Information laws be damned, our Mounties ain’t talking

Jesse Brown on a shoddy Access to Information record


Pawel Dwulit/Canadian Press

Transparency, the buzzword, is enjoying a moment. There’s no end to breathless talk of open governments, naked corporations and radical transparency of all kinds. The Internet-inspired notion is that we’ve left a dark past behind, one in which power was built by hoarding secrets, and have entered a new age where information flows fast and free between connected institutions and individuals, to everyone’s mutual benefit. Transparency began as the kind of thing you’d hear in TED-type talks or in WIRED magazine think-pieces.  Since then it has trickled down until every middle-manager returning from a lunch-and-learn is bandying it about. Even Stephen Harper, arguably history’s most opaque, press-evading, data clutching prime minister, had the gall to use it.
And why not? Transparency is a pleasing little morsel of pop philosophy, and not without a nugget of truth.

While transparency as a buzzword may remain in vogue, transparency in practice remains as unpopular as ever. Take, for example, the RCMP.

In a Global News interview, Suzanne Legault, our Federal Information Commissioner, says that the RCMP have just stopped responding to Access to Information requests entirely:

“This past year at some point, they completely stopped responding…I’ve never seen that in four years since I’ve been here.”

Let’s put that in context. Serving ATIP requests is a legal obligation of the RCMP under the Access to Information Act. If they are ignoring the requests they receive from journalists and other citizens, our top cops are breaking the law, hundreds, maybe even thousands, of times. When pressed by Global News, The RCMP denied wrongdoing. It claims that it’s just like every other government agency, only more so. It’s jammed with requests and will get to them all in good time.

This defence seems pretty standard in the late Harper era, where many public offices have lost respect for an ATIP request, as many journalists and Legault would confirm. Information arrives late, incomplete, or not at all. And though yes, it’s a legal obligation for agencies, including the RCMP, to comply, good luck holding them to it. Legault herself has no ability to enforce our information laws. She functions in a watchdog capacity, barking and not biting, by design.

Given the toothlessness of our information laws, why should the Mounties actually serve ATIP requests? Why should anyone? Transparency may sound cool, but it’s just another way of saying accountability, and who wants more of that? Nobody hands over information that incriminates them unless they absolutely have to. And no bureaucracy opens up its files carelessly, just in case there’s something in there that the public hasn’t yet considered. And the RCMP, with past incidents including immigrant-tasering, serial-killer ignoring and a selfie-snapping officer, has plenty to worry about.

That’s the problem with transparency as a buzzword: it’s optional. It’s all carrot and no stick.

Follow Jesse on Twitter @JesseBrown


Information laws be damned, our Mounties ain’t talking

  1. Federal Information Commissioner. Ethics commissioner. What do we need? We need their word, I suppose, their assessment of the situation, to make things more clear and transparent to us all.

    But when Ms.Legault speaks, does she back up HER word with actual facts? And when Mary Dawson comes to conclusions, has she done so by looking at the facts?

    I don’t know. I couldn’t tell by reading your article if it is true when she says that the RCMP had stopped answering requests for a time being because of whatever reason. No reasons are given by Ms.Legault as to why the RCMP would have stopped at that particular time. I would like to read the other side of that story before coming to conclusions. Could the internal system of the RCMP no longer handle the onslaught of information requests? Were there internal difficulties regarding fulfilling requests and that a reset button had to be found?

    I don’t know; perhaps new technologies pose a problem as well as a solution to more open access. Were many more requests filed because of the new technology? Are more requests being filed as compared to previous times?

    And if so: why were more requests filed? Because……………..

    And so forth. Nothing can be as one-sided as you make it out to be.

    • Why should the RCMP not just put it on line? Why does every page require a stall process of byzantine bureaucracy of paper pusher?

      For example, say I want to check on the details of a 3 year old crime and find out why no prosecution has yet occurred (and I know just such a manslaughter case), I can’t even find scheduled court trial dates and the results of the last hearing stall from defense needing more time as they try the triple credit game of waste taxpayers money. Seems like they want to protect the guilty and hide how screwed up the system really is.

      We need transparency as obviously secrecy isn’t working out well.

      • Without further evidence of why requests must take so long, I will not judge. I still believe that the RCMP will not willfully obstruct access to information. I still hold people credible until proven otherwise. I have not heard why the RCMP takes so long to fill requests. Ms.Legault tells us that indeed it takes a long time but she does not explain to us what the RCMP reasons could be. Has she taken the time to find out? Could she find out? She tells us what she is observing but she is not telling us the possible reasons for it.

        Find out the reasons, Ms.Legault and then get back to us. Perhaps that would be more helpful.

        • Did you read the Pickton link? Even the most casual attention paid to that case and its inquiry would give any reasonable person a cause to wonder if there isn’t anything the RCMP would or would not do to cover its incompetent ass.

          • Hindsight is always 20/20 and yes, even the RCMP has a degree of incompetence. All human work involves some degree of incompetence. But you are not suggesting that cases are overlooked on purpose, are you?

          • Take the time to read what the Pickton inquiry actually unearthed. It isn’t at all a pretty picture for the Vancouver police dept or the RCMP.

          • It is not a pretty picture for Justin either when he double dips, but a lot of voters simply don’t care, do they?

            Tell me, if I send out a request to find out if the people attending one of Justin’s private-for-a-fee-while-being-paid-an-MP-salary speaking engagements, to find out if those in attendance have claimed a political tax write-off (75% write-off), would such request be answered?

            September 23, 2010 – REED Construction Data. $20,000

            December 6, 2010 – Certified Management Accountants of Ontario . $20,000

          • You have these questions to ask Mr. Trudeau because he voluntarily gave you this the information.

            And, if you file an FOI, you might be able to get your questions answered.Unless of course, you’re asking the RCMP. I hear they don’t answer anything.

