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Privacy commissioner says RCMP ignored his investigators in complaint cases


OTTAWA — The federal privacy watchdog has accused the RCMP of ignoring his efforts to investigate complaints about the national police force's apparent foot-dragging on information requests from the public.

The concerns also prompted a Federal Court judge to say he was troubled by the Mounties' "seeming indifference."

Under the Privacy Act, individuals can ask federal departments and agencies, including the RCMP, for records the agency might hold about them.

Agencies are supposed to respond within 30 days, though they can take an extension of another 30 days.

In March 2018, Dale Cumming filed a Privacy Act request to the RCMP and, after four months passed without a response, he lodged a complaint with privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien, an ombudsman for requesters.

Therrien's office upheld the complaint in May of last year and advised Cumming he could pursue the matter further in Federal Court, since he still had not received a response from the Mounties.

A newly released court ruling in Cumming's case reveals the privacy watchdog also wrote RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki last May, citing 16 other complaints that alleged the RCMP had failed to respond within the time limit.

Like Cumming, those complainants had not yet received a response from the RCMP, and the privacy commissioner concluded the grievances were well-founded.

In the letter, the privacy commissioner also pointed out his office "has several other outstanding investigations against the RCMP including several with respect to time limits."

"While we have concluded our investigations of the 17 complaints at hand, we are considering next steps with respect to these other complaints," said the privacy commissioner's letter.

"Of particular concern is that despite repeated attempts to obtain information regarding these files from your (Access to Information and Privacy) officials, our office has not received appropriate responses, and in certain cases has been completely ignored."

Federal Court Justice Patrick Gleeson noted there was insufficient evidence to establish why the delay occurred in Cumming's case. "However, it is clear that Mr. Cumming's experience was not unique."

The RCMP's "seeming indifference towards its obligations under the Privacy Act is troubling," the judge wrote.

"The circumstances deserve Commissioner Lucki's attention if she has not previously acted upon the May 2019 letter."

Neither the RCMP nor Therrien's office had immediate comment on the court ruling.

Gleeson ultimately decided against Cumming, who represented himself in court, since the RCMP did eventually respond to his request last July.

The Mounties released some information to him and withheld other material, noting provisions of the law that allow agencies to keep certain records about a person under wraps.  

Despite receiving some information, Cumming pursued the court application, arguing the RCMP's disclosure was incomplete and that its failure to act more swiftly was a deliberate delay tactic.

Gleeson found Cumming's case was moot, since the RCMP did eventually respond. He also pointed out Cumming must first complain to the privacy commissioner about the withheld material before filing a new application in court concerning the redactions.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2020.

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Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press