Final report (3218-01589): Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Institution: Royal Canadian Mounted Police
OIC file number: 3218-01589
Institution file number: N/A
Date: October 14, 2020

Complaint

I initiated this systemic investigation into how the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) carries out its duty to provide timely access to information requests for two main reasons.

  • Complaints to the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) indicate that the RCMP is persistently unable to meet statutory timeframes under the Access to Information Act for responding to access requests.
  • The RCMP consistently fails to provide representations to the OIC during delay complaint investigations.

Background

The RCMP’s report to Parliament on its access to information activities shows the RCMP completed 55 percent fewer access requests in less than 30 days in 2018-19 when compared to its performance two years before. Between 2016-17 and 2018-19, the number of requests that remained unanswered in 365 days rose by over 1000 percent.

Table 1: Completion time for access requests, 2016–17 to 2018–19

Table 1: Completion time for access requests, 2016–17 to 2018–19
 

2016–17

2017–18

2018–19

Percentage increase/decrease
(2016–17 to 2018–19)

1 to 15 days

1,017

397

545

-46%

16 to 30 days

1,232

493

556

-55%

31 to 60 days

775

516

633

-18%

61 to 120 days

481

650

522

9%

121 to 180 days

142

341

273

92%

181 to 365 days

148

389

942

536%

More than 365 days

63

181

705

1,019%

As Table 2 illustrates, and again according to the RCMP’s 2018–19 report, the number of requests the RCMP carried over from one fiscal year to the next grew from 224 at the end of 2015–16 to 3,688 requests at the end of 2018–19 despite an overall drop in the number of requests received.

Table 2: Access to information caseload, 2016–17 to 2018–19 

Table 2: Access to information caseload, 2016–17 to 2018–19 
 

2016–17

2017–18

2018–19

Outstanding requests from previous year

224

1,192

3,428

Requests received

4,826

5,203

4,436

Requests closed

3,858

2,967

4,176

Deemed refusals

1,336

2,047

2,979

Requests carried over to next year

1,192

3,428

3,688

This is clear evidence that the RCMP’s inability to meet statutory timeframes under the Act is the norm, not the exception.

The RCMP agrees that it is challenged to respond to access requests within statutory timeframes. It notes that these problems relate to, and are compounded by: the geographical dispersion of its 30,000 employees; the large volume of requests; and the diverse policing activities it undertakes. The RCMP also states that much of its policing related information is paper-based and spread across various systems rather than in one repository, making it sometimes difficult to retrieve records. The RCMP contends that the Public Safety portfolio is not only complex but also different from other parts of the public service, especially as it relates to sensitive investigative information or matters before the courts that should not be released to the public. 

These arguments do not fully explain the RCMP’s delays in responding to requests and its lack of participation in delay complaints, particularly since other geographically dispersed agencies within the Public Safety portfolio have proven able to meet their obligations under the Act. I note, with approval, the Canada Border Services Agency, which responded to 94 percent of requests on time in 2018–19.

Investigation

I made recommendations under six headings. Each recommendation is listed below, along with the response from the Minister of Public Safety.

1. Tasking – The trigger for offices of primary interest (OPIs) to search for and produce records related to an access request

Recommendations

  1. Review its tasking processes to determine the causes of failures that impede the processing of records and delay responding to requests;
  2. Implement measures to reduce or eliminate these causes. In particular, facilitate the Intake Unit’s ability to identify relevant OPIs when tasking, thereby reducing the need to redirect taskings;
    • Require OPIs returning NIL response to taskings to also provide the Intake Unit with details about the search they conducted;
    • Require all OPIs to develop and provide to the Intake Unit an evergreen reference document in a consistent format that explains their programs, mandate and information holdings, and the electronic and/or paper information management systems they use; and
  3. Identify best practices with respect to tasking and share these with the Intake Unit regularly;

Summary of the response received from the Minister of Public Safety

The RCMP Access to Information (ATIP) Branch will review and update their current OPI template to expand the knowledge, roles and responsibilities, which will facilitate tasking to the proper location in the first instance. In addition, an OPI guidance checklist will be developed for each OPI to complete and submit when returning relevant records with all pertinent details about the search conducted.

