(CTVNews.ca) - The Conservative government tabled new legislation Wednesday that would give the RCMP commissioner more power to discipline or fire dishonourable members of the force.
The Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability Act, introduced by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, aims to remove bureaucratic barriers to investigations involving RCMP members, especially when it comes to serious allegations like sexual harassment and assault.
“It’s become clear, through my discussions with the commissioner, and with Canadians, that the changes are, indeed, needed,” Toews said at a news conference Wednesday.
“Right now … the process is overly rigid and bureaucratic. Proceedings tend to be drawn out, over years in most instances.”
Toews said the proposed legislation will give “enhanced investigative powers” to RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson.
Criminal investigations into death and serious injury involving RCMP members will also be more transparent, Toews said.
“We’re addressing concerns about police investigating the police,” he said.
The RCMP has been under pressure to overhaul its disciplinary process and address perceived cultural problems within the force since several female RCMP officers alleged they were sexually harassed by their male colleagues and superiors in British Columbia.
Male RCMP officers have also complained of abusive behaviour and intimidation at work.
And many Canadians were outraged by stories of RCMP misconduct, including that of Sgt. Donald Ray, who admitted to having sex with female subordinates in his office and hosting after-hours, booze-fuelled parties in an Edmonton RCMP detachment.
Ray was only docked 10 days of pay and transferred to a B.C. detachment.
When Paulson took over as RCMP commissioner late last year, he said getting rid of bad behaviour within the force was one of his top priorities. But he said his hands were tied by red tape in many disciplinary cases.
Currently, any serious case requiring more than a reprimand must be referred to an adjudication board composed of three senior officers who follow a heavily regulated process. It can take up to five years for a case to be resolved and the RCMP manager is usually out of the loop, Toews said.
Under the proposed legislation, managers would have more responsibility over day-to-day disciplinary issues. Only cases where an officer could be punished with a dismissal would be required to go before a conduct board. But even then, new rules would be applied so the case is resolved efficiently.
The RCMP commissioner would have the power to fire members for various non-disciplinary reasons as well, including poor performance or absenteeism, Toews said.
“Our challenge is to be able to separate behaviour that can be corrected and can be made better versus the most outrageous that is condemned by everybody,” Paulson said Wednesday.
“It’s a really big step for the government to change the RCMP Act,” Former Mountie Krista Carle, who said she was sexually harassed at work for years, told CTV News.
But she said the RCMP needs to go further than firing officers or suspending them without pay.
“For very serious allegations, there need to be some criminal charges,” she said.
The government is also replacing the RCMP public complaints commission with a new independent body that would have the power to compel evidence.