Government tech support putting RCMP, public safety at risk, documents reveal
Internal documents warn disorganization at Shared Services Canada has jeopardized Canada's police force
Internal RCMP reports and emails obtained by CBC News show that Shared Services Canada's takeover of the Mounties' tech support has been a costly disaster that has jeopardized court cases and investigations while putting the safety of officers and members of the public at risk.
The documents received through access to information include correspondence from RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson in which he refused to give SSC any more control over the Mounties' information technologies.
SSC is the federal department created in 2012 to take over the delivery of email, data centre and network services for 43 government agencies, including the RCMP.
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By all internal accounts, its work on behalf of the RCMP has been a fiasco.
At a Sept. 25, 2015 meeting between Paulson and SSC president Ron Parker, the commissioner highlighted a number of examples where the department's mistakes and oversights have affected policing operations, including:
- On October 22, 2014 while the terrorist attack on Parliament Hill was taking place — without consulting the RCMP or understanding the risks involved — SSC increased bandwidth to receive evidence gathered by the public by shutting down the Disaster Recovery site
- Mission B.C.'s phone system is in need of replacement. The concern was originally raised with SSC in January 2015, with no progress to date. The situation has come to the point that there is a public safety risk because the phone line service is unstable, affecting 911 calls and dispatch
- On September 18, 2014 a server failed at a Westmount, Que. data centre, resulted in some corruption of data needed for an investigative disclosure package. SSC had been advised on Nov. 7, 2012, and through several follow-up inquiries, that the equipment was past the end of its life but did not replace it
- SSC has lapsed contracts concerning security protection of networks and servers
Overall, the documents raise serious concerns about three major areas — safety and security, loss of service or information, and cost to taxpayers.
A January 2014 memo to Paulson from the RCMP's civilian IT employees highlighted dozens of concerns.
In December 2013, Mounties reported having to spend almost $1 million to sustain systems critical to two special units, including one that investigates online child sex assaults, because SSC "is neither willing nor able to purchase" the equipment required.
"There is simply no appetite to fix any systems until they have failed. When this happens, it will be too late. RCMP will lose court cases," the group of employees told Paulson.
Another system failure occurred when SSC could not renew Hewlett Packard warranties
"It cost approximately $20,000 to have HP come in to attempt repairs and system recovery ... RCMP was left with a broken system to fix and major data loss which may impact court cases."
Risk to front-line officers
Even more money was wasted when SSC had to pay $10,000 in interest after it didn't pay Northwestel — the force's phone and internet provider in the territories and northern B.C. — for months on end.
"Shared Services has not been paying their bills. Vendors have threatened and have cut-off service to various units such as Shaw Cable, disrupting operations to the RCMP. There is risk to the front line," the employees warned Paulson.
Several more egregious examples of ineptitude include how SSC couldn't get the newly opened Berens River RCMP detachment any kind of telecommunications service for two years.
"In desperation a regular member in Berens River ordered satellite service so he could do his work … and paid for it out of his own pocket on his personal credit card. Shared Services then declined to pay for his out-of-pocket expense," RCMP supervisor Rick Lippens told senior management in an email.
Members of the RCMP repeatedly expressed frustration that SSC treats the Mounties as though they work at a regular government department working 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in downtown Ottawa.
"They've extended our evergreening cycle from three years to six. That's just asking for trouble. It's one thing if a router goes down in Ottawa and they can walk over and replace it but we need to deal with very remote locations that could be down for days until we can get in there by plane, boat or ice road to deal with a failure," a group of employees wrote in frustration to Paulson.
No one from the RCMP responded to our requests for comment on the documents.
However, in Paulson's Nov. 25, 2014 letter to Forand, the commissioner wrote that the department's proposal to manage even more of the RCMP's information technologies "pose unacceptable risks to public safety, protection of RCMP members and policing across Canada."
Paulson went on to explain how he is compelled to exercise his authority to refuse the Mounties' participation in the next phase of Shared Services Canada.
Shared Services responded with an emailed statement that said the information and documentation used in this CBC report does not reflect the current state of its relationship with the RCMP, noting that:
- SSC increased its bandwidth on Oct. 22, 2014, improving the speed at which the RCMP can receive evidence gathered by the public.
- SSC is currently upgrading telephony services and has formed a SWAT team to address the backlog.
- After the server failure incident on Sept. 18, 2014, SSC put in place interim corrective action and has worked with the RCMP to purchase equipment to address the issue.
"SSC established a special team in November 2015 made up of SSC and RCMP employees to address the RCMP's top IT infrastructure priorities," the statement read. "SSC is committed to addressing the findings of the auditor general and has already made progress on many of the recommendations."