A leaked U.S. government document says the heavy security demands of the Vancouver Olympics prompted the RCMP to curb drug investigations — a claim the force denies.
The February 2009 cable, obtained by WikiLeaks and published by British newspaper the Guardian, says the national police force had all but stopped marijuana-related probes.
The diplomatic note said a U.S. drug enforcement agent was told by one of his RCMP counterparts that by September 2009 all regional drug agents could be working on the Olympics.
In addition, the confidential cable said the Mounties were undergoing "severe belt tightening with new, stricter enforcement of overtime rules."
Const. Michael McLaughlin, an RCMP spokesman, denied that enforcement actions were put on the shelf during the winter sporting spectacular.
"We were working overtime — as we work overtime routinely — and we were investigating files," he said.
"It's absolutely not true that marijuana or any other drug-related investigations stopped for the Olympics," McLaughlin said.
"Was it business as usual? Well no, of course not. But we certainly had enough to maintain capacity, to maintain operations at a safe level."
Original estimates put the Olympic security price tag at $175 million. By early last year, the figure had ballooned to $900 million. The costs ended up being about $850 million.
"Beyond monetary costs, the Olympics are beginning to create critical resource costs," the American cable warned. "Law enforcement representatives working at the U.S. consulate in Vancouver are reporting that more and more of their contacts are being pulled to work on Olympics security issues."
To highlight the Canadian constraints, an RCMP officer told the Americans that the Italians put 30,000 police officers in Turin for the 2006 Winter Games, more than all the Mounties across Canada, the cable said.
"The impact may reach far beyond the Games, with significant reductions in policing activity and investigations nationwide."
McLaughlin said there were so many police in British Columbia during the Winter Games that he heard stories of wary criminals leaving the province.
The cable also noted that Canadians "are sensitive to the issues of sovereignty and we have been reminded repeatedly that they are responsible for the overall security of the Games."
Ambassador praises effort
The Winter Olympics took place without a serious security episode.
The cable was one of more than 250,000 U.S. diplomatic dispatches WikiLeaks plans to publish.
David Jacobson, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, said Tuesday he had no knowledge of the message, as he hadn't yet been posted to Ottawa when it was written.
But Jacobson, who was in B.C. during the Olympics, praised Canada for its efforts to keep people safe at the Games.
"The security was low-key but it was outstanding," he said in an interview.
"I said on several occasions leading up to the Olympics that I had every confidence that the Canadians were going to manage the security process well, and it turned out that I was right."