Elizabeth May Report Stage Speech on Bill C-7 (RCMP Unionization)

Mr. Speaker, I will note parenthetically that I would reserve the right to come back to you to argue more substantively on the question of the rights of smaller parties in relation to report stage.

It is very clear, though, as you have outlined, Mr. Speaker, that in this case there had been no direction from the committee to afford an opportunity, one that I would either welcome or resist, to appear before committee as opposed to having this opportunity. In our system of our parliamentary democracy, it is a very fundamental issue that all members of Parliament are equal, and it is our job, as to our abilities and our efforts, to equally contribute to the passage of legislation.

To the matter of Bill C-7, we have before us important legislation to create, for the first time, the ability of RCMP officers to collectively bargain with their employer, to unionize the workforce to have an opportunity to work together as employer and employees to set out how that working relationship would go forward and to give rights to the RCMP officers collectively to bargain.

This should not really just rely on legislation. We go back to the B.C. hospitals case. The Supreme Court of Canada was very clear on this matter, that all workers had the right to collectively bargain, whether they were in a position to form a union or not. In fact, in the B.C. hospitals case, it was made very clear that labour rights were human rights.

Why do I bring forward this very critical amendment? I hope members of Parliament from all sides of the House will give my amendment serious consideration to improve this legislation. The amendments are essentially sub-deletions within a section, therefore they are considered substantive amendments and only a member of Parliament in a party with fewer than 12 MPs at this stage in our proceedings is in a position to put forward this amendment. I hope many members of Parliament from other parties will actually be grateful that we have this one opportunity to improve the legislation substantively before passage.

Here is the problem with the sections that my amendments would delete. They would pre-empt the collective bargaining process to say that the collective agreement could not include conditions relating to “conduct, including harassment”. All I am attempting to do is remove that line, to remove the pre-emptive legislative act of taking out of the hands of collective bargaining the opportunity to ensure that the collective agreement between RCMP officers and their employer has the possibility of provisions to protect the workers from harassment.

I want to stress again that by passing this amendment, the legislation would not insist upon the inclusion in a collective agreement of steps to protect workers from harassment. It would only leave that opportunity open to them through the process of collective agreements.

I am actually baffled that we are even having this conversation in 2016 about the rights of RCMP officers to collectively bargain to protect themselves from harassment. The number of complaints that make their way to the public media are fewer than the ones that actually occur. I am in touch with several RCMP officers who have filed complaints against their superior officers or their colleagues for sexual harassment, but their cases are still private and I will not mention their names. However, I will mention the names of women who have been sexually harassed within the RCMP and have come forward.

It is certainly not news to any member of this place that we have an unacceptable degree of sexual harassment within the RCMP. Far too many fine, well-trained exemplary officers find themselves unable to work in a toxic workplace, file a grievance for sexual harassment, and then find themselves completely alone. They often have to go their doctors who tell tham that they are basically dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, that they cannot go back into that workplace, and they are given notes for sick leave. Officers who could be contributing to putting people behind bars, to helping to take evidence, and to helping to put a case together are home on sick leave while their harassers are at work. There needs to be some rebalancing here.

I refer to the recent case of Corporal Catherine Galliford, which was settled out of court. It was not an internal RCMP sexual harassment complaint, she actually went to court, after years of sexual harassment. She said “What broke me is that I had no one to go to for help”.

That struck me when I was dealing privately with some of the RCMP officers currently involved in internal harassment complaints. I did not realize how grim it was for women within the RCMP when they filed a complaint of sexual harassment. They have no access to a union rep to help them through the process. They have no help in getting a lawyer to protect them and their rights through the process. They are isolated and essentially harassed all over again because they are shunned by other members of the force because they have filed a complaint.

This place has dealt with how we handle issues of sexual harassment within Parliament. We have issues of sexual harassment on university campuses. We are looking at an unacceptable acceptance of misogamy and sexism in various places throughout our society. We have the chance to make one small amendment to Bill C-7, which would give RCMP officers, male or female, the right to have a mechanism in place in a collective agreement to deal with inappropriate conduct within the force.

I do not need to remind members of the evidence, which RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulsen spoke to recently. He said that he really did not need to have it pointed out to him that it was unacceptable for RCMP officers to wander around naked at the office.

Conduct provisions in a collective agreement should be open to the employer and employee to negotiate what level of conduct they can stand, what level of support a victim of harassment, male or female, needs to continue to do his or her job.

Given the extraordinary degree of public awareness of the problem that women in the RCMP face, given the unacceptable conduct in a minority number of cases of men being mistreated within the RCMP, and given that we know the RCMP is one of the finest police agencies on the planet, we want support the RCMP going forward to clean up what many members of the force have referred to as an unacceptable culture, an abusive culture. This legislation is one of the mechanisms to do that.

Why would we as lawmakers pre-empt collective bargaining? As members can see from my amendment, there is no attempt to remove the specific terms or conditions that should go into a collective agreement related to policing. The provisions that would be left in place cover a lot. The collective agreement shall not touch on law enforcement techniques, or transfers from one position to another, or appraisals, or probation, or anything related to carrying out the duties. Anything related to what he or she must do as an RCMP officer cannot be in a collective agreement. I understand why lawmakers would take that stand.

However, why would we remove the possibility of a proper regime to assist any member of the force who needs the support of a union, a lawyer, a counsellor, whatever provisions can be worked into a collective agreement through free, unfettered collective bargaining? Why would we close the door on an RCMP officer’s ability to access collective agreements that would include rules, guidelines, and a framework to deal with harassment?

I want to focus the House’s attention on the fact that this is one single amendment. It is not an attempt to slow down the passage of the bill. It is not vexatious. Using the democracy that exists through the Westminster parliamentary system that allows any member of Parliament to improve legislation at report stage, I invite all of my colleagues, whether they were on committee during clause-by-clause or not, to take a fresh look at the bill in the hope of improving it. Let us ensure that the House speaks with one voice and supports every woman in the RCMP who has ever been harassed. Let us end an abusive culture by giving them real rights in collective bargaining agreements to improve the conduct of the RCMP and end sexism within the RCMP, end an abusive culture once and for all.