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New Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Bob Paulson holds the Tipstaff during a change of command ceremony in Ottawa Dec. 8, 2011. (CHRIS WATTIE/CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)
New Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Bob Paulson holds the Tipstaff during a change of command ceremony in Ottawa Dec. 8, 2011. (CHRIS WATTIE/CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)

Lunch with new RCMP chief? Speak to the Minister Add to ...

Parliamentarians who want to have lunch – or even an informal chat – with the country's new top cop are being told they'll have to book an appointment through the Public Safety Minister.

The edict was communicated this week to Liberal Senator Colin Kenny, the former head of the Senate security and defence committee, when he tried to corral RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson for a private get-together.

“I apologize for any delay but I've become aware of some guidelines from the Department of Public Safety in terms of engaging with parliamentarians and senators so I may have to respectfully ask you to route your request for a meeting through Minister's Office or the Department,” Commissioner Paulson wrote in a Jan. 16 e-mail obtained by The Canadian Press.

Mr. Kenny is a consummate Ottawa insider with deep connections in the defence, policing and intelligence community – associations that date back decades. He was stunned by the response, especially since the newly minted commissioner had been his guest before being promoted, and he'd had unfettered access to nine of Commissioner Paulson's predecessors.

“As a parliamentarian, I won't tolerate being muzzled and I'm surprised that you as the Commissioner of the RCMP, a supposedly independent organization, are telling me that you have been,” Mr. Kenny responded in an e-mail.

Commissioner Paulson, in an e-mail response to Mr. Kenny, denied being muzzled.

When he was chair of the Senate defence committee, Mr. Kenny was well known as a thorn in the sides of both the Harper and Martin governments. His outspoken criticism of the Afghan mission in recent years made him few friends among the Conservatives, even though he's sided with them on issues such as the F-35 fighter purchase.

It was clear in a further e-mail exchange that the senator was not being singled out, but instead had bumped up against a blanket government policy meant to apply to all parliamentarians.

A staffer in the office of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews weighed in the following day, telling Mr. Kenny's staff that it is the minister who does the talking for the RCMP when it comes to contact with MPs and senators, and the most appropriate forum for comments by the commissioner is before parliamentary committees.

“It is the Minister (and by extension, his staff) who are primarily responsible for addressing the concerns of parliamentarians,” wrote Mark Johnson in a Jan. 17 e-mail.

He went on to say that he could arrange a meeting for Mr. Kenny, but would have to invite members of other political parties in order “to ensure that all parliamentarians are given the same level of access to officials.”

Mr. Kenny was incredulous and warned in his response to Commissioner Paulson that accepting such restrictions was dangerous.

“I'm sorry, but when you tell me that you, the Commissioner of the RCMP, are required to have your meetings with parliamentarians, or anyone else, vetted by the Department of Public Safety, you are telling me the government has decided to take control of your discourse in a way it has never taken control of the discourse of any of your predecessors,” he wrote.

“I find it incredible that you would accept such a restriction given the arm's-length relationship between the government and Canada's national police force. Accepting any limitation on persons the Commissioner of the RCMP can speak with can only diminish the independence [of]your office and your institution, both of which are essential to the well-being of Canadians.”

He went on to note that none of Commissioner Paulson's predecessors “tolerated any interference in meeting with anyone they chose to meet with.”

No one in Mr. Toews's office – or the RCMP – were immediately available to comment.

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