail reforms that they’ve made to try to make it stricter. What is happening on the ground right now for frontline police officers when it comes to people who are out on bail and what you’re seeing in terms of the impact on public safety?

Danny Smyth, President of Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police: Well we certainly appreciate the commitment from the government to make those changes to Bill C-48, which, you know, puts a little more reverse onus provision on repeat violent offenders when it comes to bail. And, you know, those changes really only took effect late last year, so, you know, we’re really in a monitoring stage right now to try to see, you know, the judicial system is independent of the police so we trust that, you know, the system will work itself the way it’s supposed to be. From our perspective in policing, we’re just trying to get a good gauge as to whether repeat violent offenders are in fact being released on bail or not. I could tell you from my own experience, in Winnipeg, we see about 20 per cent of those that were arrested for violent offences that are in fact on bail. So that will be something that collectively across the country we’ll really try to watch now.

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Mercedes Stephenson: We hear the term catch and release thrown around a lot. Could you walk us through what that looks like in terms of the practicality on the ground when the police arrest somebody? What happens?

Danny Smyth, President of Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police: Well generally speaking, when someone’s arrested, it’s understood that people have a right to bail, that they’re released, you know, awaiting a trial. So when officers arrest someone, often they’re brought into, you know, into the police station or headquarters. Depending on the offence, it can either be released on an appearance notice or if they need to go in front of a magistrate for bail, that generally happens on the same day. So in many instances, people are released with some type of condition, bail condition within hours of an arrest.

Mercedes Stephenson: When you’re looking at what needs to happen, there’s been some discussion about expanding tighter bail conditions to people who are involved in auto theft. Do you think that the limitation on making it more difficult to get bail, that reverse onus being for those who are violent repeat offenders only is enough or would you like to see that expanded to more categories?

Danny Smyth, President of Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police: You know I think we’ve been very careful about how we’ve positioned ourselves on this. Again, respecting the fact that people have a right to bail, they’re presumed innocent until they have their court proceeding. You know auto theft is a different category. It’s, you know, generally a property offence. You now if there’s a carjacking or something like that, that would be considered a violent offence. So I think, you know, focussing in on repeat violent offenders, it’s not a panacea but I think it’s a good first step and then I think it respects, you know, the rights of an individual as well so that we’re not denying people bail for lesser offences. So, you know, I think, again, we’re monitoring this. You know collectively we’re trying to gather data so that we can see the effects that this provision may have.

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It’s funny, I’m in Vancouver right now and I’m meeting with police chiefs from all across North America right now. Most of the major cities are here and, you know, it’s one of the topics. And our friends down in the States are running into some of the very same things that we’re encountering here in Canada around bail and bail reform requirements.

Mercedes Stephenson: Chief Smyth, we appreciate your time and your insight from what it’s like for officers on the ground and chiefs across this country. Thank you for joining us today.

Danny Smyth, President of Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police: You’re welcome. Thank you.

Mercedes Stephenson: Joining me now with Canada’s national police forces point of view is Deputy RCMP Commissioner Jodie Boudreau.

Thank you so much for joining us today, deputy commissioner. I know that bail and the criminal justice system is something that you are intimately familiar with and your frontline officer’s deal with it all the time. We keep hearing in the headlines about people who are out on bail who are violent repeat offenders committing crimes. What are you seeing from the RCMP point of view and what kind of a public safety threat this creates?

Jodie Boudreau, RCMP Deputy Commissioner of Contract and Indigenous Policing: Thank you, Mercedes. As you are aware, the public, the premiers of the provinces, the whole law enforcement community, including the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police all called for reform to the Bail Act. And that reform took place in January of this year. It was passed and started in January 4th. So we haven’t really been able to come—we don’t really have the stats for the last few months, but I can tell you the serious violent repeat offenders, I think you’ve seen, you know, James Smith Cree Nation, between 2019 and 2022, in the RCMP jurisdiction, 53 per cent of those that committed a homicide were on some form of community release.

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Mercedes Stephenson: When you see this issue, and as you mentioned, it’s not just bail. We talk about bail a lot, but it’s also parole and probation. People have been released back into the community on statutory release or for good behaviour in jail or in prison, which we were talking about last week on the show. There’s concern about those re-offences. I think what people wonder is, why is it if you’re out and you violate your bail, or you are out on probation, or you are out on parole and you violate that, that you just don’t go straight back to jail again.

