Canada's top cop said it would be 'reckless' to keep using federal government's IT service

Among his last moves as RCMP commissioner, Bob Paulson told the head of the federal government's tech support agency it would be reckless and "arguably criminal" for him to permit Shared Services Canada to continue delivering some IT services.

Before retiring as RCMP commissioner, Bob Paulson refused to continue contract with Shared Services Canada

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson's stern letter to the head of Shared Services Canada made clear his feeling that it would be "reckless and arguably criminal" for the force to continue to rely on the tech support agency. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Among his last moves as RCMP commissioner, Bob Paulson told the head of the federal government's vexed tech support agency it would be "reckless and arguably criminal" to renew its contract with Shared Services Canada.

The correspondence, obtained by CBC News under Access to Information legislation, appears to be the culmination of a long-standing complaint from the RCMP that SSC offers a one-size-fits-all government-wide service package that does not recognize the unique needs of a national police force. 

Our engagement with you puts Canadians and my employees at a greater risk than they already face.- Bob Paulson, then-RCMP commissioner

"Given that, I have concluded that the SSC model, our arrangement with you and how SSC manages risk represents a manifest threat to how the RCMP delivers on its mandate to Canadians — in other words, that our engagement with you puts Canadians and my employees at a greater risk than they already face — I cannot accept the terms of this agreement," stated Paulson, who retired from the force at the end of June.

The letter is dated March 31, 2017 — the expiration date for the original business arrangement signed by all federal departments in 2012. 

The previous government created the IT agency in 2011 to modernize federal information technology with the goal of saving money and improving security.

Referring to what was then the RCMP's pending trial over the provision of training and equipment to Mounties who responded to the June 2014 shooting rampage in Moncton, the commissioner explained why he felt he could not sign the business agreement that had been put before him.

"Given that the force and I have recently been charged under the Canada Labour Code for allegedly allowing conditions of work to be unsafe, it would be reckless of me to rely on SSC to deliver on some of our IT services as it has. Reckless and arguably criminal," wrote Paulson.

A history of poor service

Earlier this year, for instance, an 11-hour network computer outage downed every single Mountie's BlackBerry, affected police dispatching and prevented 240 police forces from accessing the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) database.

Even on relatively low-tech yet crucial requests, SSC has failed to meet RCMP standards. In another case it took SSC several months to deliver on a high-priority request for new phones and telephone headsets for 911 dispatchers — and when the equipment arrived, it was used and faulty. 

Paulson wrote that if the two agencies couldn't agree on a new service arrangement that met the RCMP's distinct needs, he would have to take the force's IT services back in-house.

Shared Services Canada president Ron Parker told Paulson he was "confident" the two agencies could find "viable and sustainable solutions that meet the service requirements of the RCMP." (Shared Services Canada)

"I cannot in good conscience continue or extend the business arrangement," the commissioner concluded.

SSC president Ron Parker responded two months later. His letter listed a number of multimillion-dollar investments in the 2016-17 fiscal year for the RCMP's IT, such as software, hardware, data centres and telecommunications infrastructure.

"I want to confirm that the success of the RCMP mandate is one of SSC's highest priorities. SSC is committed to finding solutions to the challenges experienced in supporting the RCMP," Parker wrote to Paulson.

He continued: "I recognize these actions will not instantly fix all of the problems your department is experiencing."

Parker's use of the word "department" would almost certainly have set Paulson off even more, as he and his chief information officer had spent much of the past five years trying to explain how the RCMP operates entirely differently from, for instance, Health Canada or the Department of Justice.

Parker ended his letter seemingly without accepting Paulson's assertion that the business arrangement must come to an end.

"I remain confident that both SSC and the RCMP can find viable and sustainable solutions that meet the service requirements of the RCMP."

Second chances

In an email to CBC  News, Shared Services Canada said it continues to provide the same services to the RCMP and that a new agreement "is in discussion."

When asked if it had delivered on a commitment to Paulson to install $4.2 million worth of data centre and telecommunications infrastructure by the end of September, a spokesperson said the agency has finished its work in Manitoba, Nunavut and Ontario, and B.C. is 81 per cent complete.

"Shared Services Canada plans to complete all divisions by the end of the fiscal year," the email reads.

The RCMP declined a request for an interview, but in an email, a spokesperson suggested the Mounties are open to giving SSC another chance.

"While the RCMP did not agree with the 2017 business arrangement with SSC, we are in the process of working with SSC to establish a new service delivery model," wrote RCMP Staff Sgt. Tania Vaughan.

About the Author

Alison Crawford

Politics

Alison Crawford is a senior reporter in CBC's parliamentary bureau, covering justice, public safety, the Supreme Court and Liberal Party of Canada.