Assessment of the Minister’s response against the Commissioner’s recommendations

The Minister of Public Safety did not commit the RCMP to ensuring that search parameters be documented when an OPI replies with a NIL response. Nor did he commit the RCMP to implementing a process that will ensure its tasking processes remain evergreen. The Minister’s response on Tasking is not satisfactory, as it does not address Recommendations 2 and 3. Improvements generated by the revision of templates and implementation of a checklist are unlikely to be sustained over time, given the absence of commitment to ongoing process review.

2. Procedures – Documented, consistent and auditable procedures are more likely to produce reliable results in a timely manner

Recommendations

  1. Review and keep evergreen the standard operating procedures introduced in 2017;
  2. Regularly share updated procedures with access staff and individuals across the RCMP involved in responding to access requests; and
  3. Implement a process for access staff to monitor the implementation of standard operating procedures across the RCMP; 

Summary of the response received from the Minister of Public Safety

The RCMP ATIP Branch will develop, communicate and implement a cyclical review process of their standard operating procedures (SOPs) to ensure they remain up to date.

Assessment of the Minister’s response against the Commissioner’s recommendations

The Minister of Public Safety did not commit the RCMP to implementing a monitoring or audit capacity to ensure that SOPs are implemented consistently across the organization.

The Minister’s response on Procedures fails to address Recommendation 6, despite the fact that monitoring the implementation is critical to ensuring that SOPs are applied consistently across the RCMP so timely and reliable results can be produced.

3. Training – Employees who receive adequate training are better able to perform in their role; training lays the foundation for setting expectations in an organization

Recommendations

  1. Continue to develop its training program for ATIP Branch staff and make attendance mandatory;
  2. Continue to hold information sessions for RCMP employees across Canada and make attendance mandatory;
  3. Develop training for individuals across the RCMP with primary and/or secondary ATIP responsibilities and make attendance mandatory; and
  4. Continue to engage with OPIs to better understand and address their specific training requirements, given the complexity of the organization and the regional dispersion of the employees;

Summary of the response received from the Minister of Public Safety

The RCMP will continue to provide and formalize access to information training to ATIP Branch staff and employees by:

  • Providing yearly mandatory information sessions to all Liaison Officers;
  • Continuing with the development of an ATIP 101 online course consisting of two modules, one for all RCMP employees who have primary and/or secondary ATIP responsibilities and one dedicated to the roles and responsibilities of all Liaison Officers across the RCMP;
  • Exploring the possibility of mandating this online course to all affected employees and requiring all new ATIP employees to take the Canada School of Public Service online course; and
  • Continuing to liaise and engage regularly with all 750 OPIs to continue addressing their training requirements.

Assessment of the Minister’s response against the Commissioner’s recommendations

The Minister of Public Safety has not committed the RCMP to offering mandatory training to ATIP staff or employees across the RCMP with primary or secondary ATIP responsibilities.

The Minister’s response does not fully address any of the four recommendations made with respect to training. While the commitment to continue with development of the ATIP 101 online course is welcomed, the Minister of Public Safety provided no details about an expected date of completion.

4. Electronic systems – Canadians expect efficient, streamlined and digital services

Recommendations

  1. Upgrade the digital tools it uses to process access requests, including to overcome the geographic dispersion of RCMP units and employees;
  2. Adopt innovative and efficient digital practices to better serve requesters; and
  3. Invest in digital skills development for staff;

Summary of the response received from the Minister of Public Safety

The RCMP agrees that its current electronic systems are inadequate and create challenges. The RCMP obtained a new virtual server in April 2019 that has led to efficiencies in processing time and the reliability of its systems. Additional efforts include:

  • Continued work with the RCMP’s Information Management branch to upgrade digital tools and explore the possibility of streamlining the flow of information, and reducing paper-based records that cause challenges in retrieving records.
  • Being part of the new ATIP Online Request Service (AORS), in collaboration with the Treasury Board Secretariat.
  • Planned AORS and new ATIP software.

