The RCMP’s inability to respond to requests for information in time has become a “critical” point and needs to be addressed, according to a rigorous new report from the federal information commissioner.
“Information Commissioner Caroline Maynard” I would like to emphasize that Information Commissioner Caroline Maynard is in a critical state of the RCMP and could soon overcome a point of no return unless the top leaders of the organization take immediate action. “ he wrote in his special report.
“Canadians reasonably expect that the Canadian police force, which is responsible for enforcing Canadian law, will comply with it. The seriousness of the RCMP’s situation requires bold and comprehensive action to turn the tide.”
The Trudeau government has stated today that it is taking Maynard’s warning seriously. Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair has announced that he will issue a ministerial directive to the RCMP to begin the process of improving access to information performance.
Maynard launched an investigation in 2019 at the RCMP’s access office after receiving complaints that the legal deadlines for responding to access requests were not being met under the Information Access Act. The KRMP also encouraged a “continued failure” to provide answers to its office in the investigation of the complaint, he wrote.
Access to Information – Regulated by the Access to Information Act and commonly referred to as ‘ATIP’ – is one of the ways in which journalists and citizens can access information that is otherwise hidden from journalists and citizens.
The delay is “shocking”: Maynard
According to Maynard’s review, in February 2019 the RCMP had 4,532 active access to active information and 92 percent of them passed the legal response period.
“The size of the delay in orders is staggering,” Maynard said.
Information Commissioner Brenda Lucki said she was one of the first people she met when RCMP Commissioner took over the job more than two years ago.
“We couldn’t see any improvement. Actually, things were going wrong,” Maynard said in an interview with CBC News.
“We gave a lot of letters, so that wasn’t news to Commissioner Lucki, it wasn’t news to Minister Blair.”
Blair is issuing a new directive
Although the new report (presented to Parliament this morning) says the RCMP has set out strategies to improve response times to Maynard’s office, he does not seem convinced that many of these changes will be made.
“My research has shown that the strategies established so far do not improve the performance of the RCMP. I believe the RCMP will continue to effectively manage access requests if leaders do not improve internal culture, along with current processes. Access to information program infrastructure,” he said.
His office created six areas for improvement and 15 recommendations based on providing more training and resources.
Blair also took it to task and asked him to ensure that the force has the resources it needs to fulfill its duties.
“The response I received from the Minister falls short, especially when it comes to commitments to improve transparency and timely responses,” Maynard concluded.
“He ignored most of the recommendations and appears concerned about the failures detected in the RCMP’s ATIP operations.”
Blair’s office has said it intends to issue a ministry directive to identify the RCMP’s problems after talking to Maynard this morning and make a plan to address them.
“The RCMP will have three months to respond in full to the current report of the information commissioner, which will have to be validated by Finance Committee officials,” Blair’s spokeswoman Mary-Liz Power wrote.
“We are taking this issue seriously. We are committed to transparency and we must comply with it.”
The RCMP acknowledges the “challenges”
Asked about the report today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government would look into its findings.
“Canadians need to have confidence in their organizations. We need to have particular confidence in organizations like the police force, like the RCMP,” he said in a rally on Tuesday.
“One of the best ways to do that is to demonstrate transparency and accountability. We have seen challenges in the past. I thank the Information Commissioner for advancing this and we will certainly look at how we can ensure that Canadians have full confidence in their national police.”
The RCMP said it has “challenges to meet our obligations under the Access to Information Act”.
“We remain committed to providing timely information to Canadians,” said RCMP spokeswoman Robin Percival.
The force said that several recommendations of the report have already been addressed, including the call for the creation of a specialized unit for the classification and monitoring of requests, in order to ensure timely responses.
“The next step is to look for opportunities to get additional resources,” Percival said.
“We are also in the process of acquiring new processing software and other information technology solutions to better meet the excellent volume of demand for RCMP.”