‘If Kevin Vickers were here, he would not let this happen’: May

By TIM NAUMETZ | The Hill Times

PARLIAMENT HILL—A government plan to put the RCMP in command of a unified Commons and Senate security service came under heightened scrutiny on Thursday, with Green Party Leader Elizabeth May saying the national police force should stay out of internal Parliamentary affairs, and that the Parliamentary Protective Services should even replace the Mounties providing security and policing grounds around the Parliamentary Buildings.

Ms. May (Saanich-Gulf Islands, B.C.) became the second MP to publicly state that former Commons Sgt.-at-Arms Kevin Vickers would have opposed the plan, and Ms. May also questioned the timing of the government’s recent appointment of Mr. Vickers to the post of Canada’s ambassador to Ireland in the midst of the plan to radically alter the command chain for the three security forces on Parliament Hill following a rifle-wielding gunman’s attack on Parliament on Oct. 22, 2014.

NDP MP Yvon Godin (Acadie-Bathurst, N.B.), a former member of the Procedure and House Affairs Committee, which has dealt extensively with reviews of the House and Parliamentary security systems since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States, told The Hill Times this week that Mr. Vickers had opposed proposals to put a senior RCMP officer in command of the Commons and Senate protective services.

The two services are to be unified into a single Parliamentary Protective Service under a plan worked out last fall by a special advisory group of MPs and Senators that was established in the wake of the attack on Parliament by gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau.

The advisory group, co-chaired by Conservative Sen. Vern White, a former RCMP assistant commissioner, and Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer (Regina-Qu’Appelle, Sask.), announced in November that the MPs and Senators, members of the internal governing committees of each House, had agreed the Senate and Commons security services would be unified, with an “executive” who would “lead’’ the unified services and answer to the Speaker of each House through their respective clerks.

It was not until this week that the government confirmed the commander leading the new service would be an RCMP officer. Chief Government Whip John Duncan (Vancouver Island North, B.C.), who is a Cabinet minister, confirmed the plan through a motion he tabled in the Commons on Wednesday seeking House support for the recommendation.

But the proposal is contentious because of the special government status of the national RCMP force. The commissioner of the RCMP, a Cabinet appointment, reports to Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) and Cabinet through Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney (Levis-Bellechasse, Que.). Mr. Godin and Ms. May argue that placing an RCMP officer in charge of the Parliamentary security service is a threat to the separation of powers between Parliament and the Cabinet executive branch, which controls the government and is accountable to Parliament for government actions.

A Parliament Hill source, who had worked with Mr. Vickers through the eight years he served as sergeant-at-arms in charge of the Commons security force when Mr. Harper appointed him to the post, told The Hill Times on Thursday that Mr. Vickers not only opposed proposals that the House and Commons services come under a single command led by the RCMP, but also strongly believed that the Parliamentary security services should also be in charge of policing the grounds outside the Parliament Buildings.

Ms. May said she agrees with that position.

“Absolutely, if we’re looking at who should control Parliament Hill, the RCMP doesn’t really belong here nearly as much as the House and Senate security team. They are the ones who should be rewarded and promoted based on their response on the day. It doesn’t make sense to put the RCMP in charge,’’ Ms. May told The Hill Times.

“I do believe that if our sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers were here, he would not let this happen,’’ Ms. May said in a separate interview.

Asked whether she believes that’s why Mr. Harper appointed Mr. Vickers to the post of Canadian ambassador to Ireland on Jan. 19, 2014, Ms. May replied: “I think he has every qualification to be an ambassador, but the timing is certainly convenient if they didn’t want him weighing in on this debate.’’

“There is a division between Parliamentary process and government process,’’ Ms. May said. “Whether it may seem like a small division to the average Canadian, whether Parliament is run by a government, or, whether the government reports to Parliament, the principle matters. Government reports to Parliament. Mr. Harper reports to Parliament. He cannot take over Parliamentary security without raising some serious questions about the independence of parliament.’’

Mr. Vickers is a former RCMP superintendent. His successor in the House of Commons, acting Sergeant at Arms Patrick McDonnell, is a former RCMP assistant commissioner. The current head of the Senate security service, Mike McDonald, is also a former RCMP officer. Both of the former Mounties have extensive and senior experience in protective operations and security.

