As we work our way through the last few days of this Parliament, it’s a good time to take stock of what has been accomplished – despite the rancor of partisan debate. On issues related to public safety, national security and Canada’s capacity to respond to emergencies, this Parliament has been particularly productive.
We have passed a record amount of important new legislation:
- Bill C-7 – The implementation of a ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada empowering members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to form a union of their own choosing and to bargain collectively.
- Bill C-21 – A new law to authorize records to be kept of when anyone departs our country, just as we keep track of those coming in – filling a big security gap without any significant intrusion on privacy.
- Bill C-22 – The establishment of a new National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians – catching up to the rest of our allies by providing designated MPs and Senators in all Parties with a way to receive classified information and examine sensitive security issues.
- Bill C-23 – The renewal and expansion of our highly successful cross-border “pre-clearance” system with the United States, facilitating travel and trade by providing customs and immigration clearance before departure.
- Bill C-37 – New powers to detect and stop illegal opioids at the border.
- Bill C-46 – The creation of one of the toughest laws in the world to combat drunk and drug-impaired driving, keeping our highways and communities safer.
- Bill C-59 – The most comprehensive upgrading of Canada’s national security architecture in more than 30 years. To bolster public trust, it establishes unprecedented levels of transparency and accountability, including special safeguards against the foreign use of torture. It corrects errors left over from the previous government, like vague definitions and the long-standing stigma affecting children mistakenly victimized by the No Fly List. And it gives police, security and intelligence agencies greater legal clarity about their powers and their responsibilities, both existing and new.
- Bill C-66 – An Act to expunge criminal records for offences where the law itself was a violation of human rights (like certain old laws that attacked the LGBTQ2 community and would today be prohibited by the Charter of Rights).
- Bill C-71 – New firearms safety legislation that strengthens background checks, the verification of licenses, commercial record keeping, safe transportation of restricted and prohibited weapons, and impartial classifications – strongly supported by law enforcement.
Four other major public safety Bills are close to the Parliamentary finish line.
One is Bill C-97 which creates a new Management Advisory Board for the RCMP, as recommended by a long series of external experts. This will help deal with difficult issues affecting the Force including harassment and workplace safety, mental health care, diversity and inclusion, IT systems, recruitment, retention and promotion, and the effective utilization of civilian expertise. An Interim Board is already in place.
The others, still making progress, are Bill C-83 to abolish administrative segregation (solitary confinement), increase mental health services and Indigenous supports, and bolster independent oversight in the Canadian correctional system; Bill C-93 to provide expedited/no fee pardons for the simple possession of cannabis; and Bill C-98 to create a review body to handle non-security complaints about the Canada Border Services Agency.
In addition to legislation, this portfolio has been extremely busy on many other fronts too. For example:
- Dealing with the accelerating public safety consequences of Climate Change across the country, including more frequent, more damaging and more costly storms, floods, droughts and wildfires requiring federal disaster assistance every year.
- Developing a fresh national Emergency Response Strategy for Canada engaging all levels of government and Indigenous peoples; plus innovative technology for search-and-rescue volunteers, $25 million to better deal with avalanches, and $65 million to help buy new STARS air rescue helicopters.
- Restoring Heavy Urban Search-and-Rescue teams across Canada, providing more HazMet training, creating a new Memorial Grant for the families of First Responders who lose their lives as a result of their duties, and implementing a comprehensive national plan to research and treat Post-Traumatic Stress Injuries among all public safety officers.
- Augmenting community safety planning and crime prevention programming in Indigenous communities, and making the largest ever investment in First Nations Policing (higher standards, more officers, better pay, better infrastructure).
- Investing $327 million to support provinces, communities, law enforcement and border officers in combatting the scourge of gangs using illegal and smuggled guns.
- Developing a comprehensive approach to gender-based violence, sexual assault investigations, child sexual exploitation, human trafficking and the essential response to the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
- Selecting the new Commissioner of the RCMP and supporting her quest to modernize and transform the Force with a new Management Advisory Board, new systems to deal more effectively and credibly with harassment and bullying, the achievement of safe and respectful workplaces, a more diversified and inclusive workforce, the utilization of appropriate civilian expertise, stronger mental health supports, and the best possible training.
- Effectively managing unusual migrant pressures at the Canadian land border amidst the largest global dislocation of humanity since WW2, to ensure safety and security with every Canadian law being properly enforced and every Canadian treaty obligation being fully honoured, while facilitating 400,000 legitimate cross-border travellers and $2.5 billion in two-way trade every single day.
- Reforming the immigration detention system to safely handle those seeking to gain entry to Canada who cannot be properly identified or who present a flight risk or a threat to the public. Facilities and services are being upgraded. Practical alternatives to physical detention are being expanded. And specific directions to protect the well-being of children have been implemented.
- Expanding and extending the Security Infrastructure Program to make it more flexible, comprehensive and generous in physically protecting the gathering places of vulnerable communities (religious, cultural, LGBTQ2, etc.) from acts of hate and violence.
- Creating the Canada Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence as a national centre of research, expertise and resources to help provinces, communities, law enforcement and academics identify those who may be vulnerable to radicalization and the best types of intervention to try to prevent violence before it develops.
- Working vigorously with G7 and Five Eyes allies and with private sector service providers to combat the serious harm that is done when social media platforms become purveyors of terror, violent extremism, hate, child sexual exploitation, human trafficking and foreign interference in Canadian affairs, including our democratic processes. The goal is to take down offensive material faster, to prevent it from being posted in the first place, and to demand greater transparency about how the companies collect and manipulate personal data.
- Modernizing, toughening and refinancing Canada’s cyber security strategy, for both the public and private sectors, with greater technical capabilities and coordination, active as well as defensive authorities, more police resources, and specific obligations on critical infrastructure operators in telecommunications, finance, energy and transportation. Our vigilance also extends to guard against threats that infiltrate or undermine the Canadian economy or our democracy.
- Ensuring the tools and resources necessary for our national security and intelligence agencies to properly identify and deal with all types of threats to Canada and Canadians, including growing concerns about far-right violent extremism that manifests itself in anti-Semitism, Islamaphobia, racism, misogyny, homophobia and other attacks.
- Tracking individuals (as few as they may be) who left Canada (mostly before 2016) to travel into terrorist territory in Syria, Iraq and Turkey, and associate themselves with the most atrocious terrorist activity. There has been no surge of potential “returnees”. Many are likely dead. A small number are in captivity in Syria. Some have young families. They pose serious risks, not to mention the appalling prospect of a second generation of terrorist perpetrators. Canada is working closely with all allies to ensure we know as much as possible about each risky individual, and about the evidence available to charge them and prosecute to the full extent of the law. Our objective is to hold them fully accountable for their dangerous and reprehensible behaviour.
These are some of our leading files over the past four years. Yes, it has been a busy time, and the work goes on – every day.
The Public Safety portfolio is always both exhausting and exhilarating. Canadians can be assured that they are well-served by dedicated public servants in all of our police, security and intelligence agencies who work incessantly to achieve two prime objectives – to keep Canadians safe and secure, and to safeguard the precious rights and freedoms that make Canada, Canada.