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

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

Liberals promised during 2015 federal election to strengthen Canada’s access-to-information regime

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.”

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

LiberalsprivacyRCMP

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

Just Posted

(File photo)
RCMP left with many questions after odd report of stabbing in Parksville

Original caller left area because of outstanding arrest warrants; victim not forthcoming with police

PQB News reader Randy Hall set up a camera at the beach in Parksville, in the same spot every day in February, to capture the changing days and weather. (Randy Hall photo)
WATCH: Scenes from 28 days in February in Parksville

PQB News reader Randy Hall set up camera in same location each day

An Island Health nurse prepares a dose of COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo courtesy Island Health)
Health authority opening 19 clinics to immunize Vancouver Island residents

Health authority anticipates more than 40,000 people will be immunized over the next month

(PQB News file photo)
Some frustrated Parksville Qualicum Beach residents now tossing recyclables in garbage

Option is driving to collection centres in Nanaimo and Courtenay

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

Montreal Canadiens right wing Paul Byron (41) fights for control of the puck with Vancouver Canucks defenceman Quinn Hughes (43) during first period NHL action in Vancouver, Monday, March 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Captain Clutch: Horvat nets shootout winner as Canucks edge Habs 2-1

Vancouver, Montreal tangle again on Wednesday

Cottonwoods Care Home in Kelowna. (Google Maps)
New COVID-19 outbreak at Kelowna care home includes fully vaccinated seniors: Henry

Two staff and 10 residents tested positive at Cottonwoods Care Centre

A sports car crashed into a lamp standard and rolled down the hill behind Country Club Centre mall on Sunday night. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
Sports car crashes into lamp post, rolls down hill behind Nanaimo mall

Driver uninjured in incident Sunday night on Norwell Drive

A special committee has been appointed to look at reforming B.C.’s police act and is inviting the public to make submissions until April 30, 2021. (Black Press media file)
Have thoughts on B.C.’s review of the provincial Police Act?

Submissions will be accepted until April 30

Excerpts from a conversation between Bria Fisher and the fake truLOCAL job. Fisher had signed a job agreement and was prepared to start work for what she thought was truLOCAL before she learned it was a scam. (Contributed)
B.C. woman warning others after losing $3,000 in job scam

Bria Fisher was hired by what she thought was a Canadian company, only to be out thousands

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix provide a regular update on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, March 2, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 cases: 545 Saturday, 532 Sunday, 385 Monday

Focus on Prince Rupert, Lower Mainland large workplaces

Rising accident rates and payout costs have contributed to billion-dollar deficits at ICBC. (Comox Valley Record)
B.C. appealing decision keeping ICBC injury cases in court

David Eby vows to ‘clip wings’ of personal injury lawyers

Most Read