Mr. Howard Hilstrom (Selkirk—Interlake, Ref.)
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak on Bill C-12.
I happen to have been a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police when we were sending members over to dangerous situations in foreign countries. Bosnia and Namibia come to mind. At that time we survived on the good graces of the solicitor general and the government in that if something did happen to one of us while we were over there, the government would stand behind us and our families.
I and my party certainly support Bill C-12. It will ensure that members of the force and their families are taken care of in the event of a tragedy.
We can certainly look at the performance and the service the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has provided to Canada since 1873. This year is the 125th anniversary. The service overseas in foreign countries, the latest one being Haiti, is a good example of the dedication these men and women from every province provide in serving their country.
Today there has been a lot of talk about Quebec and the Northwest Territories. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police is well positioned and very prominent in those provinces in enforcing federal statutes.
There are no problems with Bill C-12 itself. There are some issues surrounding the peacekeeping and peacemaking role which Canada has assumed. For the members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, there is always the question if they are injured or hurt whether or not the compensation will come automatically through the pension and benefit scheme, or whether they will have to fight for the rights and the benefits if some disagreement arises. This was raised earlier.
The member, the member's estate or the family must receive a commitment from the government that it will pay the family to hire their own lawyer as opposed to being appointed one by the Canada pensions benefit scheme. A lawyer who was appointed would obviously have a conflict of interest in whether he takes the government's side or the member's side. That is definitely a concern.
Another issue which has been of concern is very evident in the case of Haiti. Our Canadian military pulled out of that country by agreement. Our policemen were left there. The question was whether or not they had adequate medical services after the Canadian military left. I raised this in question period but I did not get a satisfactory answer. There is no doubt the health services officer for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police did go to Haiti. I believe the RCMP will ensure that the government does provide proper care for its members.
There is also the problem of members being exposed to strange diseases or chemicals. We have seen this happen in countries that harbour those kinds of weapons. There is concern that these members be taken care for their lifetime. Perhaps this falls under the policy but I would have to look further into the pension act. I raise this to indicate everything is not as simple as a policeman going to a foreign country, coming back home and expecting everything to be all right.
There is another point the government did not mention today. There are police officers from non-RCMP forces such as city police forces, and provincial forces from Ontario and Quebec going to foreign countries. During our committee hearings we did not have anyone attend from these police forces or provincial governments to indicate whether or not those officers would have adequate benefits, for example compensation and medical care, if they were injured or killed.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are being taken care of but I do question whether police from the city of Toronto for example have medical benefit coverage for 24 hours a day. The government would be wise to look at this issue. When a city police officer is asked to go to a foreign country, the issue of health benefits should be discussed to avoid the government being sued in order that non-RCMP officers can get compensation.
When a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police goes overseas to one of the specially designated areas, the RCMP detachment from which he came is left with a vacant position. There is no backfilling of the position for the period the peacekeeper is away, which is usually six months. It causes a problem in the community which is short an officer for that length of time.
There is special funding available under the peacekeeping initiatives. The RCMP is being paid from government funds for the cost of the member while he is on peacekeeping duties. The question I have for the government is if the position is empty, is the budget still receiving the money for that officer's salary and benefits?
This is not a problem for the RCMP. I raise it for the government to clarify that the Canadian taxpayer is not paying for that position twice, once through the peacekeeping initiative and again through the budget of the RCMP.
There have been occasions in the past when the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was able to leave positions open in a provincial contract. The way it is worked out financially, there is a cost saving. It saves the province money and it saves money in the RCMP's budget. This helps it come in on budget or a little under budget, and it certainly is good for the commanding officer when he can show the government that we was able to save money in a given year.
The primary thing in Bill C-12 and for our communities in Canada is the safety of the members who are overseas and compensation if they are injured in dangerous situations. That is the paramount issue. For the people at home, the paramount issue is that we maintain safety and security at a reasonable cost.
I would like to close by commenting once again on what a tremendous job the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and other city police forces have done over the years. I wish them well as they continue with further peacekeeping missions in the future.
Subtopic: Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act