The new overall commander of the two forces will be a serving member of the RCMP.

Although the proposal to establish the new position stipulates that the officer in charge would answer to the Commons and Senate Speakers, through their chief clerks, the RCMP officer would still be part of a command chain in the RCMP, whose head reports to Cabinet.

Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau breached an RCMP security perimeter on the grounds of Parliament Hill a few minutes after he shot and killed reserve soldier Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, who was on sentry duty at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier adjacent to the First World War era National War Memorial across Wellington Street from Parliament’s East Block.

Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau forced a chauffeur out of a ministerial sedan beside the East Block, drove it to the Centre Block, jumped out and pushed his way his way through Parliament’s Centre Block main doors before an RCMP patrol car could catch up to the sedan Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau had hijacked.

Liberal MPs indicated on Thursday that the Liberal party will likely not oppose the plan to put the RCMP in command of the new unified Parliamentary service. Liberal House Leader Dominic LeBlanc (Beauséjour, N.B.), and one of the party’s most experienced MPs who is also close to party leader Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.), was the Commons Liberal representative on the joint Senate and Commons advisory group that came up with the plan.

Liberal MP Wayne Easter (Malpeque, P.E.I.) and Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux (Winnipeg North, Man.) told The Hill Times that Parliament should rely on security experts, who were likely consulted by the advisory group.

“I haven’t really had a look at it, in terms of the constitutional implications as such,’’ said Mr. Easter, a former solicitor general who was responsible for the RCMP. “I think when it comes to security, the advice of the experts, the people who are in the security business, is what’s absolutely critical.

“My view on this all along is to bring the best people in place that we can find in terms of security. One of the problems we all realize is you can’t have three or four silos in operation, city police, RCMP, inside the Senate and House of Commons. You do need a more unified command and control structure in terms of operations. However that is put together, I don’t know,’’ said Mr. Easter.

Mr. Lamoureux, the party’s deputy House leader, said the Commons should follow the advice of security experts: “What I do know is that I’m not a security expert and I think it behooves us to be very careful, don’t pass any judgments and listen to what the experts have to say on the issue.’’

NDP House Leader Peter Julian was unavailable for comment on Thursday, but NDP MP Randall Garrison (Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca, B.C.) said the party position remains that the Parliamentary security forces should be unified, while the independence of Parliament is maintained.

“I haven’t had a chance to look at it and I don’t have a personal position on it, but we’ve said all along that we need a unified security force that reports to the House of Commons and we have to make sure that that long tradition of having independence of what goes on here is protected,’’ said Mr. Garrison.

An encounter between and NDP MP and one of the new RCMP officers who has been assigned to the Parliament Hill grounds security detail likely undermined arguments that the national police force should be given more authority in Parliament.

NDP MP Francois Lapointe (Montmagny-L’Islet-Kamouraska-Rivière du Loup, Que.) accused the officer of violating his Parliamentary privilege after the officer refused to let him into Parliament through the Senate’s main entrance because Mr. Lapointe did not have his green MP lapel badge showing. The officer, assigned to check IDs outside the Senate entrance, did not recognize Mr. Lapointe, and Mr. Lapointe told the Commons the officer refused to ask the Senate security officers inside the door entrance to verify his identity.

Last fall, after the October attack, Mr. Godin alleged an RCMP officer had violated his privilege when he delayed Mr. Godin at a Mountie checkpoint on the west side of Parliament Hill, because a dignitary motorcade was about to leave the Centre Block to drive through the entrance. A committee report on Mr. Godin’s allegations has been delayed.

Meanwhile, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, in an internal email obtained by CBC News, told the Mounties that he’s only had preliminary discussions about the RCMP heading up security on Parliament Hill, despite the government’s announcement on Tuesday to ask the RCMP to take the lead.

“While I have been engaged in some preliminary discussions with officials, I must write to you today to caution that there are a lot of steps to be taken before this becomes a reality,” Mr. Paulson wrote. “More importantly, I must ask the we all refrain from speculating about what this may mean, or the form this may take.”