The RCMP is facing a Senate investigation into allegations that it blocked one of its own members from testifying before a committee about a bill that deals with workplace harassment at the police force.
The review into accusations of deliberate witness intimidation is the result of a ruling Wednesday by Conservative Senate Speaker Noël Kinsella, who found the RCMP's actions amount to a "prima facie" breach of Senate privileges.
The Conservative-dominated Senate then voted unanimously to have a committee investigate the potential breach. The ruling and vote came as a surprise, given that the government had argued Tuesday there was no breach.
Should the committee find there was a breach, senators would then vote on whether the RCMP is in contempt of Parliament.
The dispute is over Corporal Roland Beaulieu, a member of the RCMP in British Columbia who is on medical leave. He had been invited to appear as a witness on Monday before a Senate committee studying Bill C-42. The legislation replaces the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP with a new civilian commission and gives the commissioner of the RCMP new powers to investigate and resolve internal workplace harassment disputes.
The Liberal leader in the Senate, James Cowan, raised a complaint with the Speaker, alleging that Cpl. Beaulieu had been told by the RCMP that if he followed through with the appearance in Ottawa his medical leave would be terminated.
"If there were intent to intimidate the witness, it is clearly a grave and serious breach," said Mr. Kinsella in his ruling. "On the last working day before the committee meeting, it would seem that a new policy was issued by the RCMP requiring that a member on medical leave seek approval before undertaking certain types of travel. All this could be coincidental, but the chronology of events and the allegations are such as to raise concern."
The RCMP issued a statement on its website denying that the rules had recently been changed. Rather the RCMP said it simply provided a copy of a policy that had been in place since March 19, 2009.
"The RCMP member who is the subject of this story was provided a copy of the policy on May 3, 2013, and it was date stamped at that time accordingly. We trust that this will aid in setting the story straight," said the statement from RCMP Assistant Commissioner Gilles Moreau.
The minister responsible for the RCMP, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, denied the allegations Tuesday when they were raised during Question Period in the House of Commons.
"As I understand it, there was no attempt made to stop that individual from testifying," said Mr. Toews. "Issues with respect to human resources and the management of the RCMP are the responsibility of the commissioner. I do not involve myself in the day-to-day operations of the RCMP."
Mr. Cowan said he expects the committee will want to hear from Cpl. Beaulieu and get an explanation form the RCMP. Wednesday's unanimous vote that went against the government position from the day before was unusual, he said.
"I don't recall any other issue like this that has come up," he said. "I was pleased to hear that all my Senate colleagues felt, like I did, that this matter should be investigated further."