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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Senators at odds over early release of Liberal RCMP report

January 24, 2010
Janice Tibbetts, Canwest News Service
National Post

OTTAWA -- Liberals and Conservative senators are locked in a dispute about the pending release of a report that is deeply critical of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and calls for at least 5,000 new officers to help boost the national force.

The Liberal majority on the Senate national security committee, which is dissolved while Parliament is prorogued, is planning to make their report public early next month.

Liberal Senator Colin Kenny, the longtime committee chairman, said the findings will be based on a draft committee report that was still in the works when the committee recessed in December.

Mr. Kenny is expected to be replaced by a Conservative chairman in the next Parliament, after Prime Minister Stephen Harper appoints more Conservative senators to end the Liberal domination on committees.

Conservative Senator Pamela Wallin said it is "shocking" that the Liberals on the committee would publicize the contents of an unfinished report while Parliament is prorogued.

"That is a completely irresponsible and unprecedented thing to do," Ms. Wallin said. "These reports are confidential until everybody has signed off on them and we are in the middle of that."

Mr. Kenny countered that he and his colleagues are not releasing the committee's actual draft report, but a recrafted "position paper" of their own.

The Liberal report is expected to contain numerous recommendations, including a call for about 5,000 more officers over seven years and increased civilian oversight of the force -- an element of several other reports on the RCMP.

The position paper also touches on Taser use and another "big time" component deals with the force's often-criticized management structure, Mr. Kenny said.

"There are a lot of problems within the RCMP and our report comments on whether the right problems are being addressed," he said.

Ms. Wallin questioned the value of another report on the RCMP, which she said already has been studied to death. She said that the report to be released by Kenny and his colleagues is nothing more than a "Liberal press release."

The committee's last meeting in December, in which they discussed whether to approve a draft report they had worked on for three months, was an acrimonious gathering in which Conservative senators accused the Liberals of going out of their way to disparage the RCMP.

Ms. Wallin chastised the "offensive language" of the draft report, which she said amounted a "drive-by" smear of the Mounties.

"We did not like the tone, which assumed that every member of the RCMP engaged in the misuse of Tasers or engaged in some illegal behaviour," she said at the meeting.

"We did not want the RCMP to be side-swiped by concerns about problem members or issues that years ago were a problem and that the RCMP have been working on actively."

Conservative Senator Daniel Lang said that adding 5,000 RCMP officers would increase the existing complement by 25% and would cost taxpayers "in the neighbourhood" of $500 million.

"I am not saying there should not be increases, but I am also saying that I do not think we heard anything to that extent that should be done," said Mr. Lang, who asserted the report went "well beyond" what was discussed at committee hearings.

There have been several reports on the RCMP in recent years, including two reports in 2007 when the Conservative government commissioned special investigator David Brown to examine the force following revelations of a pension scandal. Mr. Brown made numerous recommendations on how to rebuild the force's "horribly broken" management and governance structure.

The Liberals in the Senate are not the only Grits planning to do business while Parliament is shut down -- Liberal MPs say they are also reporting to work Monday in protest, even though the doors do not officially open until March.

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