Government must account for tech failures afflicting RCMP, opposition says

Opposition parties want the federal government to tell Parliament what it’s doing to fix the chronic and dangerous IT failures affecting Canada’s national police force.

Provinces that contract RCMP police services also keeping a close eye on Mounties' IT troubles

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has asked to meet with his cabinet colleague responsible for Shared Services Canada to discuss the RCMP's concerns, but opposition MPs are calling for a committee to study the issue. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Opposition parties want the federal government to tell Parliament what it's doing to fix the chronic and dangerous IT failures affecting Canada's national police force.

This week, CBC News reported on a no-holds-barred memo from RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, where he warned of 'catastrophic consequences' should slipshod service and computer network outages continue.

Paulson said the level of service provided by the federal government's tech support agency Shared Services Canada has already hurt police operations, the integrity of the criminal justice system, and threatened officer and public safety.

"I am very concerned that the RCMP's issues have not been thoroughly addressed, thereby impacting on operational efficiency and safety. I call up on the government to report to Parliament on their plans to deal satisfactorily with [the] RCMP's concerns," said Conservative public safety critic Tony Clement.

Goodale expressed his deep concerns about the RCMP's technical issues in a Feb. 6 letter requesting a meeting with his cabinet colleague Judy Foote, the minister responsible for Shared Services Canada.

Tony Clement, who presided over the creation of Shared Services Canada in 2011 as Treasury Board president, wants the government to explain its plan to deal with the RCMP's concerns. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

But the New Democrats' public safety critic, Matthew Dubé, told CBC News these issues have been on the government's radar for months.

"When you see an example like this of the impact these IT failures can have, when it's something like public safety, it certainly adds a sense of urgency. I hope that that will be, pardon the expression, the kick in the butt that this government needs to start acting on this file," said Dubé.

Paulson has asked the government for permission to sever some of its ties with SSC, so far to no avail.

Dubé said it's something that should be considered, perhaps by the House of Commons public safety committee.

"I know [Canada's spy agency] CSIS got the exemption and the RCMP didn't. I think that's where transparency comes in. It'd be interesting to explain why CSIS and not the RCMP and what reasons are being given for not giving that exemption," he said.

IT and equipment complaints

Shared Services is the federal department created in 2011 to take over the delivery of email, data centre and network services for 43 government agencies. At the time, the previous government said the goal was to improve the government's cyber security while saving money. Clement was then the Treasury Board president and announced the creation of SSC.

Since then, the RCMP, Canada Border Services Agency, Department of National Defence and Statistics Canada and other departments have reported serious and ongoing IT problems.

The RCMP has a long list of complaints about SSC, including its provision of faulty telephone headsets for 9-1-1 dispatchers, long network computer outages that affected officer dispatch and mission-critical databases, as well as computer hardware failures that resulted in the permanent loss of police information.

In addition to its national policing duties, several provinces and municipalities contract the RCMP to police their jurisdictions.

Alberta's Solicitor General Kathleen Ganley says police safety is a top priority.

"We would welcome any changes to federal IT support that would benefit RCMP officers in Alberta," she said.

An RCMP memo to the federal public safety minister said slow service and IT delays hampered RCMP during their response to the evacuation of Fort McMurray, Alta. in 2016. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Ganley added that Alberta has invested heavily in a new radio system for the province's first responders, which will also be used by Mounties.

A spokesperson for New Brunswick's solicitor general said the province is aware of the RCMP's IT challenges and understands efforts are "underway to address those challenges to ensure that the operational readiness of the RCMP is maintained and that safety is not compromised."

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