RCMP taking over Parliamentary security will invite constitutional challenge
RCMP taking over Parliamentary security will invite constitutional challenge, says Liberal Senator Campbell
‘What happens if the Mounties do not agree to a contract that says that the two Speakers are in charge of the Hill and that they answer to the two Speakers?’ Liberal Senator Larry Campbell asks.
Conservative Senators cut short debate in the Upper Chamber Tuesday to pass a controversial government motion calling for the RCMP to take command of Parliamentary security, over the protests of Liberal Senators and warnings of a constitutional challenge because the federal police force takes its orders from Cabinet.
The Conservative majority in the Senate passed a time allotment motion the government had introduced last week after only an opening round of debate and other than an opening speech and debate from Senate government leader Claude Carignon, no Conservative Senators spoke on the motion calling on Senate Speaker Pierre-Claude Nolin to “invite” the RCMP to lead what will be a unified security force within the Parliamentary buildings and on the Hill grounds outside.
House Speaker Andrew Scheer’s (Regina-Qu’Appelle, Sask.) office confirmed Wednesday the two Speakers had already written RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson requesting a meeting to begin discussions.
“The essence of the letter is to invite Commissioner Paulson to meet to begin to discuss how we might proceed in a manner consistent with the terms of the motions,” Heather Bradley, Mr. Scheer’s communications director, told The Hill Times in an email.
In a statement to media, the two Speakers said that integrating security between the House of Commons and Senate “will begin immediately.” The statement also explains that “Since Oct. 22, 2014, considerable work has been done such as arming all uniformed personnel, improving communications and emergency notification systems and implementing numerous physical enhancements to security systems and buildings, as well as other enhanced security measures. The unification of the Senate and House of Commons Protective Services is also progressing well.”
As with the limited debate that took place over an identical motion in the Commons, which the government cut short with a closure motion last week after a similarly short period of debate, opposition centred on the constitutionality of RCMP intrusion into the internal affairs of Parliament.
Under the RCMP Act, the Commissioner of the RCMP answers to the Prime Minister and Cabinet through the Public Safety Minister. Opponents of the government plan to bring the Mounties into such a powerful role within Parliament threatens the federal division of power and Parliament’s independence from government.
British Columbia Liberal Senator Larry Campbell, a former RCMP officer and former mayor of Vancouver, warned a court challenge is likely inevitable unless Parliament amends the RCMP Act and also the Parliament of Canada Act, which gives the House of Commons Speaker and the Senate Internal Economy Committee control over Parliamentary security.
During the Senate debate, the government rejected an amendment on its motion that would have expressly stated the RCMP officer who would eventually command all Parliamentary security forces would have to report directly to the two Speakers—presumably outside the RCMP chain of command under the RCMP commissioner.
“We’re going to end up with another constitutional challenge; and I’m not sure whether the RCMP has jurisdiction to take over on the Hill,” Sen. Campbell said during the final hours of debate.
He said his experience as mayor of Vancouver, which is surrounded by cities that contract the RCMP for their municipal police services, showed that in reality, the internal RCMP chain of command remains the same despite the contractual policing agreement with the cities.
“What happens if the Mounties do not agree to a contract that says that the two Speakers are in charge of the Hill and that they answer to the two Speakers?’’ Sen. Cambell said.
“I really ask you to think about this,” he said. “If you want to know what happens, pick up the phone tonight and call any of the mayors that have the RCMP as their municipal police force. It’s just a given that they serve the citizens of Burnaby, but they answer to the commissioner. They don’t answer to the mayor. They don’t answer to the B.C. police commission. They do not answer to any of the oversight bodies provincially that they are contracted to.”
Ontario Conservative Senator Vern White, a former RCMP assistant commissioner, has told the Senate a contract would have to be reached between the two Speakers which would have to negotiate a contract with Commissioner Paulson, setting out the general terms of the security requirements the Speakers would mandate, and operational details would be left up to the Mounties.
Sen. Campbell also warned the cost for Parliamentary security could increase substantially, and said the future of Parliamentary security officers is uncertain despite wording in both the Commons and the Senate motions that states the request for RCMP command should be made “while respecting the privileges, immunities and powers of the respective Houses, and ensuring the continued employment of our existing and respective Parliamentary Security staff.”
Sen. Campbell told the Senate: “I can tell you with some certainty that they would not be considered on an equal footing with the RCMP. I can speak to that from experience. It’s not that they aren’t good or that they aren’t well-trained. It’s just that they aren’t Mounties. That’s the simple bottom line. What’s going to happen to them? How do we treat them? How do we make them know that we respect what they do and what they have done in the past?”
The Speakers’ statement said that current security services’ expertise “will be vital to shaping this new era of security” and that they “have been and always will be a source of pride for both Houses of Parliament.”