Report describes delays in handling requests and lack of representations during investigations
The Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada’s report on its investigation into how the Royal Canadian Mounted Police force has dealt with requests for access to information was tabled in Parliament on Nov. 17.
The Office’s investigation was prompted by complaints of delays in the RCMP’s response to requests under the Access to Information Act, RSC 1985, c A-1. The special report, Access at Issue: The need for leadership, makes factual findings regarding these systemic issues, including evidence that the RCMP failed to comply with statutory timelines. It identifies six problem areas requiring urgent action: tasking, procedures, training, electronic systems, insufficiency in resources, and a lack of comprehensive strategy for improvements. The report then goes on to suggest 15 recommendations to address these challenges.
Caroline Maynard, Canada’s information commissioner, found that while the RCMP claimed to have employed numerous strategies in an effort to respond more quickly to requests, the results of the investigation showed that these strategies have so far been ineffective. This critical situation at the RCMP is unlikely to change unless the organization’s senior leaders and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness take immediate action, Maynard said in the news release.
Senior leaders must work on improving the internal culture, access-to-information program infrastructure and availability of resources, and processes and tools that can assist the RCMP in complying with the obligations imposed by the Access to Information Act, Maynard said in the introduction to the report.
Over the past few months the Office has urged the federal government to work on modernizing the access-to-information system, to focus efforts to promote innovation and new technology, to ensure that access units have sufficient resources, and to deal with these operational deficiencies that do not require prior legislative review. Minimal improvements, minus a clear action plan or timeframe, are not enough, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has significantly affected access rights on a global scale, Maynard stated.
“Canadians rightfully expect that the police force for Canada, in charge of enforcing Canadian law, will itself comply with it,” Maynard wrote. “The gravity of the situation at the RCMP calls for bold and comprehensive action to turn the tide.”
The commissioner also expressed disappointment in the RCMP’s communications and responsiveness during the investigation. She said that she intends to continue with this work to investigate other government institutions in the pursuit of meaningful change, better compliance and operational improvements and to utilize her order-making powers to achieve such goals.