March 6, 2017
Ottawa Marriott Hotel
Check against delivery
Thank you (Mr. Chair).
Good morning everyone,
Greetings and good wishes from Prime Minister Trudeau and the Government of Canada. I’m glad to have this opportunity to get together once again with the Canadian Police Association. Your annual conference in Ottawa is an event that a great many Parliamentarians look forward to every year.
As an MP for many years – and now especially as Minister of Public Safety – I have a very high regard for Canadian police officers, and indeed First Responders of all kinds! The work you do, sometimes in difficult and controversial circumstances, is vital to the safety and security of Canadians. And often you put your own safety and security “on the line” in the process.
Your country says “thank you” / but we don’t say it often enough.
This past weekend, I got to meet a terrific group of First Responders “on the job” at Emerson, Manitoba, where they are grappling with growing numbers of foreign asylum seekers – crossing the Canada/US border in irregular ways, not at official Ports of Entry.
Between Ports of Entry, the RCMP of course have the jurisdiction to police the border on the Canadian side. At ports of Entry, officers of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) are in charge. And when the border-crossers or a concerned community member calls “911”, it’s very often the local volunteer fire department that is the first on the scene.
I went to Emerson to thank all of them for their very good work; to see first-hand the physical logistics they’re dealing with; to reassure Canadians everywhere that our priority is public safety and all Canadian laws are properly applied and enforced; and that we are honouring all of Canada’s international humanitarian obligations in the process.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has described Canadian management of this challenging situation as “very compassionate” and “impressive”. That’s a great tribute to the police and other Canadian First Responders who are on the front line. And through you, I want to congratulate all of them for showing skill, professionalism and the best instincts of Canadians.
The border issues are not, of course, the only example.
During my tenure in this portfolio, I also think of La Loche, Saskatchewan in January of 2016. A young shooter went on a rampage killing four innocent people and injuring seven others.
Five courageous, well-trained police officers quickly arrived on the scene, disarmed the shooter without further incident and within minutes restored community safety – no doubt saving many other lives.
In May of last year, we were confronted by “the Beast” – the worst wildfire in Canadian history that swept through Fort McMurray, dislocating 90,000 people. We all remember the images of those police officers directing the mass evacuation – even while their own homes were burning down.
And last summer – in Strathroy, Ontario – the case of a homegrown, would-be terrorist. Swift, smart, seamless police work involving the FBI, the RCMP, the OPP, London City Police and the Strathroy-Caradoc police service detected and defused a very dangerous situation.
The loss of any human life is a tragedy, but the skill and courage of Canadian police officers on that August day clearly averted a much larger calamity.
That event also underscored the need for a truly national and fully coordinated effort to deal with insidious radicalization that leads to violence.
That threat is one of our largest security concerns – the lone wolves or the copy-cats of the small cabals that get sucked in by perverse propaganda, promoting violent extremism. And it’s extremism of all kinds that we need to address, as we saw in Ste. Foy, Quebec, just a few weeks ago.
Six Canadian citizens were shot in the back while they prayed in a house of worship – because they were praying in that house of worship – a vile act of hate intended to terrorize.
The Quebec City Police, with la Sûreté de Quebec and the RCMP performed very well that night, to arrest the perpetrator and restore public safety. But again, these circumstances call for a larger and better counter-radicalization effort as much as we can BEFORE the fact.
We got some money for that purpose in last year’s federal budget. We are setting up a new national office and focus of excellence on counter-radicalization. It will help advance and share research and knowledge, community outreach, prevention and effective intervention.
I will soon be in a position to announce a senior advisor to lead this work, building on what has been done thus far by police forces, academics, community leaders, some provinces and cities.
If we want to retain our national character as an open, diverse, inclusive and generous society – and one that is also safe and secure – we need to become among the best in the world at understanding and dealing effectively with all the radicalizations that lead to violence.
That’s our goal. The knowledge and insights of police officers will help us achieve it.
On various matters that we discussed at your meeting last year, I can tell you that work is on-going and getting closer to fruition.
Despite concerted opposition from some members of the former government, we have pressed ahead with Bill C-4. It is now near completion to repeal the anti-union Private Members Bills C-377 and 525. They will soon be gone, as promised.
We are also nearing final resolution on C-7, the Bill that will honour a Supreme Court judgment by giving RCMP members the constitutional right to organize and bargain collectively.
Just before Christmas, the Senate called for changes to C-7, and we will be responding in the very near future – to ensure, in a constructive spirit, that the bargaining rights to be conferred are meaningful and genuine.
