A directive from RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson that meetings between senior RCMP officers and parliamentarians be first cleared with his office is not on the face of it an unreasonable restriction, in that it insulates the Mounties from political machinations and reinforces the chain of command.
Unfortunately, because the approvals must go through a liaison office shared with the Minister of Public Safety, Vic Toews too has a say. CBC television news obtained an e-mail that cancelled a planned lunch between a senior Mountie and a parliamentarian, explaining that such meetings “have to first be approved by the Minister’s office.”
When asked about the requirement to notify his office, Mr. Toews responded, “I’m responsible for the RCMP. I need to know exactly what the RCMP is doing and saying because if I go into the House of Commons and I have no idea what is being said, I’m at a distinct situation where it appears that I’m not carrying out my responsibilities to the House of Commons.”
In the directive, the Commissioner explained that meetings between senior officers and senators or MPs “can have unintended and/or negative consequences for the organization and the government.” His responsibility to protect the RCMP from negative consequences is obvious, his duty to the government in that regard is less so. As their motto states, the RCMP are responsible for defending the law. It says nothing about defending the Minister.
Try to imagine a similar scenario involving a major municipal police force, such as in Toronto. Imagine if Mayor Rob Ford had the power to approve all meetings between senior Toronto police officers and councillors, and used it to prevent meetings with some of his political opponents. There would be justified concerns about politicization of the police.
The involvement of Mr. Toews presents the directive in an entirely different light. The Minister may have political responsibility for the RCMP at the policy level and, yes, there are times when he is held accountable for the RCMP in the House of Commons, but he has no place acting as a gatekeeper for the national police force. Commissioner Paulson needs to clarify his directive to make that explicit.