The RCMP have been called in to investigate leaks of "sensitive" information from Citizenship and Immigration Canada, CBC News has learned.

This week, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander confirmed a report published in the Globe and Mail that the Prime Minister's Office directed officials to stop processing a preliminary group of Syrian refugees, pending an audit of their cases.

The story was based on leaked documents, as were earlier CBC reports about problems with Canadian passports that have made waves in the federal election campaign.

A memo to employees from the department's deputy minister and associate deputy minister says that leaks at any time, let alone in the midst of an election campaign, are "completely unacceptable." The memo was obtained by the CBC's French-language service Radio-Canada.

'Unethical and against the law'

"We are deeply concerned however by recent instances where sensitive information has been leaked to journalists," reads the memo. "Leaks such as these are unethical and are against the law. As such, we have contacted the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who have now launched an investigation. The trust that the public, our partners and elected officials have in us is the cornerstone of our democratic functions."

Canada Refugees Chris Alexander 20150919

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander confirmed this week that the Prime Minister's Office directed officials to stop processing a preliminary group of Syrian refugees, pending an audit of their cases. (Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Canadian Press)

The Mounties' investigation comes after CBC News reported that at least 1,500 Canadian passports have been produced under a flawed new system that has opened the door to fraud and tampering.

Internal records from Citizenship and Immigration that were obtained by CBC/Radio-Canada revealed that the processing program was rushed into operation on May 9, 2015, despite dire warnings from senior officials that it was not ready and could present new security risks.

Another CBC story revealed that the government is bringing in major changes to the way Canadian passports are issued, changes that could speed up the renewal process but also invite forgery, fraud and identity theft at a time of heightened global security.

Serious consequences

The memo to staff warns that such leaks erode trust and confidence in the public service and among colleagues.

"Any individual found to be involved in such violations will face serious consequences," it concludes.

The department did not immediately respond to the CBC's questions, and the minister's office referred questions back to the department. Alexander has declined requests to respond to the CBC's passport stories.

The RCMP said its normal practice is not to confirm or deny any criminal investigation.