RCMP Misinformed Access Unit Leads to Misleading Letter to Democracy Watch on SNC-Lavalin Prosecution Investigation | Unpublished

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Democracy Watch is a national non-profit, non-partisan organization, and Canada’s leading citizen group advocating democratic reform, government accountability and corporate responsibility.

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RCMP Misinformed Access Unit Leads to Misleading Letter to Democracy Watch on SNC-Lavalin Prosecution Investigation

February 15, 2024

RCMP still violating law by failing to disclose 2,200 pages of investigation records that DWatch requested in July 2022

RCMP Commissioner and lead investigating officer still to be questioned by House Ethics Committee about their negligently weak investigation

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the records disclosed by the RCMP that explain how its Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) Branch sent a misleading letter dated May 25, 2023 to Democracy Watch in response to DWatch’s July 2022 Access to Information Act (ATIA) request.

The letter contained incorrect information saying that the allegation that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Liberal Cabinet members obstructed justice by pressuring then-Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould to stop the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin in 2018 “is currently under investigation”.

In statements issued to the media late in the afternoon on Monday, June 19, 2023 and in the afternoon of Wednesday, June 21, 2023, the RCMP said that the investigation ended in January 2023, and that the incorrect information in the May 25th letter was sent by its ATIP Branch to Democracy Watch “using information available at the time.”  (Click here to see those two full statements from the RCMP posted in DWatch’s June 19, 2023 News Release).

The RCMP’s internal communications records, recently disclosed in response to Democracy Watch’s request under the Access to Information Act, show that while one division of the RCMP had closed the investigation, an administrative system still registered the investigation as ongoing.  Click here to see the records, with the key information on pages 44-48, and 66-76 (especially 68-69).

"The RCMP’s records show that its internal communications system did not make it clear to all divisions and branches of the RCMP when an investigation has been completed, and that it was committing to correct that problem that caused it to mislead Democracy Watch in May 2023 about the status of the investigation into the Trudeau Cabinet SNC-Lavalin obstruction of justice scandal," said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.

The RCMP’s June 21, 2023 statement said: “The RCMP will undertake a new review of the records, and, following necessary consultations, will provide a new release package to the requester within 90 days.”  However, the RCMP only disclosed about 1,800 pages of documents in September, and said about 2,200 pages of records were still being reviewed.

The disclosed records made it clear that the RCMP’s investigation was very superficial and incomplete, didn’t challenge the Trudeau Cabinet’s withholding of key evidence, characterized all statements by everyone in the Cabinet who was alleged to have obstructed justice in a favourable way whenever possible, always argued in favour of doubts concerning the success of a prosecution, incorrectly claimed that the RCMP required proof of “a corrupt intent to interfere” before a prosecution for obstruction could be pursued, and that the RCMP’s national command tried to bury the investigation by delaying a key decision from March 2021 to January 2023.  Click here to see details.

In an email dated September 29, 2023 on page 123 of the recently disclosed records, Rita Lattanzi-Thomas, Senior Consultant in the RCMP’s ATIP Branch writes that the documents are being reviewed to ensure they “will not reveal any investigation techniques etc.” and that the documents contain “the investigator’s notes (emails and notebook entries), witness interviews etc.”

Ms. Lattanzi-Thomas also writes that she is “hoping to have the remainder of the documents released on or before October 13, 2023.”  Click here to see the record and email on page 123.  Four months later, Democracy Watch is still waiting for disclosure of the documents.

“Given Democracy Watch requested the investigation records in July 2022, and the investigation ended in January 2023, it is completely unjustifiable and a clear violation of the federal open government law that the RCMP continues to fail to disclose all the investigation records,” said Conacher.

On December 11, 2023, the House Ethics Committee was supposed to hold a hearing to ask key questions of the RCMP Commissioner and lead investigating officer about the RCMP’s very, incomplete weak investigation, but the meeting was cancelled at the last minute by Committee Chair John Brassard. The Committee has not yet re-scheduled the hearing.

"All of the RCMP's conflicting actions and statements and the problems they have caused in this situation are due to their systemic culture of excessive secrecy, and the lack of timely, effective enforcement of the federal access to information law, including penalties for disclosure delays and other violations.  As a result, the public's right to know have been violated, but no one will be held accountable, let alone penalized,” said Conacher.  “This shows the importance of the Liberal government acting quickly to make the changes to strengthen the Access to Information Act and enforcement, and to establish penalties for violations, as recommended by a House Committee in its June 2023 report.

If the RCMP was committed to transparency and independent, effective law enforcement, it would have made it clear back in 2019 when the allegations were first made that an independent special prosecutor would oversee the investigation and would issue a public report as soon as it ended that provided a summary of the investigation process and details about any prosecution decisions.  Instead, the end of the investigation was only disclosed months later after unjustifiable delays and through conflicting, vague statements from the RCMP that provided limited information and raised even more questions.