Some highly decorated Mounties who will never return your information requests ever again, so don't ask. via WikiCommons.
In March of this year, the RCMP increased their budget for dealing with access to information requests. In an age where governments are expected to be increasingly transparent, it’s no surprise that resources would be allocated accordingly. However, whether due to sheer incompetence or simply just a symptom of a growing attitude within circles of authority that is making law enforcement and the government increasingly standoffish with the public and the media, the RCMP has completely stopped responding to access to information requests.
By law, government organizations—ministries, agencies, law enforcement—are required to at least acknowledge that requests for information have been made. But the RCMP isn’t even going that far. They appear to be completely blowing off the whole process, despite it being essential to maintaining what we could call “democratic accountability.” All the RCMP has offered is a weak excuse of being swamped too handle the workload that information requests create. They’re using the same coping mechanism that I did in high school: if there’s too much homework, the best thing to do is none of it at all.
Suzanne Legault is Canada’s Information Commissioner. In August, she explained to Global News that the number of complaints her office has received in the past year in regards to the RCMP’s silent treatment is ridiculous.
“This past year at some point, they just completely stopped responding… I’ve never seen that in four years I’ve been here. Requesters were complaining to my office, but we didn’t even have any response from the institution (RCMP).”
In that same Global article, RCMP spokesperson Greg Cox responded, saying that the RCMP is “diligently working towards increasing our efficiency,” although there doesn’t seem to be too much evidence of that taking place, and the longer they stay unresponsive the longer they go on breaking the law.
So my question was, is the halt to responses really just based on the RCMP being strapped for resources and overwhelmed by the number of requests? Or is this lack of communication further evidence of an oft-criticized force burying their heads in the sand? I put this question to both the RCMP and the Information Commissioner’s Office and their responses were apt.
I called the RCMP’s national media office in Ottawa and briefly spoke with Laurence Trottier, who, while initially polite, became flustered when I introduced the topic I was writing on. She got standoffish and asked why I was calling at 4PM given their 5PM closing time, and that they wouldn’t be able to provide a comment within the hour. I said that was fine. But was curious, did the RCMP just take calls during the working hours of central Canada? What if I was calling from B.C.? They’d be calling at noon, so who takes calls at 4pm west coast time? She gave me a vague response and told me to send an email request. 25 hours later I’ve got nothing back.
In fairness to the RCMP, the response from the Information Commissioner’s Office was, ironically, just as lame. I was hoping to speak with Suzanne Legault, who wasn’t available so I posed the same question to whoever took my call there: does the RCMP’s excuse to not respond to information requests hold water, or is this stubbornness part of their policy? Now I’m paraphrasing here, but their response went something like:
“Is this in regards to the Global article?”
“Well we won’t be providing comment on that until the Commissioner’s report comes out.”
“The one on the 16th of September?”
“Yes, unless they prorogue, so whenever the house resumes. But I’d be happy to take your email and send you a copy when it does come out…”
So I found myself talking to the Access to Information Commissioner’s Office… and they weren’t providing me with any information.
After being stonewalled twice in an afternoon, by two government agencies, while I was looking for information regarding the procuring of information, it occurred to me that maybe this was becoming more and more of a trend.
For example, if people at the top of government, in the Prime Minister’s Office, are withholding emails from the RCMP regarding the $90,000 dollar cheque cut for Mike Duffy, why should the RCMP then be compelled to open their filing cabinets for the media? They are, after all, only imitating the same model and treatment they’ve received from the highest of elected officials. And also, if the Prime Minister can just prorogue parliament to avoid any scrutiny, why should the access to information office provide any comment to me?
“Canada was a leader in democratic accountability,” said NDP MP Charlie Angus to Global, “where we stand in the rankings now under the present conservative government, we’re seen down below many third-world, tin-pot dictatorships.” I don’t know about a dictatorship, but I do know now first hand that it’s pretty goddamn frustrating—and no one seems to be getting taken to account.”
Commissioner Legault’s report will be available the day parliament resumes, whenever the hell that may be. And I’m looking forward to my complimentary PDF, (not really).
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