RCMP fights off Ottawa's attempt to get case files
Mounties hire lawyer
Lindsay Kines and Chad Skelton, Vancouver Sun
VANCOUVER - Under pressure to defend itself against mounting lawsuits,
Ottawa has been quietly trying to get its hands on hundreds of RCMP criminal
files, including the investigation of the tainted blood scandal, court
But the RCMP is fighting back, arguing that the government's position
threatens police independence and leaves the force vulnerable to political
interference. The RCMP has even taken the unusual step of hiring a prominent
Toronto lawyer to advise the force and fend off the government.
The dispute only came to light last week when the RCMP went to court in
Victoria to force the government to give back confidential files on an
Indian residential school case. The files had been copied by Department of
Justice staff at RCMP offices in Surrey, near Vancouver, in the fall of
To support its case, the RCMP filed a series of affidavits, exhibits and
correspondence -- including one memo that lays out the Justice Department's
attempts to obtain police files in both the tainted blood and the Indian
residential school cases.
RCMP files can contain a wide range of evidence, including victim
statements, assessments of witnesses' credibility and private correspondence
Normally, a defendant in a civil suit would have to apply to the court to
gain access to those files -- and they would be heavily edited by the police
before being released.
But the Justice Department memo, dated Aug. 27, 1999, reveals the federal
government believes that -- with a few exceptions -- the RCMP should be
required to hand over all its files to lawyers defending the Government of
Canada in civil cases.
The memo indicates the Justice Department has already attempted to gain
access to files without going to court -- and been rebuffed by the police.
The Justice Department argues that the RCMP are "an agent of the federal
Crown for the purposes of document production in civil proceedings."
The RCMP have argued that position violates the principle of police
"Government agents and elected politicians would be able to learn who was
under investigation, who was not under investigation, and the status of the
investigations," the RCMP warned in its written submission to the court.
Wesley Pue, a professor of law at the University of B.C., called the Justice
Department's arguments "a very dangerous constitutional theory."
Mike McCarthy, vice-president of the Canadian Hemophilia Society, expressed
outrage yesterday that the federal government has sought access to RCMP
"That's very worrisome," said Mr. McCarthy. "It flies in the face of what
justice is all about. ... This is obviously their way to limit culpable