Bill Blair Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair answers a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Nov. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Info commissioner slams RCMP, Liberals on rampant access-to-information failures

Info commissioner slams RCMP, Liberals on rampant access-to-information failures

OTTAWA — The federal information commissioner has come out swinging against Public Safety Minister Bill Blair and the RCMP for what she says is a complete disregard for transparency and accountability.

The criticisms are in a new report released Tuesday in which Caroline Maynard takes the Mounties to task for failing to address long-standing failings in the handling of access-to-information requests.

That includes a growing backlog of thousands of unanswered requests for information from Canadians, as well problems with processing and responding to such requests properly.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Maynard said she met with RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki to discuss the issue in 2018, shortly after the two of them took up their respective jobs.

“I was hopeful that resources were going to be added and the systemic issues would be looked at,” Maynard said. “But it turns out that with time, we noticed there was no improvement. Actually, everything was getting worse.”

While Maynard blames the Mounties’ leaders for not addressing the problems, she also criticizes Blair and the federal Liberal government for seemingly not taking the issue seriously.

That includes a failure to respond as she was carrying on her investigation, which started in January 2019, and developing a credible plan to address the 15 recommendations she makes.

“The RCMP commissioner and the minister both appear to accept the status quo and are only prepared to commit to minimal improvements without a clear plan of action or timelines,” Maynard wrote in the introduction to her report.

“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.”

Blair rejected those allegations of indifference, indicating during a news conference that he did not know Maynard was releasing a report on the RCMP until this past weekend.

He went on to say the commissioner “seemed quite happy and satisfied” with his plan for fixing the problems she had identified after the two talked on Tuesday morning.

That plan consists of ordering the RCMP to work with the Treasury Board Secretariat, which oversees Ottawa’s access-to-information regime, to identify the problems and come up with a strategy within three months for addressing them.

“I want to assure you that I care about access to information,” Blair said. “I think it’s an important obligation — both a legal obligation, but an obligation of government generally, to provide information where we are able in a timely way.”

Tuesday’s report is only the latest from the commissioner to scold federal departments for failing to uphold the Canadian public’s right to government information.

“With the pandemic, it’s even more important for people to know that they can trust governments and get the information about how decisions are being made, how my money is being spent,” Maynard told The Canadian Press.

“When I hear government leaders saying that they want Canadians to trust them, I always think to myself: It starts with information. Provide them with information, show them how you make those decisions.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appeared to agree with that assessment during one of his regular COVID-19 updates on Tuesday as he thanked Maynard for raising her concerns to the government.

“Canadians need to have confidence in their institutions,” he said. “We need particularly to have confidence in institutions like police forces like the RCMP. One of the best ways to do that is to demonstrate transparency and accountability.”

The Liberals first promised during the 2015 federal election to strengthen Canada’s access-to-information regime, but Maynard has said complaints about the system are increasing.

Advocacy groups such as OpenMedia and the Canadian Association of Journalists have also raised concerns about the state of the federal system, particularly as long-standing problems have been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s so many problems across other departments, so this is really kind of the tip of the iceberg,” said CAJ president Brent Jolly.

“The public deserves better. And without modernization, I fear for the future of information and the free flow of information and the Canadian public’s right to know, frankly.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 17, 2020.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

Access to Information

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said growing COVID-19 case numbers continue to be a concern in the province. (Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta announces 1,077 new COVID-19 cases Thursday

There are currently 14,052 active cases in the province

Head coach Jason Chatwood, left, sports one of the Sylvan Lake Gulls’ first on-field hats next to Aqil Samuel, general manager and president of baseball operations, earlier this year.
Sylvan Lake Gulls ticket sales off to flying start

With the inaugural season quickly closing in, the Sylvan Lake Gulls hit… Continue reading

Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s chief medical health officer publicly criticizes staffer who leaked info

EDMONTON — Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, dealing with rocketing COVID-19… Continue reading

The RCMP major crimes unit is investigating after a person was found dead at a residence on Stewart Street in Red Deer’s Sunnybrook neighbourhood Wednesday afternoon. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Red Deer RCMP investigating suspicious death in Sunnybrook

A ‘deceased adult’ was found by officers

A detail from Canyon Light, an oil painting by Joan Clement, in the Scale exhibit by members of the Red Deer Art Club. It’s showing at the Viewpoint Gallery in the city’s Culture Services Centre. (Contributed image).
Outdoor art gallery and scavenger hunt is on in Red Deer next month

But First Friday receptions and patio concerts are postponed

Mahomes vs. Brady spices up Thanksgiving holiday week

Mahomes vs. Brady spices up Thanksgiving holiday week

Cowboys miss chance for NFC East lead with another home loss

Cowboys miss chance for NFC East lead with another home loss

Arsenal, Leicester, Hoffenheim advance in Europa League

Arsenal, Leicester, Hoffenheim advance in Europa League

Keegan Messing performs during the Men's Short program at the 2020 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships in Mississauga, Ont., Friday, Jan. 17, 2020. If the world figure skating championships do go ahead in a bubble in March in Sweden, there is a good chance Canada won't be there. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Canada might not compete at world figure skating championships – if they happen

Canada might not compete at world figure skating championships - if they happen

A piece of hockey history is up for sale, with a rare Vancouver Millionaires sweater, seen in an undated handout photo, hitting the auction block. The cream and maroon wool cardigan is believed to have belonged to Hall of Fame goalie Hugh Lehman, who backstopped the Millionaires to a Pacific Coast Hockey Association championship in 1922-23. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Lelands Auction, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Hockey history up for sale as 97-year-old Vancouver Millionaires sweater hits auction

Hockey history up for sale as 97-year-old Vancouver Millionaires sweater hits auction

Canada’s Nembhard scores 11 points off the bench in Gonzaga debut

Canada’s Nembhard scores 11 points off the bench in Gonzaga debut

Mighty Heart is breezed by exercise rider Des McMahon, at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Woodbine Entertainment says it has officially cancelled the rest of its thoroughbred racing season following discussions with the Ontario government. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Woodbine Racetrack ends horse racing season after talks with provincial government

Woodbine Racetrack ends horse racing season after talks with provincial government

As Alberta’s COVID-19 cases rise, so does tension over world junior championship

As Alberta’s COVID-19 cases rise, so does tension over world junior championship

Most Read