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Liberals hear from critics of RCMP labour bill, hint at changes

Treasury Board President Scott Brison (left) speaks with Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Ralph Goodale before appearing before the National Security and Defence Committee in Ottawa, on Monday, June 6, 2016.
Treasury Board President Scott Brison (left) speaks with Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Ralph Goodale before appearing before the National Security and Defence Committee in Ottawa, on Monday, June 6, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA – Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says he will present some ideas within the next couple of days to reassure critics who say a government bill entrenches too much power in the RCMP commissioner’s office.

Goodale told senators on the national defence and security committee Monday he wants to address fears the labour-relations legislation will hobble rank-and-file RCMP members in their dealings with top brass.

READ MORE: RCMP misconduct cases more than double after new process implemented

Sen. Larry Campbell, a former Mountie, is among those expressing concerns the bill would deny RCMP members the right to negotiate how the force handles key issues such as discipline, harassment and equipment requirements.

“The members need some kind of reassurance that these exemptions will be dealt with,” Campbell said Monday. “As far as I can see right now, this table is tilted toward the commissioner.”

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Goodale said he wanted time to think through “some kind of mechanism” — he did not elaborate — that will satisfy those concerns in a constructive way.

But on the whole he defended the legislation as a strong effort to balance the rights of RCMP members with the safety of Canadians.

Last year, the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed the right of RCMP officers to collective bargaining and gave the government time to create a new labour-relations regime.

READ MORE: Updated RCMP code of conduct may include new anti-harassment measures

The Liberals tabled legislation that would make independent, binding arbitration the dispute-resolution process for bargaining impasses, with no right to strike.

A steady stream of witnesses told the committee the regime would exclude too many important issues from the bargaining table — unlike many other collective agreements for police services across Canada.

Critics say festering sores that have plagued the national police force for decades will persist unless members have meaningful input into equipment purchases, staffing levels, grievance processes and the promotion system.

The government legislation is a positive step forward in terms of bargaining rights, but a “highly flawed bill” that fails to respect the Supreme Court’s ruling, said Tom Stamatakis, president of the Canadian Police Association, which speaks for many officers.

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The RCMP remains an “inherently autocratic institution” riddled with favouritism, grudges and vindictiveness, said lawyer Paul Champ, who has represented several Mounties in legal cases.

WATCH: Hundreds of former, current RCMP officers allege gender discrimination, bullying, harassment

Inadequate staffing, equipment and training have been responsible for injuries or deaths to members, said Rae Banwarie, president of the Mounted Police Professional Association of Canada. “We know that police work is inherently dangerous, but we must put processes in place to reduce these risks.”

The RCMP has been rocked by complaints from members — both women and men — about harassment and bullying within the force. New procedures have streamlined the process for addressing conflict, giving supervisors more power to deal with disputes promptly, but some critics fear that has opened the door to abuses.

Banwarie predicted the new system of dealing with harassment will fail just as badly as the previous one. “It is controlled by management, it is not independent and it is not impartial.”

Goodale said he takes the harassment issue seriously and stressed ongoing steps to tackle the problem, including the new measures within the police force, efforts to settle lawsuits and a review to ensure recommendations of the RCMP watchdog have been implemented.

The minister revealed Monday he also plans to appoint a “distinguished Canadian” — or perhaps a panel — to advise him as to whether members truly feel they have effective avenues to express complaints.

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