Jodie Boudreau, RCMP Deputy Commissioner of Contract and Indigenous Policing: Well, I think, Mercedes, there can be many different reasons for that, you know, from small rural detachments that we police to large urban centres. We do share information with all of our law enforcement partners through the CPIC, the Canadian Police Information Computer. I think you’re aware of that. So the information is shared with all of our partners, but although that information gets uploaded in a local detachment, our police service will be aware of the warrant. It isn’t a matter of someone always being available to go out and arrest them. And part of the issue is finding them. You know sometimes bail is revoked. They’re not living where they’re supposed to be living, as happened with James Smith Cree Nation and trying to find the person can be hard sometimes.

Mercedes Stephenson: My understanding is that even if you know where they do live, there’s a special kind of warrant that has to be applied for. It’s not as simple as the police just walking up to the door and knocking to see if someone’s home and arresting them.

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Jodie Boudreau, RCMP Deputy Commissioner of Contract and Indigenous Policing: Yeah, that’s correct. If somebody’s inside a dwelling house, we’re required to get a Feeney warrant to get—to actually enter the house, unless we’re entering under exigent circumstances, you know, such as there’s an event happening at the time in the house. But yeah, we just can’t—we can go apply for a Fenney warrant and we can certainly go into the residence with that warrant to arrest them.

Mercedes Stephenson: What effect do you feel the changes that were made, and I’m not referring to the ones in January to make bail more difficult, but the initial changes that were made by the Liberal government to have more of a default system to providing bail have had on public safety and on crime in Canada?

Jodie Boudreau, RCMP Deputy Commissioner of Contract and Indigenous Policing: I don’t think I can give you a really good answer to that because there are so many different factors. As you see, and you know the changes to decriminalization in British Columbia, changes in Oregon, but I think, you know, a big thing for us is those social supports.

Mercedes Stephenson: What do you think needs to happen going forward when it comes to the criminal justice system from the RCMP perspective to deal with violent, repeat offenders who it seems like are out and continue, and we know this from a number of cases which have been in the headlines recently and over the recent years, to carry out violent offences whether it is intimate partner violence, murder, assault, firearms offences? What do you see as the way forward there?

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Jodie Boudreau, RCMP Deputy Commissioner of Contract and Indigenous Policing: Well I think we need to continue to reform the criminal justice system. This bail reform is one piece of it and we are one piece of the system. I think we need to continue to reform it, but making sure both in custody and out of custody that those social supports are in place. I think everybody would agree there’s a lack of those resources just like there’s a lack of mental health supports. I think until we can start to address some of those issues, I think that’s the only way we can help the criminal justice system because ultimately, it’s about making sure people are safe.

Mercedes Stephenson: RCMP Deputy Commissioner Jodie Boudreau, in charge of contract, policing and Indigenous policing, thank you for taking the time to talk to us today and to lay out the situation as the RCMP is experiencing it.

Jodie Boudreau, RCMP Deputy Commissioner of Contract and Indigenous Policing: Thank you for having me, Mercedes.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, there are political attacks and there is blatant misinformation. When do political barbs go too far?

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Mercedes Stephenson: And now for one last thing…

We’re all on social media all of the time. It’s a powerful tool to communicate, but it’s also vulnerable to disinformation that can spread disguised as legitimate news.

Last week, Conservative MP Brandon Leslie released a video criticizing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. That’s legitimate. But critics say the problem is in how he started it, with fake news headlines that sure looked real, like this one and this one.

Leslie defended his video saying it is clearly satire.

Brandon Leslie, Conservative MP—Portage—Lisgar: “I don’t think anybody thinks that I’m the guy that’s going to break the news the prime minister has resigned. I think Canadians are very smart.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Disinformation expert Marcus Kolga says this approach is new.

Marcus Kolga, DisinfoWatch, Toronto: “This is the—the first instance of this sort of content that I’ve seen produced or published by a member of Parliament in Canada. I’ve not seen anything like this before. It’s pushing the boundaries.”

Mercedes Stephenson: The NDP is demanding the Conservatives apologize. So what’s the line between tongue and cheek political videos and disinformation?

While Leslie admits in the video early on that the headlines aren’t real, it dabbles in an area that our adversaries like Russia, are active in, faking news to try to sell confusion.

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That’s our show for today. Thanks for watching. See you next Sunday.

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