Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says RCMP must do better to respond to request for records

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale made the comment on his way to a closed-door meeting Wednesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Wednesday that Canada’s national police force must do better at processing requests it receives under the federal access-to-information law.

The RCMP received an access-to-information request on Jan. 5, 2017 seeking information about the personnel and assets it deployed in November and December 2016 to protect Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family as they vacationed on the private Bahamas island owned by the Aga Khan. Trudeau would later be found to have violated four parts of the Conflict of Interest Act in accepting that vacation.

But the RCMP itself may have failed to follow the law of the land as it processed a request for information about the prime minister’s law-breaking trip.

“They have to do better,” Goodale said on his way into the weekly closed-door Liberal caucus meeting on Parliament Hill.

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The RCMP has been singled out by Parliament’s information commissioner as having one of the worst performance records among all federal institutions for responding to access-to-information requests.

Journalists, academics and others have also complained about indifference and neglect from the RCMP.

“While there were many occasions where I received useful and thorough information promptly, there were just as many instances where I waited for months or even years,” said a former Parliament Hill reporter who specialized in covering the force. “There was also a period of roughly 18 months where none of my (access-to-information) requests were acknowledged, let alone granted.”

WATCH: Poilievre slams Trudeau on RCMP’s plan for his controversial Bahamas trip

Click to play video: 'Poilievre slams Trudeau on RCMP’s plan for his controversial Bahamas trip'
Poilievre slams Trudeau on RCMP’s plan for his controversial Bahamas trip

For the Jan. 5, 2017 request about the PM’s Bahamas trip, the RCMP failed to even acknowledge the original request, failed to respond to several subsequent emails about the status of the request and only acknowledged the request months later after a telephone call to its media relations department.

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Even still, the RCMP could only provide a partial release of records 232 days after the original request, another partial release 664 days after the original request and the final release of records 817 days later on April 2, 2019.

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Federal law requires institutions like the RCMP to respond to requests within 30 days.

“The RCMP works diligently to meet its responsibilities under the Access to Information Act and Privacy Act and to be transparent with Canadians,” Trudeau said Wednesday in the House of Commons. “We respect its independence, and as always, I will not discuss security-related matters.”

That final release of records on April 2 consisted of one document, a “travel medicine brief” that assessed the health situation in Nassau, Bahamas. The brief was dated March 16, 2016, nine months before the PM would travel to the Aga Khan’s island.

A government source that declined to go on the record said Wednesday that the travel medicine brief was prepared not for the PM’s travel but instead for a trip that the prime minister’s wife and children took to the Aga Khan’s island. Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau was a guest of members of the Aga Khan’s family from March 11 to 16.

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WATCH (2017): Global News coverage of investigation into prime minister’s Bahamas trip

That said, as of late Wednesday afternoon, the RCMP had not responded to questions emailed to its national headquarters’ media relations unit early Tuesday morning. Global News sought to have the RCMP explain the purpose of the document and whether the information in the document was used by the RCMP protective services unit assigned to protect Gregoire-Trudeau and the children during their travels to the Bahamas in March or the prime minister’s travel in December 2016.

That leaves open the question as to precisely when the prime minister and his family or the government departments began planning for their Christmas holiday with the Aga Khan.

The ethics commissioner’s report into the trip indicates that the Privy Council Office was informed in November of the prime minister’s intention to travel, though Gregoire-Trudeau appears to have made the decision her husband and family would vacation there sometime in July 2016.

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In any event, the prime minister and his most senior political and bureaucratic advisers would have had anywhere between six weeks and nine months to consider the appropriateness of the trip. No adviser throughout that time appears to have cautioned the prime minister against accepting the free travel and hospitality or cautioned him to consult the ethics commissioner ahead of time.

“Staff in the (Prime Minister’s Office) had this information well in advance, yet the prime minister was found guilty of violating the ethics law four times,” said Conservative MP Blaine Calkins in the House of Commons.

“In nine months of careful planning for his island vacation, how did no one in the PMO ever suggest to the prime minister that his trip was going to break the law? Or did the prime minister just ignore the best advice from those around him because he was in one of his moods?”

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