Assessment of the Minister’s response against the Commissioner’s recommendations

The Minister of Public Safety has not committed the RCMP to implementing or adopting more innovative digital approaches or investing in digital skills development for staff.

The Minister’s response on electronic systems fails to address Recommendation 12 and 13.

5. Insufficient resources – Human and financial resources must match the volume of incoming requests and longstanding backlog of open requests

Recommendation

  1. Secure adequate human and financial resources for its ATIP processes to allow it to meet its obligations under the Act;

Summary of the response received from the Minister of Public Safety

The Government of Canada has recently provided additional funding to the RCMP to take measures to address program integrity issues. Shoring up the ATIP program to improve compliance with obligations under the Act is a high priority for the RCMP and will inform  allocations regarding the new funding.

Assessment of the Minister’s response against the Commissioner’s recommendations

The Minister of Public Safety has not committed to allocate some of the additional funding to support the ATIP program. 

6. Comprehensive strategy to meet access obligations and reduce the backlog

Recommendation

  1. Implement a detailed strategy that covers each of the areas I find are impeding the RCMP’s ability to respond to access requests in a timely manner and any other measures the RCMP determines would be effective in helping the RCMP meet its legislated obligations and reduce its backlog of open requests.

Summary of the response received from the Minister of Public Safety

The RCMP ATIP Branch currently has nine consultants helping to reduce its backlog and may hire up to twelve.

Assessment of the Minister’s response against the Commissioner’s recommendations

The Minister has not committed the RCMP to developing a comprehensive strategy nor suggested any additional ways to get back on track.

Results

  • The complaint is well founded.
  • The Minister of Public Safety has ignored most recommendations without providing any explanation as to why he does not intend to address the failings identified within RCMP operations.
  • The Minister of Public Safety has been unable to provide alternate solutions or measures that will have an impact on the RCMP’s ability to provide more timely responses to access requests.

The Minister of Public Safety’s response is disappointing.

Further, the Minister’s response fails to commit to any concrete plans to improve the RCMP’s situation and suggests that he has chosen not to acknowledge the seriousness of the situation. None of the commitments made by the Minister have timelines associated with them. Without clear, targeted completion dates, delivery on any of the commitments may be indefinitely delayed due to the various pressures being experienced by an already overwhelmed ATIP team. It should be noted that my office has been dealing with the RCMP ATIP team members on a daily basis and their individual efforts to ensure that Canadians’ right of access is respected has not gone unnoticed, but without clear direction, better system/processes and additional resources, the existing situation will not improve.

It would appear that the Minister has accepted the status quo. His response falls short on many fronts in terms of what Canadians expect, particularly when it comes to commitments to improved transparency and timely responses to access to information requests as required by the Act.

Given the limitations of my powers in the conduct of a systemic investigation, I cannot demand more of the Minister of Public Safety than I already have through my recommendations. However, the situation is so dire that I intend to publish this final report and bring these findings to the attention of Parliament by tabling a Special Report pursuant to section 39 of the Act.

Failure to provide representations to the OIC during delay complaint investigations

The RCMP’s ongoing failure to provide representations to the Commissioner will be noted in the OIC’s Special Report to Parliament. While it is understandable that the RCMP is facing difficult choices due to the current resource allocations, it must be understood that these operational deficiencies are not without impact on the right of access, which includes a recourse mechanism by way of complaint.

As required by the Act, I will continue to seek representations from federal institutions under investigation. When they fail to respond, I will also not hesitate to conclude any investigation and issue recommendations and orders, when I find the complaint is well founded.

Caroline Maynard
Information Commissioner of Canada

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