RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson is backtracking on his call for MPs and senators to go through the Department of Public Safety to hold a meeting with him, saying he will safeguard his independence from the rest of government "like a terrier."
Commissioner Paulson told a parliamentary committee on Tuesday he intends to give notice to his political bosses only about meetings that might be of interest to them, such as with diplomats or politicians. He added that he has no obligation to debrief the government after he meets with RCMP outsiders.
Regarding an e-mail in which he recently called on Liberal Senator Colin Kenny to "route" his request through Public Safety, Commissioner Paulson suggested that it was a polite brush-off.
"I'd just as soon not meet with Senator Kenny, to be honest with you," Commissioner Paulson said of the former president of the Senate committee on national security.
The opposition has accused the Harper government of muzzling the RCMP by asking to approve its major news releases before they are made public.
"Is the RCMP free to communicate about important issues without approval from the minister's office or not? Canadians want to know," NDP MP Jasbir Sandhu asked during Question Period.
However, Commissioner Paulson told MPs that the new "communications protocol" with Public Safety simply entrenched current practices and will not affect news releases and communications dealing with police operations.
"I don't know how it came to be that I had been thought to have been muzzled. I am not muzzled," the blunt-talking policeman said.
Pointing out that he has been based in Ottawa for the past six years, Commissioner Paulson said political officials are well aware that they are not to meddle in police operations.
"The independence of this organization is absolutely vital and I will defend it like a terrier," he said.
During his appearance before the public safety committee of the House, Commissioner Paulson also promised to modernize and speed the RCMP's discipline system and deal effectively with about 90 unresolved harassment complaints. He said he want to boost the number of female recruits to 35 per cent, up from 30 per cent, and have more women move up the force's senior ranks.
Commissioner Paulson said he has also called for a "gender-based audit" of the RCMP's work force from Status of Women Canada.
"The day I had a meeting with the head of that agency, we were looking at some of the paraphernalia in my office, which includes Mounties on horses and hands holding swords. She was quick to point out these were all male hands and male Mounties," he said. "It illustrates some of the challenges that we have."