A controversial proposal to give the Royal Canadian Mounted Police unprecedented powers to police Parliament Hill could hit the floor of the House of Commons as early as Friday, CBC News has learned.
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Government whip John Duncan is set to introduce a motion that would, if passed, authorize House Speaker Andrew Scheer and his Senate counterpart to "invite, without delay," the Mounties to "lead operational security throughout the parliamentary precinct and the grounds of Parliament Hill."
The RCMP would be obliged to respect the privileges, immunities and powers of both the House and Senate, and ensure "the continued employment" of the current parliamentary security team.
A similar motion is expected be tabled in the Senate as well. Both houses will have to sign off on the proposal before it can go forward.
On Wednesday, CBC News reported that the national police force will be the lead agency in charge of security on the Hill, overseeing both its own officers and Parliament Hill security guards until a final plan is approved.
The outstanding question is: To whom will RCMP and Hill security personnel ultimately report?
There are three possible options:
- The status quo, which has security forces on Parliament Hill reporting to the speakers of the Senate and the House of Commons. This option is seen as unlikely.
- The commissioner of the RCMP, Bob Paulson, or a designate of his choosing.
- A shared or duo responsibility between Parliament and the RCMP.
Security personnel on the Hill were being told they would keep their jobs under the new plan, but it is still unclear whether, or how, specific duties will be reassigned between RCMP and parliamentary guards. There are currently about 220 House of Commons guards and 100 Senate guards.
The motion expected to be put before MPs later this week would explicitly require the RCMP to ensure "the continued employment" of the current security team.
The Security Services Employees Association, which represents the guards on Parliament Hill, issued a press release Wednesday, saying "all great democracies," including Canada's provincial legislatures, are protected by independent experts who "take no orders from the police or any other part of government."
"The RCMP taking operational control of the security within the House of Commons of Canada would threaten not only the perception that Parliament makes its laws without interference, but would also have such an effect in practice," it continued, calling it "an indefensible and dangerous interference" with Parliament's independence and a "solid breach into one of the foundational pillars of our democratic system: the principle of separation of powers."
Experienced officers needed
"I think everyone is very conscientious about our system of democracy in this country and how it works and how it’s applied and interpreted. All of that will be respected," former police chief-turned-cabinet minister Julian Fantino told reporters.
Conservative MP Daryl Kramp, who chairs the public safety committee, said a motion on Commons security was to be put on the notice paper Wednesday, meaning MPs will see it later this week.
Kramp said there are many questions about Hill security that need to be addressed.
"As an example, right now we have new recruits being sent here from the RCMP for security. Quite frankly, that's not acceptable," he told reporters on Parliament Hill.
"So that's why we need an integrated level of command that both assesses the risk and then allocates the resources that you have effectively and efficiently."
Kramp said the RCMP recruits sent in to bolster security after the Oct. 22 attack are not trained for the job.
"Being here is not an on-the-job learning experience," Kramp continued. "I think a lot of those young officers need some experience out in the field before they're going to walk into a situation that just might expose them to challenges that they're certainly not prepared to face."
NDP MP Peter Stoffer said Hill security guards offer "familiarity."
"RCMP people come and go every few years ... they're transferred," said Stoffer. "They don’t know everybody in the building, so there’s a sense of familiarity [with current officers] which adds to enhanced security."
"The cost of a constable here in the House is about $30,000 less than an RCMP officer," Stoffer said. "It’s going to be a good debate when that time comes around."
Sergeant-at-arms role changing
Former sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers was essentially the equivalent of a parliamentary police chief.
Vickers became a household name after being credited for ending the storming of Centre Block on Oct. 22 by gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau.
Last month, Vickers was appointed Canada's ambassador to Ireland. After his departure, changes were immediately made to the role of sergeant-at-arms.
In a memo to all House staff on Jan. 28, it was announced that acting Commons clerk Marc Bosc will assume a larger share of the sergeant-at-arms' duties and that Patrick McDonnell, the acting sergeant-at-arms, will report to him.
Bosc also announced in the memo that some services that reported to the sergeant-at-arms will now report to him, including the Members' Service Directorate and Business Management Services.
But Heather Bradley, spokeswoman for the Speaker, said the sergeant-at-arms remains director of protective services.
McDonnell will also continue to carry out ceremonial duties, including carrying the mace into the House of Commons chamber each day.