Information commissioner rips RCMP for slow response to information access requests

The RCMP’s inability to respond to access to information requests on time has reached a critical point and needs intervention, according to a scathing new report from the federal information commissioner.

“I would like to stress that the situation at the RCMP is critical and may soon be past the point of no return, unless senior leaders within the organization take action immediately,” Information Commissioner Caroline Maynard wrote.

“Canadians rightfully expect that the police force for Canada, in charge of enforcing Canadian law, will itself comply with it. The gravity of the situation at the RCMP calls for bold and comprehensive action to turn the tide.”

Maynard launched an investigation back in 2019 into the RCMP’s ATIP office after getting complaints about it failing to meet statutory time frames under the Access to Information Act for responding to access requests. It also was spurred on by “the consistent failure” of the RCMP to provide responses to her office during complaint investigations, she wrote.

The access to information system — governed by the Access to Information Act and often referred to as ‘ATIP’ — is one of the ways journalists and members of the public can get information from government departments and agencies that is otherwise hidden from view.

Backlog is ‘shocking:’ Maynard

Maynard’s review found that in February 2019, the RCMP had 4,532 active access to information requests — and 92 per cent of them had gone beyond the statutory due date for response.

“The size of the request backlog is shocking,” said Maynard.

While the new report — which was tabled in Parliament this morning — said the RCMP told Maynard’s office it has implemented strategies to improve its response times, she seems unconvinced those changes will amount to much.

Information Commissioner Caroline Maynard raised serious concerns with the RCMP’s access to information request backlog. (Government of Canada)

“My investigation revealed that the strategies implemented to date have failed to improve the RCMP’s performance. I believe that the RCMP will continue to fail in effectively managing access requests if leaders do not do more to improve the internal culture, along with the current processes and access to information program infrastructure,” she said.

Her office came up with recommendations centred on delivering more training and more resources.

She also urged Public Safety Minister Bill Blair to make sure the force has the resources it needs to meet its obligations.

“The response I received from the minister falls short on many fronts, particularly when it comes to commitments to improve transparency and timely responses,” Maynard concluded.

“He has ignored most recommendations and appears unconcerned by the failings identified within the RCMP’s ATIP operations.”

Asked about the report today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government will look at its findings. 

“Canadians need to have confidence in their institutions. We need particularly to have confidence in institutions like police forces, like the RCMP,” he said during his regular Tuesday briefing. 

“One of the best ways to do that is to demonstrate transparency and accountability. We have seen in the past that there have been challenges on that. I thank the information commissioner for bringing that forward and we will certainly be looking at how we can ensure that Canadians have full confidence in their national police force.”

CBC has requested comment from both the RCMP and Blair.

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