The federal government touts that there are methods of transparency for getting access to information in Canada, but apparent backlogs have slowed the ATIPP process at the RCMP to a near halt.
Yellowknifer is seeing this issue firsthand. In August 2016 Shane Magee, a now former reporter with Yellowknifer, was hoping to obtain management review reports for all G Division detachments in the Northwest Territories.
In 2015, Magee said he obtained one of these management review reports through a separate ATIPP (access to information and protection of privacy) request.
“These reports are done at every detachment and include information on investigation reports, details about evidence lockers, even employee morale,” said Magee, who now works for CBC in New Brunswick.
“We decided to do more than just a one-off story and examine these reports from all detachments across the NWT. So I filled out the paperwork, mailed a cheque to Ottawa and waited and waited and waited.”
But the information never did reach the newsroom. Magee sent two follow up emails on March 16, 2017 and received an email blaming the poor response time on an extensive backlog of requests. On April 19 of the same year Magee asked if there was an estimated timeline but received no response.
It wasn’t until this March that Yellowknifer finally received word from the RCMP concerning the request.
In a letter postmarked Feb. 27, Carina Funicelli with the Access to Information and Privacy Branch with the RCMP stated that “the RCMP is experiencing a large volume of requests resulting in lengthy delays in processing.”
The information that was initially requested was not enclosed. Instead, the letter asked if Magee still wanted the information. The letter gave Magee 30 days to respond from the day it was sent.
Another RCMP official in Ottawa said the request is under review and no information about the request can be released until the review is complete.
The man hung up the phone before Yellowknifer could confirm the spelling of his name. Yellowknifer attempted to verify the official’s identity with the RCMP but no one responded to our inquiries.
The government is mandated to respond within 30 days to information requests once a review has begun, but the official said it can’t always meet that deadline.
“There is a government mandated 30-day response to requests but depending on the amount of information requested and the amount of requests we have, it can take longer,” the official said.
He said there is a declassification process for documents like these, but could not comment further as the request was still under review.
Another official within the RCMP ATIPP department confirmed police are experiencing a backlog in requests.
“Because this file is voluminous we will endeavour to finalize it as soon as possible, however, note that we go in order of the dates the requests were received in our office which impacts the processing of this file,” said Tina Beaudoin, team leader with RCMP ATIPP Division, in an email.
The federal Office of the Information Commissioner, in charge of investigating complaints, had little more to say.
Natalie Bartlett, manager of communications with the office of the Information Commissioner, said the information commissioner would not be commenting on the case.
“The Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) is the independent oversight body that investigates all complaints about institutions’ handling of access to information requests,” Bartlett stated in an email.
“Therefore, we cannot comment on specific decisions or practices by federal institutions as these could become the subject of an investigation.”
NWT Privacy and Information Commissioner, Elaine Keenan Bengts, also declined to comment.
As it stands, Yellowknifer has responded to the letter and asked that the request for RCMP management review reports stays active.