OTTAWA —The federal Liberals are demanding the Conservatives provide “historic evidence” to back up their move to impose an indefinite gag order on anybody working for a new commission intended to reinforce accountability and transparency in the RCMP.
“The concern is not with the need for those having access to critical information, but rather that the government has decided to impose a draconian and indefinite oath of secrecy,” Liberal public safety critic Wayne Easter wrote in a letter sent Monday to Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney.
The letter was in response to a Global News article revealing Public Safety is planning to force anybody handling files for the forthcoming Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP to take an “oath of secrecy.”
“Is this just the government’s attitude to its absolute desire to impose non-transparent measures on almost everyone?” Easter asked in a phone interview Wednesday.
The Liberals are looking for proof and justification the oath of secrecy is necessary — are there examples of when sensitive information was divulged or used in a malicious manner? Is there precedent for this and is the government following an established model with proven success?
Blaney’s office did not immediately provide a requested response to the Liberal’s letter.
The new commission will replace the current RCMP Civilian Complaints Commission — a move the Harper government has said will come with increased investigative powers, including access to more classified information.
A former head of the existing complaints commission, Paul Kennedy, explained the cone of silence is a bit of a trade-off for access to more sensitive information.
But if the new commission is meant to increase accountability and restore the public’s faith in the national police force, it is not getting off on the right foot, Easter wrote.
“This is yet another example of the mounting obfuscation by government in the realm of law enforcement,” he wrote to Blaney, citing a refusal last week of the Communications and Security Establishment of Canada’s (CSEC) to disclose how long it holds on to Canadians’ private information as an example.
As another example, a regulation passed in March imposed a lifelong gag order on federal employees and lawyers handling sensitive information concerning national security. Anyone caught violating that oath of secrecy could face up to 14 years in prison.
These gag orders are fostering a culture of fear, Easter said.
“It creates a chill effect on public employees,” he said. “You have an obligation, yes, to uphold what the government does, but these are indefinite oaths of secrecy. It creates a sense of fear.”
This makeover comes in the wake of black eyes for the RCMP, including a rash of sexual harassment allegationswithin the force, the RCMP’s role in handling the Robert Picktoninvestigation, the fatal Tasering of Robert Dziekański and the RCMP’s seizure of firearms in High River during the 2013 Alberta floods.
NDP public safety critic Randall Garrison, however, said he doesn’t support the Liberal call for evidence, since he is already fairly certain the policy is not evidence-based.
The New Democrats, he said, would rather see the commission become an independent agency. As is, the commission will report through Blaney’s office, meaning the Conservatives will have access to reports and findings ahead of the public.
“Parliamentary oversight is needed,” Garrison said. “Not a demand for Conservative talking points.”
Liberal critic Easter said he hasn’t yet heard back from Blaney’s office, but is willing to offer the minister “the benefit of the doubt,” and expects to hear back eventually.
© Shaw Media, 2014