05/30/2012 10:18 EDT | Updated 07/30/2012 05:12 EDT

Big changes coming to RCMP Act to tighten discipline powers: Toews

OTTAWA - Legislation to modernize the RCMP's discipline process is coming soon, even though related issues are still before the courts, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said Wednesday.

The minister said he was pleased to see an open letter from RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson earlier this week that expressed frustration about the antiquated discipline procedures in the RCMP Act.

Toews said he has been encouraging Paulson to reach out to the public and acknowledged he saw the letter before it was released.

The letter fits perfectly with the government's communications plan, he said.

"It's a good letter, and it's certainly consistent with the discussions that we've had," Toews said.

"I've encouraged Commissioner Paulson to be out front with Canadians to communicate how important he believes reform of the RCMP is and this letter is very consistent with our general communications."

Difficulties with the RCMP discipline procedures have been raised by Cpl. Catherine Galliford, who claims she was the victim of sexual harassment and abuse by male colleagues. The system was highlighted again last week when an Alberta officer who admitted to sexual misconduct was transferred to B.C. instead of being fired.

Toews acknowledged that the Conservative government tried in the last Parliament to give the RCMP more leeway to discipline wayward Mounties, but the government fell before the legislation could pass.

Since then, he said, reforms have been held up by issues raised by collective agreements that are still before the courts.

"Unfortunately, I felt that would be resolved by now. It is not yet resolved. Quite frankly I am prepared to proceed without addressing that. I think Canadians should not have to wait any longer."

In his open letter released Monday, Paulson complained that his ability to discipline "bad apples" within the force is hindered by a system that was set up 25 years ago. He said some discipline cases are bogged down in red tape for years.

Toews said he agrees with many of the suggestions Paulson has proposed.

But Liberal critic Judy Sgro blames the Conservatives for dragging their feet unnecessarily. She says her attempts to have Parliament move quickly in restoring "traditional lustre" to the force were brushed aside.

"I am appreciative of your sincere desire to resolve this matter, despite being thwarted by the inactions of the current government," she wrote in a letter to Paulson.