Internal emails obtained by CBC News show that RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson has ordered all senior Mounties to get clearance from his office before committing to any meetings with MPs or senators.

Specifically, they are to notify a liaison office that co-ordinates RCMP strategy with the office of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.

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RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, right, has instructed senior Mounties to notify his office before accepting meetings with MPs and senators, similar to the approval required for his own meetings by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, left, last year. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

In an email dated March 22 from Paulson to more than 50 chief superintendents, assistant commissioners and deputy commissioners, the commissioner said that meetings or lunches with parliamentarians "can have unintended and/or negative consequences for the organization and the government. Therefore, should you or your staff receive such requests, I am directing that you advise my office and the chief strategic policy and planning officer."

A second email shows the effect of the new policy. It cancels a planned lunch between a senior Mountie and a parliamentarian because of "direction from Commissioner Paulson's office" that such meetings "have to first be approved by the minister's office. This email is to cancel the luncheon."

Message control

The development has opposition critics accusing the government of undermining the independence of the police. "There's a very large pattern in this government of trying to control information," said NDP MP Randall Garrison.

"It's not appropriate for the government to reach into the police operation. It's a very, very fundamental part of what we must be assured exists so that the police aren't doing the work of the government, they're doing the work of the public."

Garrison, who is the NDP critic for public safety, said "these memos raise some very serious concerns about whether the government is interfering in the operations of the RCMP to try and assist in controlling their political message. So I think it's very serious."

Liberal Senator Grant Mitchell, critic for an RCMP reform bill, C-42, said he feared the "politicization of the police force." 

Mitchell added that muzzling debate would not help to solve problems of discipline and harassment inside the RCMP — the subject of Bill C-42.

"I don't see any downside to them dealing with these problems, openly exposing them, none at all. It will only lead to solving them and they can take credit for that," said Mitchell.  

"All this control, all this media manipulation, all this messaging — centralized as it is — doesn't work."

Toews's office did not respond to a request to explain the new policy. Paulson's office, however, confirmed that it was co-managed with the minister's office. 

RCMP spokeswoman Sgt. Julie Gagnon said in a statement that Paulson "wanted to ensure that all information being sent to parliamentarians was co-ordinated through the strategic policy and planning directorate which manages the ministerial liaison function."

Gagnon also said the commissioner wished to "help ensure that the RCMP does not become embroiled in the political debate."