RCMP commissioner warns continued IT failures will have 'catastrophic' consequences

Canada's top cop says ongoing computer network failures and slipshod service from Shared Services Canada could have catastrophic consequences for police and the public.

Public safety minister says he's 'deeply concerned' about IT failures, asks to meet fellow minister

Front line Mounties have experienced more frequent and longer critical IT failures since Shared Services Canada took over tech support for the RCMP, according to RCMP documents. (CBC)

Canada's top cop is warning that ongoing computer network failures and slipshod service from Shared Services Canada could have "catastrophic" consequences for police and the public.

CBC News has obtained a blistering Jan. 20, 2017, memo to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale in which Commissioner Bob Paulson details how critical IT failures have increased by 129 per cent since the beleaguered department took over tech support for the entire government five years ago.

Not only that, the memo says, the duration of each outage has increased by 98 per cent.

"Its 'one size fits all' IT shared services model has negatively impacted police operations, public and officer safety and the integrity of the criminal justice system," reads the memo.

The document appears to respond to a request for more information after a series of CBC News reports on the RCMP's long-standing dissatisfaction with Shared Services Canada (SSC). 

Despite the agency's creation of special teams and committees to address shoddy service and repeated computer outages, Paulson said minimal progress has been made. 

The commissioner bolstered his arguments by enclosing an appendix of recent critical incidents to show just how little appreciation or understanding there is for operational law enforcement requirements.

If a major crime or incident were to occur during an outage of these systems, then the results could be catastrophic- RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson

Among the examples provided is more information about an 11-hour network computer outage on Jan. 18 that downed every Mountie's BlackBerry, affected dispatching and prevented the RCMP and 240 other police forces from accessing the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) database.

"A lack of CPIC access severely limits awareness of what threats officers may face when they respond to a call," wrote Paulson. "If a major crime or incident were to occur during an outage of these systems, then the results could be catastrophic."

Concerns about impact on major incidents

Paulson further underlined the significance of lengthy CPIC outages by putting it in the context of the 2014 shootings in Moncton, N.B., where three officers were killed and two were wounded. 

"This situation would have significantly impacted officers' ability to respond to the threat in a co-ordinated fashion and may have resulted in additional deaths," he wrote.

According to the memo, the police force had purchased equipment to replace the equipment that failed last month, but when SSC assumed responsibility for the Mounties' networks in 2011, it took the new equipment and used it elsewhere.

An RCMP memo cites slow service and IT delays that hampered RCMP during their response to the evacuation of Fort McMurray, Alta. in May, 2016. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

Another example Paulson provided was the "unacceptable delays in deploying IT equipment" during the May 2016 evacuation of Fort McMurray, Alta., due to forest fires. A summary of the incident describes how on May 3, Alberta RCMP requested mobile devices to support their disaster relief work. Yet it took three days to get the equipment. Not only that:

  • There were fewer devices than requested.
  • They were unusable because they had not yet been activated.
  • SSC's on-call staff were unreachable.

The memo goes on to say that at a June 21, 2016, meeting with the president of SSC and the deputy minister of public safety, it was agreed that "the shared services model is not workable in a dynamic law enforcement environment."

Paulson said all parties decided to identify services that could be handed back to the RCMP, yet since then, SSC has not formally indicated whether it supports making significant changes.

Goodale wants meeting with Foote

Goodale appears to have taken interest in the memo, as he followed-up with a formal request to meet with the minister responsible for Shared Services Canada, Judy Foote.

"I am deeply concerned about the issues raised by the commissioner and the ongoing impact these deficiencies will have on Canadian law enforcement operations and, consequently, on the safety and security of RCMP officers, their policing partners and Canadians," wrote Goodale in the Feb. 6 letter obtained by CBC News.

The meeting has yet to happen but a spokesperson for Foote said the ministers have discussed the matter on a few occasions already. 

"Over the past year, SSC has strengthened working relationships with the RCMP at the operational, managerial and senior management levels. Meetings are taking place on a weekly basis to address IT issues," wrote Annie Trépanier.

The RCMP initially sought to be exempt from Shared Services Canada, but the only similar agency to win that argument was Canada's spy agency, CSIS.


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