According to a news release issued this week by the Canadian Association of Journalists, the RCMP has won this year’s Code of Silence Award for Outstanding Achievement in Government Secrecy.
“This summer multiple journalists, equipped only with pens, notebooks and camera equipment, were treated like criminals by the RCMP as they did their job,” said CAJ President Brent Jolly in the release.
He was referring to RCMP efforts to prevent journalists from covering demonstrators opposed to the logging of old-growth forests at Fairy Creek on Vancouver Island.
“This year’s Code of Silence jury agreed that the efforts demonstrated by the RCMP to suffocate press freedom and the public’s right to know about events taking place at Fairy Creek deserves the spotlight,” Jolly added.
The jury also awarded the Mounties an unprecedented second citation for failing to respond to federal access to information requests within the required 30-day time limit.
“The unwillingness of the RCMP to meet basic requirements of transparency,” Jolly is quoted as saying, “is sadly nothing new.”
In 2017, the Mounties won the Code of Silence Award after failing to respond to a single access to information request filed as part of News Media Canada’s Freedom of Information Audit.
A news release issued then noted that the RCMP’s “long tradition of secrecy and non-response” had drawn criticism from Canada’s Information Commissioner as well as the federal minister of public safety.
Local police secrecy
RCMP secrecy also extends to the Sackville detachment which rarely responds to local media requests for information.
Sgt. Paul Gagné, who heads the detachment, says he does not consider Warktimes to be a legitimate news outlet.
“Anybody can be a blogger,” he told me on one occasion and on another, that he would not be returning my phone calls.
Gagné did not hide his displeasure after my reports on the frequency of closed-door town council meetings led to former CAO Phil Handrahan’s decision to open up monthly RCMP briefings to the public starting in September 2019.
In February 2020, town councillors seemed sympathetic when Gagné complained about having to deliver his monthly reports in public.
“Since we changed the format of our present meeting to being open to the public, I personally don’t find as much value in being here as I did before because I found our exchanges much more, I would say, hearty and substantial,” he told council.
Later, town council discussed his complaint in a private meeting and decided to move the monthly RCMP briefings back behind closed doors.
Last August 17, I filed a formal complaint with the provincial Ombud’s Office stating in part:
My position is that Sackville Town Council can always go into closed session to discuss matters with the RCMP that fall under the provisions of Section 68(1) of New Brunswick’s Local Governance Act, but that it should not be permissible to close the entire monthly RCMP report just in case some legal or confidential matter happens to arise.
I would also argue that the intent of the Local Governance Act is that Sackville Town Council meetings should be open and public except when the mayor and councillors are discussing matters that are covered under Section 68(1).
On December 22, after I asked what was happening with my complaint, the Ombud’s office replied that it was still under investigation.