Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, earlier this week I made a statement praising Hay River’s liveability. It’s a beautiful and safe place to raise a family, so do not take this the wrong way, but Hay River needs more cops.
Currently, Hay River is allocated seven general duty constables. Those are the men and women who patrol the community and respond to the day-to-day calls, from the routine mundane ones to the serious and potentially life-threatening calls. That is seven officers to cover the community 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – but seven officers does not necessarily mean seven officers. The NWT has the highest vacancy rate of allocated RCMP positions of any province or territory. In addition, each officer is entitled to anywhere between 15 and 28 days of annual leave. There is also a list of required training courses that the RCMP must attend. Those courses can last up to two weeks each. What all this means is that there are times when there are only three general duty constables available to cover all shifts.
On top of this, the RCMP have to perform duties that are handled by sheriffs in most other jurisdictions. Court is held in Hay River every second Monday, with trials on the following Tuesday and sometimes Wednesday. The RCMP are responsible for transporting prisoners to and from these proceedings, and monitoring them while they’re in court. That means up to six days a month there is one officer who is unable to respond to calls, patrol the community, or assist in investigations.
The fact is, and the RCMP will confirm this, we need more general duty constables in Hay River. Let’s consider how we stack up against other jurisdictions. We are 50 per cent bigger than Fort Smith – they have six positions, compared to our seven. Inuvik has 12 positions, despite the fact that Hay River fields twice as many calls per constable that result in charges being laid. Each charge means hours of additional paperwork. This staff shortage impacts public safety, officer safety, and I can’t imagine it’s good for the mental well-being of these officers who are being asked to do more than is humanly possible.
There are simple solutions that the department must be aware of but has not acted on. The obvious, allocate more positions in Hay River. Second, a men’s shelter would significantly cut down the number of calls the RCMP responded to. Just look at what the sobering centre has done in Yellowknife. Third, task the sheriffs with handling prisoner transport and overseeing prisoners while in court. I will have questions for the Minister of Justice at the appropriate time. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SIMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Further to my Member’s statement of a moment ago regarding the RCMP staffing levels in Hay River, I would like to direct these questions to the Minister of Justice. The RCMP presented to the GNWT a request and a business case for two additional general duty constables in Hay River. Will the department include these positions in next year’s budget? Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
SPEAKER: Masi. Minister of Justice.
HON. LOUIS SEBERT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The department is working closely with “G” Division to develop a business case to support additional policing resources in the community and is working its way through the GNWT planning process for 2018-2019. We have heard not only from the Member opposite but from the RCMP about this request, which does seem reasonable. Thank you.
MR. SIMPSON: I understand that upcoming budgets are often kept pretty close to the chest, so I appreciate that answer. I will take that as a positive. One of the other issues I touched on is how the RCMP are responsible for duties that sheriffs are generally responsible for in other jurisdictions. My question is: why can we not put the responsibility for transporting and overseeing prisoners to and from court and while they are in court on the sheriffs instead of the RCMP? I am sure it is a much cheaper option, and there is already a sheriff in the courtroom. Why can’t we do this?
HON. LOUIS SEBERT: The department and the RCMP have formed a committee to review current practices and recommend the most effective model for providing prisoner security. Currently we are looking at the situation in Yellowknife, and this would appear to make sense in many ways. I know that, in Nunavut, I think exclusively in Iqaluit, the sheriffs have taken over duties that were formerly conducted by the RCMP. We will be looking at this, initially for the Yellowknife courthouse, but perhaps, after that, looking at other communities where this might also create efficiencies.
MR. SIMPSON: That’s a great start. Another issue that takes up the time of the RCMP, and it is tied in with this last one, is the prisoner transport to and from Yellowknife to attend court in the South Slave. They have to do that because the remand centre in Hay River is no longer being used. This comes at a cost to the RCMP. That is, the RCMP has to use it’s own budget to transport the prisoners, and they don’t even get the GNWT rate when it comes to the cost of flights. Can I ask the Minister: why does the RCMP not get the GNWT rate for these flights, and can we get it for them to save them a few bucks and put that back into community safety?
HON. LOUIS SEBERT: Of course, the RCMP is a federal agency and have their own procurement rules, but I am happy to have our department working with the RCMP to see if efficiencies and cost savings can be found.
MR. SIMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Finally, this is something I have brought up in the House many times, and it’s tied in with everything we’ve been discussing. The remand centre in Hay River is not being used. This would save the RCMP money, and it would save everyone time.
I would like to ask the Minister: can I get an analysis of why the remand centre in Hay River cannot be used? The answer I always get is that SMCC is a minimum security centre. As I understand it, remand is remand – people in remand don’t mix with the general population. Besides, remand is located in minimum security prisons in Alberta, other places in Canada, and places in Australia. Why can we not do it here? Why can we not put that back into use? Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
HON. LOUIS SEBERT: I understand that the last time that the remand centre was used in Hay River was 2005. Inmates on remand are considered high-risk, and for that reason they have to be housed in a medium- or maximum-security facility, and currently the facility in Hay River is minimum-security. Housing remand inmates in that facility would hinder the operations, simply because the facility, as I mentioned, is minimum-security, not medium or maximum, which is required.
I do know that there is a lot of traffic of prisoners back and forth to court, and that can add some additional expenses. I am hoping that members of my profession will be using video conferencing more often to reduce some of those costs.
It is really a matter of security to have Hay River act again as a remand centre. It would require considerable changes to the facility as it now stands to raise it from minimum to a medium or maximum, and at this time we are not contemplating those costs. Thank you.