Politics

Mountie broke the law when he leaked protester's background, says watchdog report

A British Columbia Mountie broke the law when he started snooping into a protester's background and leaked information to city officials — but it took an outside investigation to convince RCMP brass to see it that way.

Protester held up a sign at a municipal meeting that read 'Pinko Commie'

The RCMP investigated the original complaint and found its members acted 'reasonably,' according to a report from the force's independent watchdog.   (Valerie Zink/Reuters)

A British Columbia Mountie broke the law when he started snooping into a protester's background and leaked information to municipal officials — but it took an outside investigation to convince RCMP brass to see it that way.

The incident dates back to the fall of 2015, when a complaint came forward alleging that an officer accessed police databases and disclosed background information to senior municipal officials after a rowdy council meeting, according to a report by the RCMP's independent watchdog obtained through access to information law.

The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission report is heavily redacted; it doesn't even disclose the name of the municipality. However, it describes how the RCMP got involved after the person who filed the complaint with the CRCC — a boisterous protester — held up a sign at a municipal meeting that read "Pinko Commie."

The report says the municipality was concerned about the protester escalating his efforts. According to emails obtained by the commission, RCMP Insp. Al O'Donnell used PRIME — an electronic record management system used by police in British Columbia — and other databases to find out if the protester had any past run-ins with police.

The protester's record was clean, according to the report. The RCMP relayed that news to the municipality.

The RCMP investigated the protester's original complaint and found its members acted "reasonably," according to a report from the force's independent watchdog. They defended the background search, saying it was conducted in the public's interest.

The CRCC disagreed.

"The commission found that Inspector O'Donnell did unreasonably disclose [redacted] personal information ... contrary to law and policy," says their final report. "Superintendent [Mark] Fisher unreasonably authorized the disclosure."

RCMP commissioner agrees with finding

The Privacy Act prohibits the disclosure of personal information by government institutions, except in limited circumstances.

The CRCC ruled that telling the municipal government about the protester's background violated the law, even though the RCMP found no records of past official contact with police.

"There is no suggestion that [redacted] had breached municipal bylaw. The record merely demonstrates that [redacted] held up signs critical of municipal council," says the report.

Late last year, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki sent a letter to the commission agreeing with their findings and recommendations.

The RCMP says all detachment members were informed of the restrictions on the disclosure of personal information under RCMP E Division policy and the Privacy Act.

Following the commission's recommendation, the RCMP says the new officer in charge of the B.C. detachment makes sure all employees comply with the Privacy Act and internal policies regarding personal information.

The commission's other recommendation was completely redacted.

The RCMP says O'Donnell has retired and Fisher has taken another posting as the commanding officer in another province. 

Neither could be reached for comment.

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