MPs and senators are expressing concern over the RCMP's decision to keep an officer from testifying before a Senate committee, saying the move is a breach of parliamentary privilege and a violation of the Criminal Code.
CBC News reported Cpl. Roland Beaulieu was supposed to be in Ottawa on Monday to testify before the committee about harassment within the force. Beaulieu has been off duty sick because of work-related stress, which he blames on harassment within the RCMP.
'The right of witnesses to appear before Parliament unobstructed and the right of parliamentarians to hear from witnesses are fundamental rights in the parliamentary process,'—Senator James Cowan
But last week an RCMP doctor sent him an email saying if he is well enough to travel and testify at the committee then he's well enough to return to administrative work with the force.
"Since you are ODS [off duty sick], you have effectively declared that you are not able to engage in these tasks at work. Therefore I am not supportive of you engaging in these tasks to get to the hearing," said an email issued by RCMP health services officer Isabelle Fieschi.
"Should you feel that you are physically and cognitively able to participate in these hearings and to travel there, I would consider you fit for administrative duties at your unit immediately."
The move followed the rollout of a new policy announced Friday by the RCMP that says any officer on sick leave must have written approval to travel.
Minister responds in question period
On Tuesday, the issue was raised in question period in the House of Commons by Randall Garrison, the NDP MP for Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca.
"It seems that not even ill RCMP members wanting to speak about their experiences are safe from Conservative gag orders…. What is this minister afraid of? Why is he muzzling RCMP officers who want to speak out on reform of their organization?" said Garrison.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews responded that there was no attempt to stop Beaulieu from testifying.
"As I understand it, the officer indicated that he wanted to testify and there was nothing stopping that officer from testifying, so I don’t know why that member is making this up," said Toews.
Criminal Code violated alleges senator
In the Senate, Liberal Opposition Leader James Cowan said the RCMP's new policy limiting travel of officers on stress leave, actually violates the rights of senators to hear evidence from any witness they like.
"The right of witnesses to appear before Parliament unobstructed and the right of parliamentarians to hear from witnesses are fundamental rights in the parliamentary process," said Cowan.
The senator said restricting Beaulieu's ability to testify before the committee on national security and defence, which is holding hearings on Bill C-42, was a violation of the Criminal Code of Canada and a breach of parliamentary privilege.
"Witnesses who wish to appear before us should not be subject to intimidation," he said.
Cowan suggested to the CBC the committee may even travel to B.C. to hear the RCMP officer's testimony if necessary.
The Speaker of the Senate is now considering Cowan's motion on whether the Senate privilege has been breached. But the Speaker's ruling will likely not have any impact on the passage of Bill C-42 to modernize the RCMP, which is expected to pass quickly,given the Conservative government majority.
On Monday, Senator Romeo Dallaire, who suffered from severe PTSD after leading UN peacekeeping troops during the Rwandan genocide, criticized the new RCMP policy, saying it was unreasonable to suggest those suffering from PTSD were not fit travel or testify.