An opposition MP has tabled a private member’s bill that clarifies when a government minister can – and cannot – give direction to the RCMP Commissioner.
The NDP’s Alistair MacGregor says his bill is intended to protect the chief of Canada’s largest police force from influence exerted by a Prime Minister’s Office or by a public safety minister.
“The commissioner in the future would have another shield to separate themselves from the PMO and from the minister,” he said in an interview.
Mr. MacGregor is a member of the House public-safety committee that has spent recent months probing allegations of political interference in RCMP operations.
He says the RCMP Act passed by Parliament decades ago contains “archaic” language. These clauses describe the commissioner as a political appointee who holds office at the discretion of the government of the day, and “who, under the direction of the minister, has the control and management of the force.”
Mr. MacGregor’s bill, known as C-303, takes inspiration from more precise language in the policing acts governing Ontario, Manitoba and Australia. It says a public-safety minster may give the RCMP commissioner direction on matters involving “priorities, objectives, and policies.” But the bill also states a minister may not direct the RCMP commissioner on anything having to do with “day-to-day operations,” or “investigations arrests and prosecutions,” or “any matter that would interfere with the commissioner’s power or authority.”
Liberal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino told the House of Commons on Tuesday that he will consider working with Mr. MacGregor to pass the bill.
Accusations of political interference at the RCMP arose among senior Nova Scotia Mounties in the aftermath of Canada’s deadliest shooting.
In April, 2020, a gunman killed 22 people in the province over a 13-hour span. Days later, the police force and politicians discussed releasing information about the gunman’s firearms as authorities were in the midst of a criminal investigation into how he had gotten ahold of the weapons.
Some RCMP employees emerged from these conversations accusing their boss – Commissioner Lucki – of pushing her officers to disclose sensitive details about the firearms in a bid to help Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and his then-public safety minister Bill Blair, push forward their proposed gun-control measures.
Mr. Blair and Commissioner Lucki have always denied that this was the case. On Monday, the two officials testified before the House committee for a second time. They both said that their offices only engaged in routine information-sharing about weapons used in the course of an extraordinarily violent event.
For Mr. MacGregor, this testimony was persuasive.
“I’m not satisfied that enough evidence is there to constitute political interference,” the NDP MP told reporters on Parliament Hill Tuesday.
He anticipates that committee hearings on the subject will now end. The most useful thing that Parliament can do now is fix the RCMP Act, he says. “This is an easy measure for the government to adopt so that future governments will never find themselves embroiled in these types of allegations.”
Last month, a tape of an April 28, 2020, RCMP conference call was publicly released, revealing the conversation that gave rise to the allegations of political interference.
In the call, Commissioner Lucki criticizes her commanding officers in Nova Scotia for not living up to what she had understood were plans by the police force to release details about the gunman’s weapons.
“To hear what the minister and the Prime Minister had to say about the RCMP’s inability to communicate, I will never forget it,” Commissioner Lucki says on the tape. She also mentions gun-control announcements the Liberal government was planning.
“Does anybody realize what’s going on in the world of handguns and guns right now? The fact that they’re in the middle of trying to get a legislation going, the fact that that legislation is supposed to actually help police.”
Commissioner Lucki was appointed RCMP Commissioner by Mr. Trudeau and his cabinet in 2018.
The private member’s bill does not seek to change the hiring process. “My bill doesn’t specifically address how the commissioner is appointed,” Mr. MacGregor said. “But I don’t think the conversation on that should end.”