An RCMP criminal database remains seriously backlogged six years after Canada’s auditor general warned the out-of-date system was undermining the courts and law enforcement.
The Canadian Police Information Centre database, known as CPIC, was designed as a national tool for police and prosecutors to check the criminal history of suspects and those charged with or convicted of new offences.
But the Mounties have failed to keep the information current, leaving justice officials and police blind to the recent criminal records of thousands of offenders.
The information gap can be two years or more because the RCMP has not yet entered hundreds of thousands of recent criminal records.
A spokesman for the Canadian Police Association says the federal government is focusing on the security of Canadians, yet fails to provide front-line officers with a basic tool.
“There’s great concern at the federal level about the security of citizens, but we’re calling on (Public Safety) Minister (Steven) Blaney to give us the necessary tools to be able to do our job,” Yves Francoeur, vice-president of the police association, said in an interview.
“In certain cases, this could effectively put lives in danger,” he said, saying that police need to know the criminal past of suspected terrorists they are monitoring, among others.
Dates to 2009
Canada’s auditor general has twice sounded the alarm about the CPIC database, first in 2009 when there was a serious backlog in updating individuals’ criminal record information, and again in 2011 when that backlog had grown far worse. English-language updates were taking 14 months, while in Quebec the backlog stretched for 36 months.
Justice officials say there’s been no improvement since.
“Crown prosecutors ... each day have to make crucial decisions about the freedom of an individual and the security of the public with incomplete information, which is totally unacceptable,” said Thomas Jacques, spokesman for the Association of Quebec Prosecutors.
'I can't sentence people properly on the basis of a four-year gap of information.' - Justice Elliott Allen
The most recent data from the RCMP indicates that in 2013 there were some 400,000 criminal records that had yet to be added to the CPIC database. Local and provincial police forces do keep up-to-date records, but if an offender moves to a new jurisdiction, they can effectively shed their criminal record for up to two years.
“The increased volume of requests and demand for criminal record checks from both criminal justice agencies and the public sector continues to exceed the RCMP’s current capacity to respond in a sustainable, timely manner,” said Mountie spokesman Sgt. Harold Pfleiderer, acknowledging the problem remains unsolved.
“Until automation processes for the entire criminal records system is complete, quicker turnaround and sustainable delivery of service will remain a challenge.”
The RCMP launched a project in November last year to help address the existing backlog, and has offered to selectively update some criminal records at the specific request of police and prosecutors, he added.
Another RCMP spokesman, Sgt. Greg Cox, later said the backlog is expected to be cleared by March 2017.
Slow to update
CBC News has obtained several examples of Ontario justice-system reports that show no previous convictions for some offenders in the last two years in the CPIC system, yet convictions are recorded for the same period in the Ontario Provincial Police database.
Even some judges have railed against the RCMP’s failure to keep the CPIC information current.
“The public should know that the RCMP is, whatever, four years behind in posting these things and this is not a trivial matter,” Justice Elliott Allen told his Kitchener, Ont., courtroom in 2012.
“I mean, I can’t sentence people properly on the basis of a four-year gap in information,” he said, calling it a “national scandal.”
Allen had been told by prosecutors that CPIC showed no convictions since 2008 for a man he was about to sentence, yet a local database showed 12 convictions in that gap period.
Jacques, of the Quebec prosecutors association, said the CPIC troubles suggest Ottawa isn’t serious about being tough on crime.
“The federal government seems to place great importance on the security of the public and … on the fight against crime, yet this basic tool is totally deficient and inadequate,” he said.