The House: Modernizing the Mounties

This week on The House, we catch up with the RCMP's new commissioner Brenda Lucki to talk about her efforts to modernize the force. We talk with trade diversification minister Jim Carr about how Canada can move exports outside the U.S. Finally, we take an in depth look at the government's attempts to curb drug overdoses.
New RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki says her focus is on improving the culture in the force. (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)
Listen to the full episode49:59

In an era of cannabis legalization, a rampant opioid crisis and migrants flowing across the border, the RCMP's new commissioner says the biggest challenge facing her organization is battling the toxicity in law enforcement culture.

"I think our police culture is the one portion we need to focus a lot of efforts on," Brenda Lucki told The House.

"People first. And if we put people first the operations will get even better than they already are and Canada will be safer as a result of it."

Lucki took over the national police agency in April, inheriting a heavy mandate to improve the culture at the RCMP.

Her mandate letter reads, in part, "your role will be to reinforce the very best of the RCMP and to support the organization through a period of transformation to modernize and reform the RCMP's culture. This transformation includes continuing to ensure the health and safety of RCMP employees and members are protected, including from harassment and violence in the workplace."

The RCMP has its first permanent female leader, after Brenda Lucki was named commissioner of the Mounties by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Lucki has an extensive resumé with the force, having served for 32 years spanning five provinces. She faces a big challenge — stamping out sexism and misconduct within the RCMP's ranks — issues that have plagued the force for decades 1:53

While addressing the culture of harassment, Lucki's attention is also being drawn to issues of gun violence and crime.

After recent shootings, several cities have asked the federal government to consider banning handguns. Bill Blair, the new minister of organized crime reduction, said Ottawa is open to examining that pitch but no details have been released.

However, Lucki is uncertain that's the best approach to tackle the problem.

"I'm not sure if a complete ban is the answer or tweaking the legislation to ensure more accountability. That's definitely something we need to study," she said.

"But the bottom line is one life taken by one handgun is one life too many, so we definitely need to look at alternative ways of dealing with that situation."

In an era of cannabis legalization, a rampant opioid crisis and migrants flowing across the border, the RCMP's new commissioner says the biggest challenge facing her organization is battling the toxicity in law enforcement culture. 10:39

Diversifying trade must focus on like minds: Minister

Jim Carr hugs Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after being sworn in as Minister of International Trade during a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Wednesday, July 18, 2018. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Part of moving a larger portion of Canada's trade market away from the U.S. must include working with other nations who share Canada's perspective, according to the new trade diversification minister.

Jim Carr told The House international relationships will become increasingly important in the coming months  — especially when it comes to oil and gas.

"The importance of expanding the export market is pretty obvious," he said.

Despite his mandate to diversify, Carr was in Pennsylvania this week to talk about trade and investment between the two countries.  

When asked about focusing his attentions on Canada's southern neighbour, he said that's not the only trade outreach in the works.

The summer cabinet switch brought about many changes, including shuffling one man from a battle over a pipeline to the front lines of a trade war. The new Minister of International Trade Diversification Jim Carr joins us. 8:56

"It's a big world out there," he said.

Canada will host a trade ministers' meeting in October to discuss the World Trade Organization. China and the U.S. have been left off the guest list.

The minister said Canada's focus is on working with nations who have similar goals, but wouldn't explicitly say whether he believed those two countries didn't fit the mould.

While meetings are ongoing, the NDP has asked the Liberals to start a task force to tackle tariffs.

Canada's ambassador to the United States David MacNaughton talks to Power & Politics. 8:38

The unpredictability of the U.S.-Canada relationship is hurting smaller companies, Tracey Ramsay, the party's trade critic, explained.

"There doesn't seem to be a clear path here," she said.  "That's not a good situation for businesses."

While the president fires new insults at Canada almost weekly, Scotty Greenwood, CEO of the Canadian American Business Council, says there is some consistency to be gleaned from that.

"I think he's pretty transparent, he wants a better deal for the United States," she said, adding it's time for Canada to come to the negotiating table willing to make concessions.

"The time for posturing is over."

This week three MPs from the Windsor area called on Ottawa to create a national task force on trade tariffs. Is that the best way to deal with the Trump Administration? NDP trade critic Tracy Ramsey and Scotty Greenwood, CEO of the Canadian American Business Council discuss. 8:33

Drug users still too scared of police to call 911 for overdoses

Experts say the government's attempts to encourage drug users to call 911 have fallen short, and people continue to die. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

As her friend was overdosing on drugs laced with fentanyl, Katrina Adams called 911 in a panic.

While paramedics were working to save the woman's life, police walked through the back door and began arresting other people in the house on drug charges.

"A friend is overdosing and they're concerned with what they're overdosing on, but only to follow up with, 'Well, where did they get it?'" said Adams, a drug user living in Ottawa.

In May 2017, the government introduced the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act — a law meant to prevent scenes like the one Adams witnessed last summer. A year after the legislation was passed, however, many drug users are still too scared to call for help in overdose crises because of the threat of arrest.

The act provides a degree of amnesty for people who overdose, or who contact 911 to report an overdose. It protects those who report an overdose — and everyone else at the scene when police and paramedics arrive — from charges stemming from drug possession and breach of conditions, like parole or probation, related to possession.

It doesn't shield anyone from charges related to outstanding warrants, drug production or trafficking.

The Liberal government billed the legislation as a life-saving measure. Jane Philpott, who was health minister when the law was introduced, issued a public plea for people to call 911 to report overdoses — and promised they'd be safe from arrest if they did.

"No one associated with that, the victim or the person who makes the phone call, will be at risk of being charged with possession of drugs," Philpott said at the time.

"This is absolutely essential to save lives."

Last year, almost 4,000 Canadians died of drug overdoses. The vast majority of those deaths can be traced back to one substance: the opioid ​fentanyl.

The powerful painkiller is up to 50 times more potent than heroin, and a dose the size of a grain of sand can be enough to trigger an overdose.

Experts CBC News spoke to said drug users have told them they wouldn't feel safe calling 911 to report an overdose — even if their own lives were on the line.

The government introduced the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act in May 2017 to provide some amnesty for people, but a year after the legislation was passed drug users are still scared to call for help because they fear arrest. 13:32