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

The intersection of Melrose Street and Third Avenue. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Two pedestrians struck in Port Alberni hit and run

RCMP locate driver and vehicle, but are asking for video footage

Students from AW Neill Elementary School in Port Alberni write anti-bullying messages and draw colourful chalk art around their school for national anti-bullying Pink Shirt Day, Feb. 24, 2021. (PHOTO COURTESY LISA ARBANAS)
Chalk art brightens public walkway on Pink Shirt Day

Students from AW Neill Elementary in Port Alberni write messages of hope

Mary Mason of Owls Path Foundation presents plans for a Nuu-chah-nulth Cultural Centre to Port Alberni city council. The structure pictured in this image is the Copenhagen Opera House. (SCREENSHOT)
Nuu-chah-nulth cultural centre pitched for Port Alberni

Three possible locations put forward for multi-million-dollar centre

An endangered Vancouver Island marmot suns itself on rocks at Mount Washington, near the Comox Valley. Learn more about this endangered species with the Alberni Valley Nature Club. (PHOTO COURTESY SANDY MCRUER, AV NATURE CLUB)
Marmots, underwater mysteries part of Alberni Valley Nature Club lineup

Club kicks off membership drive with series of Zoom chats

The current exhibit at the Rollin Art Centre. The art gallery has COVID-19 protective measures in place. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
ARTS AROUND: Rollin Art Centre puts out a call to artists

Port Alberni’s Community Arts Council will hold a pandemic-inspired art exhibit

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the B.C. legislature press theatre to give a daily update on the COVID-19 pandemic, April 6, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. nears 300,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, essential workers next

564 new cases, four deaths, no new outbreaks Thursday

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Canada’s hockey dad had battled Parkinson’s disease and other health issues

Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne speaks in the B.C. legislature, March 4, 2021. (Hansard TV)
B.C. Liberals, NDP sing in harmony on local election reforms

Bill regulates paid canvassers, allows people in condo buildings

(National Emergency Management Agency)
No tsunami risk to B.C. from powerful New Zealand earthquake: officials

An 8.1 magnitude earthquake shook the north of New Zealand Thursday morning

Comox Valley RCMP had access to 20 Street blocked off between Cousins and Choquette avenues as they conducted a raid of a house on the block. Photo by Terry Farrell
Comox Valley RCMP raid Courtenay problem house, several arrests made

Comox Valley RCMP conducted a raid of a problem house on 20th… Continue reading

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
Pandemic stress, isolation key factors as to why Canadians turned to cannabis, alcohol

Study found that isolation played key role in Canadians’ substance use

Grand Forks’ Gary Smith stands in front of his Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster float. Photo: Submitted
Grand Forks’ Flying Spaghetti Monster leader still boiling over driver’s licence photo

Gary Smith, head of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster of B.C., said he has since spoken to lawyers

Most Read