We continue to work on a compensation benefit to recognize the needs of families of police officers, firefighters and paramedics who lose their lives in the line of duty.
And we’re pushing ahead on a National Strategy to deal with post-traumatic stress injuries which disproportionately affect public safety officers. We’ve had the benefit of your engagement and advice on this vital topic… about the research that’s required, the early warning signs of detection, the need for effective and accessible treatment, the information and tools necessary to combat stigmatization, and how we can best get people healthy again and back to work and successful living.
A recent Report of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security affirms in very strong terms many of the directions which you and your other Tri-Service colleagues have recommended.
Before I finish, let me mention briefly a number of on-going or emerging issues which will be major preoccupations for both you and us in the weeks and months ahead. We’ll need your help and collaboration.
One of those is our proposed new legal regime with respect to marijuana.
We now have the work and the report of the Expert Task Force headed by Anne McLellan – with high caliber input from police officers.
We expect to put draft legislation before Parliament this spring – to legalize, but also strictly regulate and restrict the use of cannabis in a manner that will better keep it out of the hands of our kids and cut off the multibillion flow of illegal cash to organized crime.
Your work during the transition to the new law will be difficult, but important. In a civilized society until the law changes, the existing law remains in force and needs to be respected.
We also need to be absolutely clear that drug-impaired driving is already a serious criminal offence today – and it will continue to be.
To improve the way in which we detect and prosecute these crimes, we’ve been working on the science and technology of roadside testing.
Through this past winter, we’ve run a pilot project using different devices to test their scientific reliability and technical practicality in various conditions – including the bitter cold in the North, on the West Coast, the Prairies, Ontario and Quebec and in the Atlantic.
- 2 RCMP detachments, one provincial police force and four municipal forces helped with the tests.
- The preliminary results are promising, laying the groundwork for effective law enforcement.
Secondly – on the topic of go-forward priorities – let me mention the scourge of illicit opioids.
My colleague Health Minister, Jane Philpott has unveiled a long series of measures and some new federal funding to assist and support provincial and municipal partners in tackling this crisis.
- Including the better availability of Naloxone.
- And a more practical and realistic process for approving safe injection sites.
On the criminal investigation and enforcement side:
- we are clamping down on illegal import of pill presses and other devices for the manufacture of illicit drugs.
- we are expanding CBSA powers to inspect small packages coming in from offshore where there are reasonable grounds to be suspicious.
Some people say why are you bothering to inspect small packages under 30 grams?
The answer is pretty obvious – 30 grams can contain enough opioid drugs to kill 15,000 people. So greater inspection powers are fully warranted.
The RCMP is expanding the training of its police dogs to better detect fentanyl.
All 139 RCMP narcotic dog teams across Canada are due to complete their training by mid-July – enhancing our capacity for detection.
Globally we’re also working closely with the US government to try to stop fentanyl and car fentanyl from getting into Canada and the US from Mexico and China. This was a specific topic raised in the Oval Office when Prime Minister Trudeau met President Trump a couple of weeks ago. And the Chinese have since taken certain steps to ban certain products.
But even before that, Canada had signed an MOU with China last fall when the Chinese Premier visited Ottawa – on law enforcement cooperation.
The RCMP has been following up, specifically about opioids.
And our new Ambassador to China, John McCallum is identifying the battle against the opioid crisis as one of his major diplomatic priorities in his new role – to begin soon in Beijing.
Finally, I want to mention the work that many police services have undertaken recently to review their practices around sexual assault investigations.
This is one of the most traumatic crimes a person may experience. It must be crystal clear to everyone – especially the victims – that no case will be treated lightly; that victim safety and well-being are of prime concern; and no one should be deterred from reporting a sexual assault for fear they will not be believed.
We all have important work to do – in close collaboration with groups and organizations that service the victims – to ensure that training standards are high; that procedures and policies reflect “best practices” everywhere; that data collection is reliable, consistent and comprehensive; and ultimately, that the community is safer and victims are fewer.
There’s much more on the horizon, but I’ve already imposed on your time this morning.
Let me close by thanking you once again for your service and by applauding the high standards of conduct to which Canadian police officers aspire.
Your respect for civilian authority, your transparency and accountability, your professional standards and your pursuit of excellence in training and in results are all important to what set Canada apart as a special democracy – keeping Canadians safe and secure while also safeguarding our precious rights and freedoms, and the qualities that make Canada, Canada.
I thank you for that, and ask you to keep reaching for the very best.