Plan for RCMP to run Parliament Hill security sparks NDP counter-proposal
Opposition objects to 'unprecedented attempt to control security in one place the government can't control'
New Democrats have made a counter-proposal to the government's push to put RCMP in charge of policing Parliament Hill, one that would enshrine "the ultimate authority" of the House and Senate speakers to control access and security within the parliamentary precinct.
The proposed amendment, introduced by NDP Whip Nycole Turmel Friday morning, calls on the two speakers to "prepare and execute, without delay," a plan to integrate the work of all agencies that provide operational security on and around Parliament Hill.
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The NDP's amendment would also ensure that whatever security setup emerges from that process would not only respect the rights, immunities and powers of both the upper and lower chambers, but remain under the authority of Parliament itself, through the two speakers.
"[The government's proposal] is an unprecedented attempt to control security in the one place the government can't control," Turmel said.
Role of Parliament
We are the legislature, and we have constitutional roles" — and that includes advising the governor general who has the confidence of the House, Turmel reminded MPs.
"This legislature is at the service of Canadians, not the government."
She also called on the government to allow a free vote on its motion for Conservative members, since they are being asked to give up their own rights and independence as MPs.
Government Whip John Duncan seemed to dismiss the challenge by describing the motion as a government initiative.
He assured the House there is "caucus solidarity" behind the proposal and suggested the move was needed to keep everyone safe, not just parliamentarians.
"We owe it to the family who is visiting [Parliament Hill] from France, we owe it to the mother and child who are visiting from Vancouver," he said.
"We owe it to our respected diplomatic guests who graciously attend our official events. We owe it to our esteemed security staff members who require a solid framework so they can do what they do best. We owe it to our parliamentary staff members. We also owe it to our elected officials who have taken an oath to protect the public interest."
But he declined to provide a direct answer to NDP House Leader Peter Julian on whether the Prime Minister's Office was behind the motion, as reported by the Globe and Mail earlier this week.
Instead, Duncan pointed to Australia and the United Kingdom, both Westminster-style parliamentary systems that nevertheless have integrated policing within their respective precincts.
He added that the Australians made the change in just 24 hours.
The government has announced it will move closure on the motion when the House returns Feb. 16, following next week's break for constituency work.
Liberals to back government plan
The Liberals, meanwhile, are backing the government proposal.
The party's justice critic, Sean Casey, suggested Parliament needed to "adapt" to the changing landscape.
He also seemed confident the reference to protecting parliamentary privilege within the original motion was sufficient to alleviate any concerns over the separation of powers.
That reassurance wasn't enough for Green Party Elizabeth May, however.
She came out strongly in support of the NDP proposal.
"The Green Party is very, very concerned by this move," she said, and pointed to former sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers' steadfast resistance to any move that would cede power from the parliamentary police forces during his tenure.
"I believe Kevin Vickers would not stand for this."
She also mentioned the concerns raised by Senator Larry Campbell – a former RCMP officer himself — in an interview with CBC News published today. Campbell suggested the move could well be unconstitutional, as any RCMP officer posted to the Hill would ultimately report to RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson.
All parties did, however, come together in praising the professionalism and heroic efforts of the House and Senate security teams during the Oct. 22 shooting.
Both the government motion and the NDP amendment would ensure "the continued employment" of the current security staff.
The full text of the NDP motion:
That the House recognize the necessity of fully integrated security throughout the Parliamentary precinct and the grounds of Parliament Hill, as recommended by the Auditor General in his 2012 report and as exists in other peer legislatures; and call on the Speaker, in coordination with his counterpart in the Senate, to prepare and execute, without delay, plans to fully integrate the work of all partners providing operational security throughout the Parliamentary precinct and the grounds of Parliament Hill, while respecting the privileges, immunities and powers of the respective Houses, including the ultimate authority of the Speakers of the Senate and House of Commons over access and security of Parliament and ensuring the continued employment of our existing and respected Parliamentary Security staff, whose exemplary work on October 22, 2014, quickly brought an end to the security threat on Parliament Hill.