A Reason to Read My Blog: Ministerial Responsibility and the Independence of the RCMP

 “The protocol is an appropriate balance between the independence of the RCMP on law enforcement matters and its accountability to me as the minister responsible for the RCMP,” Toews said.

“Senator Kenny knows that this policy was in place when the Liberals formed government, it’s simply a continuation. When he was denied a secret meeting that he wanted, he went to the media,” Toews added. “And, so I find it rather surprising, his tact.”

  • RCMP commissioner not ‘muzzled,’ Toews says: Minister says Public Safety handles meeting requests to ensure fairness – same as the Liberals did; CBC News,  Jan 20, 2012 5:00 PM ET

Let us assume for a second that Minister Toews is right. Let us assume that the former Liberal Government required the RCMP to get a “stamp of approval from the Department of Public Safety”. The question should be: “was that the right policy?”. In my mind, it was not. It was not right then and it is not right now for the policy did not emphasize the most liberal of values: Ministerial Responsibility, Legislative Oversight and Independence of the RCMP. These values should be embraced by the present Liberal Policy for they respect the value of the Other

Strong Legislatures are essential to our democratic processes. It is the way that governments, in our system, are held responsible. It is the basis of Responsible Government. If a government is irresponsible it is up to the Legislature to rain it in. This is how we respect the Other: by putting limits on Government.

Our forefathers fought for the idea of responsible government because they understood what happens when governments are not restrained. In 1837 and 1838 Rebellions raged through Upper and Lower Canada. For, Colonial Governments were unresponsive to their publics. The executive branch listened to some but not all. This is why Lord Durham called for responsible government in his famous report.

While, John Stuart Mill glorified legislative control because he understood English History. The rule of King alone was not sufficient to guarantee the welfare of the Public. That is why in his greatest book – On Liberty – this great English Philosopher noted the value of the “Rule of Law”. For, like their citizens, governments tend to look for easy solutions. With a military or police force at hand, it is only too easy for Governments to look for solutions that emphasize power and force. Joseph Howe knew this. This is why he fought for Responsible Government in Nova Scotia.  Louis-Joseph Papineau fought for it in Lower Canada. William Lyon Mackenzie fought for it in Upper Canada.  They fought against the Family Compact and the Château Clique. They fought to have legislative control over the executive, the executive council and the lieutenant governor. Like the Reform Movement in England, they fought for meaningful power over their government. So that we could enjoy “liberty” as the British understood it: the Supremacy of Parliament with popular accountability.

Sometimes, this accountability was just the basics: having the Colonial Government follow the law as it stood. For the Rule of Law was not always guaranteed. For example, the Family Compact lobbied successfully for years to keep the right to church land. In the Constitutional Act of 1791, as much as 1/7 of all land was granted to the Church. Yet, the Anglican Church monopolized lands reserved for all Protestant denominations. At the time, the Protestant Churches had few legal courses. The Courts had different rights and were either slow or powerless before Parliament. So Executive Control was essential. By controlling the Executive, the Legislature could enforce the word and spirit of the law.

Therefore, it is not surprising that in 1850’s and 1860’s, Liberal Conservatives and Liberals – like John A. MacDonald, Alexander Mackenzie and George Brown – fought for and defended their fellow citizens. They did this not because it was easy. They often faced violent opposition for their beliefs. Yet, they stood for them. Our forefathers, consistently, fought for the ‘Other’. They fought constantly for each other. They fought to ensure that their legislature would have effective controls on the Crown. This meant that the crown would follow both the spirit and the letter of the law.

With that being said, we – as a society – have forgotten that 200 year old lesson: In Parliamentary Government, The Legislature should always have control over the Executive. This is a lesson that I want to emphasize here. Consequently, the RCMP should be under the control of Parliament and not under the thumb of the executive or the government. Senator Kenny should bring forth legislation to reinstate their previous arms-length relationship to the government. Up until 1984, like the Armed Forces, the RCMP was a body that took the majority of its direction from the House of Commons. However, this was changed under the Mulroney Government. For, it was that government which made the RCMP a part of the federal bureaucracy. And this has had some dangerous consequences.

According to Robwipond.com, Paul Palango, author of Dispersing the Fog: Inside the Secret World of Ottawa and the RCMP (Key Porter, 2008), has noted that the change in the relationship “has made it quite clear that the force can be influenced by the Prime Minister.” For, the RCMP is beyond any provincial legislature and no federal agency has the ability to independently review the RCMP’s activities. When it was responsible to Parliament, Parliament could review the RCMP’s actions. This is not the case any longer. If one questions this assertion, just look at the case of Maher Arar or Robert Dziekanski. When both cases started, the RCMP claimed that they were in the right. Government’s reactively defended the RCMP. It was only when evidence started leaking out, showing their guilt that questions started to come to the fore. Only after evidence gathered did governments call for Commissions of Inquiry. Only then did we begin to learn the truth.  Having the RCMP as an arm of the executive, clearly has not helped their ability to police areas or either federal or provincial jurisdiction. In fact, it has made them more unaccountable to the law.

Therefore, all Liberals should want to restore the RCMP to its former independent status. Like the Armed Forces, the RCMP could have a better internal investigation service. In addition, Parliament could copy Ontario and have an external investigative force that works independently from a strong internal investigation service. But most importantly, the RCMP should be held to account by a strong Parliament holding independent investigations. Only in that way can the legislature again hold sway over the executive and cabinet. Senator Kenney could lead such a charge in the Senate, just as opposition MPs could lead that charge in the House of Commons. In fact, a number of Conservative MPs might even support this cause. However, Parliament again would be supreme.

But this leads me to my second point: the responsibility of Senators and Members of Parliament to hold Ministers accountable. Most Members of the Federal Legislature have been lacking in this responsibility.  If we take the example of the amendments to the Canadian Wheat Board Act, one might remember that a federal judge noted that the Minister must be held “accountable for his disregard for the rule of law”. Even though there are actions that can be taken – including presenting the matter to the RCMP, a Crown Prosecutor or a Judge – no Federal Politician has taken any such action. The Legislature has seeded its roll to the Executive and the Crown. This action is not acceptable in a Liberal Democratic State.  Ministers can be held accountable under law and they should be. If we can do this, we can remind all Canadians of the power of the rule of Law. These are Liberal Values that need to be restored. This is what our Party should stand for.

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3 thoughts on “A Reason to Read My Blog: Ministerial Responsibility and the Independence of the RCMP

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    Like

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