            It’s fun watching you wall yourself in like this..

          • Actually, you can’t read. What Justin has disclosed is his fees collected. Nowhere in Justin’s reveal does it indicate if the people who attended those speaking engagements were using the cost for attending as a political tax write off.

            Would you not want to know what happened there? Why would you not want to know?

          • Francien, in the past 3 hours, you’ve something in the range of 100 posts.

            You’ve referenced Justin Trudeau at least 2 dozen times, and you’ve brought up Justin Trudeau in the following threads, many of which have nothing to do with him.

            Here are the threads you’ve posted “Justin Facts” in.

            -Is Justin a Muslim?
            -Justin Smokes pot

            I’ll give you these two.

            But after that, you’re trolling..
            -You can raise a child on $3000 a year
            -Mounties not talking
            -Nixon’s recordings
            -Possible Sale of Telecoms

            You’re a troll, Francien. An OCD troll. Bye now.

          • And you give out your lecture to everyone here on these boards or other boards?

            Go have a look at the G&M comment board and find out how many ‘debaters’ you will find.

            I post in the hope that some Canadians are brave enough to have a debate happening. But Harper-hate expressions are not ‘debates’ ongoing, but apparently most posters think it counts for a debate.

            If you don’t want to read my posts: don’t read them.

            But thank you for reading my posts and for responding to them. I appreciate it.

    • Nothing… except perhaps your response?

      P.S. when using ‘reasonable doubt’ as a clinical intervention, it is wise not to stack reasonable doubt upon reasonable doubt upon reasonable doubt, it becomes incomprehensible, and pointless.

      • Right. So it would be much better to say that without a doubt the RCMP is willfully not filling requests.

        That would make a point, right?

        • But is not your point that you will not accept that the RCMP is not responding to information requests until someone requests information from the RCMP about the information requests and the RCMP provides their answer to that information request?

          • We could make fun of everything and everyone, I suppose, if that’s what suits you best.

          • Don’t even try and reason with Francien, she needs the flimsiest of evidence to support her preferred viewpoint and then demands 100% compliance from any opposing viewpoints and even then that is not enough.
            In short once her mind is made up no amount of evidence is good enough.

          • But StewartSmith’s comment is so full of reason, it blows one away! Eh! :)))))

          • You do realise that just because you can’t grasp it, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t make sense right?

        • When the Federal Information Commissioner says this

          ““This past year at some point, they completely stopped responding…I’ve never seen that in four years since I’ve been here.”

          Then I’ll take her at her word, because it is her job to monitor ATI requests and compile stats on it. Especially as the RCMP admitted it isn’t up to speed on its obligations on this a few lines further down.

          “The RCMP denied wrongdoing. It claims that it’s just like every other government agency, only more so. It’s jammed with requests and will get to them all in good time.”

          Jeez Francien you are more than obtuse when it’s your favourites being displayed as incompetent aren’t you?

    • What are ‘actual facts’? Do herds of them cross the African Savannah in rainy season?

      • These are facts. Nothing more, nothing less. It happened; it has become a fact.

        June 9, 2011 – Kincardine District Secondary School, Kincardine, ON. $10,000

        June 15, 2011 – Credit Institute of Canada, Ottawa, ON. $20,000


        April 25, 2012 – Queen’s University, Kingston, ON. $12,000

        April 30, 2012 – Literacy for Life, Saskatoon, SK. $20,000

        June 26, 2012 – Canadian Mental Health Association – Halton Region, Burlington, ON. $20,000

  2. Perhaps we could hire another 100 000 public servants to deal with the backlog.

    • That is what they want but it will not work. If you have a system so wasteful almost nothing gets done or not done right, then adding more incompetency isn’t the answer.

      As hey, to government every solution must cost the taxpayers more and feed the bloated processes that don’t work so we have a bigger problem tomorrow and more taxes too.

      When the simple answer is less government and start firing the people causing the waste, idle, stall, and idiocracy. Start firing the do nothings and that especially means management of all levels. Each manager should be asked, why have you done to improve the organization, only enter tangible benefits in dollars and effectiveness with unbiased clear statistics to back it up.

      Need top level managers willing to shake up the old boys club. 150,000 lay offs and 20,000 firings for incompetence should get the message across.

      Worked well for Chrysler.

      • Glad to see you have turned against Harper, under whose rule the public service has VASTLY expanded.

  3. or maybe just maybe – quite a few of citizens have abused the request process to such an extent it has lots it’s efficaciousness .. just because I send you a thousand requests for some hint of a scandal I want to place in the media we expect our bureaucracy to drop everything and respond – this is the height of idiocy and is no way to run a system – I know being a silly servant I know all to well the abuse a system can be put under and how quickly a good idea becomes a monster to administer –

    • The real point being Wayne, it has ground to a halt. Inundated with requests or not, there still should be an output at least equal to the previous output. It may take longer for newer queries, but the queries sitting there should still be in the process stream and there should be output.

      I believe the article is pointing out there is NO LONGER ANY OUTPUT.

    • I don’t recall this level of generosity when CBC was refusing to hand its business details over to competitors who were making hundreds of ATI requests.

  4. Macleans is owned by Rogers. BNN is owned by Bell. And the Globe and Mail is owned partly by Bell still, I think.

    Why don’t you journalists just ask your bosses and owners what’s up?

    • Globe is owned by Lord Beaverbrook.

  5. “Even Stephen Harper, arguably history’s most opaque, press-evading, data clutching prime minister, had the gall to use it.”


    • Why the namecalling all the time! Is it so difficult for you to just say Harper when referring to him?

      • Who the Dickens are you talking to? What part of quotation marks do you not get? I agree with the sentiments of course.

      • Simple, it will give all the other Harpers a bad name!

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