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RCMP wants to lessen its disclosure burden

If the RCMP’s public image wasn’t already in shambles enough due to leadership squabbles, one of its top-ranking officials has prompted further head scratching after calling for loosened disclosure requirements due to budget restrictions.

Senior Deputy Commissioner Rod Knecht told the Globe and Mail: “There is a cost to [disclosure], and there is a cost to public safety to that. In times of strict budgets and in the tough economic times that we are in, it’s really difficult.

“We have to take a long, hard look at disclosure, and we have to find much better ways to deal with the disclosure burden that we currently find ourselves under.”

Knecht told the Globe the cost of investigations went up by 10 per cent immediately after the Supreme Court of Canada’s precedent-setting 1991 decision in R. v. Stinchcombe, which forced the Crown to cough up all of its evidence to the defence. The amount has now grown to 40 per cent, he said.

Toronto human rights lawyer Paul Copeland isn’t surprised by Knecht’s comments. “My general impression is that police are always interested in doing a little less work, and probably generally don’t like the disclosure obligations,” he tells Legal Feeds.

What he does find confusing about the comments, however, is the fact the police have to prepare all of the information for themselves anyway. Modern technology makes it a relative breeze to then pass it along to the defence, says Copeland.

He suggests the comments touch on similar sentiments to those revealed by WikiLeaks from former CSIS director Jim Judd. The whistleblower web site recently published U.S. diplomatic cables indicating Judd said Canadian judges have “CSIS ‘in knots’” in their attempts to prevent terrorist attacks.

Copeland, who represented security certificate detainee Mohamed Harkat, says it’s apparent the government wants to disclose less in the national security context in particular.

Yet the perils of non-disclosure are well documented, and have often prompted wrongful convictions. “It’s staggering, the number of wrongful convictions that have been exposed,” says Copeland.

Of course, it would be difficult to say the least for the Harper government to create — and pass — legislation sufficiently Charter-proofed to grant the RCMP’s wish on less onerous disclosure requirements.

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