Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, at sunset.

Open letter: Civil society groups decry inadequate consultation on Bill C-20

While Bill C-20 is a crucial measure to ensure greater accountability of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the undersigned organizations are deeply troubled by the federal government’s lack of consultation or engagement with key civil society stakeholders in the development of this important piece of legislation both before this bill was tabled, and as it has moved through the legislature.

Bill C-20, An Act establishing the Public Complaints and Review Commission and amending certain Acts and statutory instruments, is an overdue bill that attempts to respond to the longstanding call to create a dedicated independent review and complaints process for the activities of the CBSA and make changes to the RCMP review process – amalgamating both under a Public Complaints and Review Commission (PCRC).

The signatories of this statement are established and well-regarded groups. They are led by and represent individuals and communities most impacted by the CBSA and the RCMP, including Indigenous, Black and other racialized people. We have decades of expertise in the areas of immigration and refugee law, criminal law, human rights, international law, civil liberties, and national security, to name a few.

The collective expertise of our groups can help the federal government fulfill the mandate of this Bill, expressed by the Minister of Public Safety in November 2022, to strengthen independent accountability and combat systemic racism and discrimination. Despite its stated objective of fostering accountability, the government is instead dodging it by failing to properly consult the communities we represent and include them in the democratic process of lawmaking.

Bill C-20 needs to be improved

There are many shortcomings to the proposed Bill C-20. Aspects that should be addressed include:

  • the need to ensure the independence of the PCRC’s operations;
  • the PCRC’s independent access to information;
  • ensuring there is a mechanism for complaints on systemic issues;
  • third-party complaints; and
  • broadening the PCRC’s redress and recourse powers.

Attached to this statement is a summary of key recommendations from our briefs submitted to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, indicating how Bill C-20 can be revised in order to meet its intended purpose and mandate.

Whether our briefs and the issues we raise are considered is outside of our hands. Though we are hopeful, it is clear from the sheer lack of engagement on this issue that the government risks creating the PCRC as a shell of accountability that replicates or even exacerbates existing problems with the CBSA and RCMP.

We urge the Standing Committee to consider the recommendations described in the various submissions our groups have made and to integrate the amendments we propose. We welcome the opportunity to speak to members of the Standing Committee and answer any questions.

Signed by:

Header photo: Cory Ruf/Amnesty International Canada