Friday, 27 Nov 2020

Information commissioner slams RCMP for access-to-information failures, calls for ‘urgent’ action

Parliament’s information commissioner said Canada’s federal police force needs an “urgent … change of course” when it comes to handling requests made to it under the federal Access to Information Act.

Commissioner Caroline Maynard had launched a special investigation of the RCMP for repeated and systemic violations of the Access to Information Act.

Maynard tabled her report “Access at Issue: The Need for Leadership” in the House of Commons Tuesday. MPs on the House access to information and ethics standing committee will now consider her recommendations.

“The key findings in my special report lead me to conclude the obvious: a change of course in the area of access at the RCMP is urgently needed,” Maynard said in a statement. “If the Minister and senior RCMP leaders fail to act on my findings, the organization will continue to fail at upholding the right of access.”

Her findings come after an internal RCMP audit published earlier this year that found the force’s access to information understaffed and poorly managed. Moreover, the audit team was unable to properly document the force’s failures to fulfill its responsibilities under the Access to Information Act because the force simply was not collecting enough or appropriate information about its own performance.

“The audit team was unable to assess the effectiveness of the initiatives given the lack of evidence-based performance information,” the audit said.

Similarly, Maynard’s office found that when it tried to investigate individual complaints made by requesters about the RCMP’s failure to provide information, the RCMP failed to respond to her investigators’ queries.

“I want to stress that the situation in the RCMP is critical and may soon cross the point of no return, unless the organization’s senior leadership takes immediate action,” Maynard said in the report. “It is critically important that the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness (Bill Blair), to whom the RCMP reports, ensure that the necessary resources, processes and tools are available so that the RCMP can begin to meet its obligations under the Act.”

Neither the RCMP nor Public Safety Minister Bill Blair was immediately available to respond to the information commissioner’s report.

For the fiscal year that ended on March 31, 2020, the RCMP received 7,673 request for information, the third highest number of any government department, and, according to Treasury Board data, had carried over 1,726 requests from 2018-2019.

But of the total 9,399 requests that were active in its office during the year, the RCMP managed to close only 54 per cent of those requests, easily the lowest closure rate of any major federal department dealing with more than 1,000 requests in the year. The goverment-wide closure rate by comparison was 83 per cent.

Maynard made several recommendations to improve the RCMP’s access-to-information performance and, before publishing her report, she submitted those recommendations to Blair’s office for comment.

But, time and again in her report, Maynard said Blair appeared not to be taking her six recommendations seriously, to wit:

  • “The Minister’s response is disappointing … “
  • “The Minister of Public Safety has not committed the RCMP to implementing or adopting more innovative digital approaches or investing in digital skills development for staff.”
  • “It appears that there is still no targeted plan to channel some of those new resources to its ATIP program.”
  • “The RCMP still lacks a comprehensive strategy to address the persistent problems identified by the [information commissioner].””
  • “The Minister’s response on tasking is not satisfactory,…”
  • “The Minister did not commit the RCMP to implementing an audit capacity to ensure that SOPs are implemented consistently across the organization and over time.”

 

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