RCMP commissioner not 'muzzled,' Toews says

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews denies his department is trying to "muzzle" RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, saying he is simply continuing a practice put in place by the Liberals.

Minister says Public Safety handles meeting requests to ensure fairness - same as the Liberals did

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews is denying allegations that his department is trying to "muzzle" RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson.

Toews was responding to accusations by Liberal Senator Colin Kenny that Toews' department is trying to silence the Commissioner by approving Paulson's meetings.

Kenny had been trying to set up a meeting with Paulson since December, but could not get Paulson to agree to a date or time, according to emails between Kenny and Paulson that Kenny released to the media this week.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, left, says RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, seen with Toews on his first day on the job Nov. 16, 'meets with whom he chooses to meet with.' (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

After some prodding, Paulson said he could not commit to a meeting until he got the stamp of approval from the Department of Public Safety, according to the emails.

But Toews said Friday it was the former Liberal government that established that practice in order to ensure "fair access by other parliamentarians to key security institutions" under Public Safety.

Burgers and beer

Kenny and Paulson had been exchanging emails about meeting over burgers and beer to discuss some issues concerning the RCMP — a meeting Kenny described in casual terms, calling it a "get-together." Kenny said that he had set up similar meetings with the previous nine RCMP Commissioners without issue.

He added that Paulson had once been a dinner guest at his house, suggesting that Paulson hadn't needed to seek approval for that "meeting."

Kenny says nobody should be telling a commissioner to whom he should speak.

"If a member of a government is making these decisions, the integrity of the RCMP is eroded," Kenny said in one of the emails.

Speaking to Rosemary Barton on CBC's Power & Politics, Kenny said Paulson was set to have the meeting until someone from Toews' office intervened.

"I think for [Paulson] to maintain the integrity of his office, he has to draw a line in the sand and say to Mr. Toews ... I cannot be dictated to as to who I can see and who I can't," he said.

Paulson told CBC News Friday that he was simply following protocol, and that the protocol exists for a reason.

"We would not apply the national guidelines . . . where [a] local MP wanted to meet with the local detachment commander to talk about local priorities or issues," he wrote in an email to CBC Power & Politics host Evan Solomon. "We would however if the local MP was trying to have the local detachment commander weigh in on a major national policy matter or a political discussion on a contentious bit of legislation."

'Baseless and inaccurate'

Toews released a statement Friday denying the allegations and later spoke to reporters.

"The commissioner of the RCMP will meet with whom he chooses to meet with," he said during a news conference at the Ottawa International Airport. "Claims that (Paulson) is being muzzled (are) baseless and inaccurate"

He defended the protocol as both fair and necessary, and said there had been no change in the policy, which he said was set by former Liberal MP Anne McClellan when she was public safety minister.

"The protocol is an appropriate balance between the independence of the RCMP on law enforcement matters and its accountability to me as the minister responsible for the RCMP," Toews said.

"Senator Kenny knows that this policy was in place when the Liberals formed government, it’s simply a continuation. When he was denied a secret meeting that he wanted, he went to the media," Toews added. "And, so I find it rather surprising, his tact."