Presentation to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security

Ottawa - 2010-04-15

Delivered by Ian McPhail, Interim Chair of the CPC

Check Against Delivery

Mr Chairman, I would like to thank the Committee for being given the opportunity to appear here today. I'm joined by Helen Banulescu, Executive Director, and Kevin Brosseau, Senior Director, Operations, of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP.

I will keep my opening remarks brief. Given this is my first appearance before this committee I would like to talk about my professional background, the work of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP and my vision for the organization as we move forward towards a strengthened mandate.

Most of you may know little about me beyond a media outlet's description of me as being a "real estate lawyer."

It's true that I run my own law practice which does, amongst other things, include real estate law. I've been a practicing lawyer for 30 years.

While it's not normally in my nature to talk about my own accomplishments, my colleagues at the Complaints Commission have insisted I push my Scottish reticence to the backburner on this occasion.

I was brought up in a family strongly committed to public service.

Some family members went the route of elected office as liberals, tories and CCF.

My grandfather was elected mayor of Sault Ste. Marie. His cousin was the first female member of the House of Commons – Agnes Macphail – representing the old CCF party of Tommy Douglas.

My path has taken me towards service to community. More specifically, with the Toronto Chinese Community Services Association, the Cabbagetown South Residents Association and the Toronto Grace Hospital.

What is probably of greater relevance in terms of my new appointment is my experience running government agencies.

I spent 6 years as chair or acting chair at three Ontario Agencies – the Environmental Review Tribunal, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission, and TV Ontario.

I am very proud of the work we accomplished at each agency. I believe I brought solid leadership to each organization. For example, I made greater public participation and access to Environmental Review Tribunals a key priority during my three-year tenure there.

I was honoured to have been approached for the post of part-time Complaints Commission Vice Chair  – and acting Chair.

My motivation in accepting the position was based on being asked to help a key organization transition to a new mandate. I am fortunate in that I have inherited a very strong team at the Commission – which is a testament to my predecessor. I have an experienced staff of investigators, lawyers and analysts with backgrounds in law enforcement, public security, public service and the private sector.

To state the obvious, the RCMP has had a challenging past few years. The Commission for its part has been forthright in identifying deficiencies – be they institutional or individual.

As an independent review body and informed interlocutor, we are uniquely positioned to bring a vital perspective to national policing issues.

Taser use and 'police investigating the police' are two such topics.

When we are accused of being too soft on the RCMP by some critics, and being too critical by the RCMP Commissioner, we know we probably have it about right.

That said, despite how the media may on occasion portray the relationship between the Complaints Commission and RCMP, as hard-hitting as some of our reports may have been, the RCMP has in fact accepted the vast majority of our findings and recommendations.

The Commission, for its part, is proud of its record of fairness and impartiality. Without both, we could not do our job effectively.

I believe it is fair to say that we can all agree that public trust is the keystone to the effectiveness of any police force in the world. Commissioner Elliott has reiterated this very point on many occasions – as have my predecessors.

How does the CPC help the RCMP with gaining the trust of the Canadian public you may ask?

When I spoke to a large gathering of Alberta-based RCMP members several weeks ago, it was clear to me that from the Commissioner on down, the RCMP shares the perspective that strengthened oversight is essential to RCMP credibility.

In terms of my vision for the CPC in the short term, it is simple: I want to consolidate the excellent work of my predecessor by maintaining strict service standards in response times to complaints and reviews.

I want to strengthen the complaints and review processes and I want to make it easier for citizens to access the system. My longer term vision is to ensure that the CPC as an organization is prepared for the change to a new mandate.

There is another important objective I have as acting chair, and that is to ensure that the working relationship between the CPC and the RCMP rests on a solid foundation of mutual respect and trust.

There will be occasions where we will just have to agree to disagree. We have our mandate and we will fulfill it on behalf of all Canadians.

In terms of the future, as has been consistently recommended by CPC chairs over the years, by the O'Connor Commission, the Brown Task Force and several House and Senate Committees, including this one, the creation of a new oversight regime now appears imminent. I will speak to some of the key areas which I believe have to be addressed in a new oversight mandate.

Before I do that, I would like to state that I believe the RCMP is an institution vital to the safety and well-being of Canadians across this land.

Canadians want the RCMP to succeed. As acting Chair I am optimistic that a strengthened oversight mandate will indeed help address what Commissioner Elliott has referred to as the RCMP's "credibility challenge."

As the Auditor General so eloquently put it in 2003, it is critical to "ensure that agencies exercising intrusive powers are subject to levels of external review and disclosure proportionate to the level of intrusion". No where is this more important than when talking about policing.

With regards to new legislation and the bottom line requirements for effective review and oversight, there are five points I wish to leave you with:

Access to information – Under the current model, the RCMP Commissioner may deny information relevant to a Complaint. The Commission must be able to determine what information it requires and be able to access it 'as of right.'

Self-initiated review authority – The current model is a reactive one, driven by complaints. The Commission should have the authority to undertake reviews of RCMP conduct, policies and procedures on its own initiative whenever a broader issue deserving of such scrutiny comes to light.

Ability to work cooperatively with other agencies The Commission should be able to share information and reports with provincial ministers and the Commission's provincial counterparts or other similar bodies when relevant. It should have the authority to conduct joint investigations, inquiries, reviews or hearings where circumstances warrant.

Control over the complaint process. The Commission should have stewardship over the intake of complaints and review requests. The Commission should have the authority to impose reasonable time limits on complaints and reviews.

Improved powers of inquiry. The Commission should be able to summon witnesses, enforce appearances, compel oral and written evidence, and examine and retain copies of information without having to call a full-blown inquiry.

And with that Mr. Chairman, I would be pleased to respond to any questions committee members may have.

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