Monday, November 21, 2011

The HGRCMP

A new public relations protocol comes into being for the RCMP and it is leaked to the Toronto Star: "Government puts tighter leash on RCMP public statements." So what are the Harper government inappropriately up to with the RCMP? A lengthy excerpt but warranted:
The Star obtained a copy of a new communications protocol that requires the RCMP to flag anything that might “garner national media attention” to Public Safety Canada.

Everything from “media advisories, news releases, background info, media lines and talking points for spokespersons and senior officials/members” must be vetted.

Statements by RCMP members who appear before parliamentary committees would likely be massaged by the federal government beforehand, as the document clearly defines a “major event” as “an incident, event, announcement, and/or speaking engagement likely to garner national media attention.”

Signed Sept. 20 and effective immediately, the policy says the Mounties must consult and get approval from Public Safety for communications regarding non-operational matters “PRIOR (emphasis in original) to public use” for almost everything.

On “major operational events,” all communications need to be shared with Public Safety Canada officials “for information only” prior to public use.

According to the document, the goal is to ensure advance notice of “communications activities,” “consistent” interdepartmental co-ordination, better “strategic” communications planning, and more “integrated Government of Canada messaging.”

“The circulation of the information provided will be treated with sensitivity and, as appropriate, will be limited to a select few senior officials at Public Safety Canada.”
So there seem to be two strains of communications dealt with in this wonderful new policy, RCMP communications on "major operational events" and RCMP communications on non-operational matters. In the case of the major operational events, the government will be tipped off in advance by the RCMP, albeit for "information only" purposes before any public communications take place. In the case of non-operational events, the government will be vetting everything! Imagine. The government is overreaching here and should not be inserting itself into police communications in any respect.

For one thing, in democratic countries, the police are independent entities from government, albeit subject to proper civilian oversight. But proper civilian oversight is carefully limited. It surely does not involve the elected branch of government writing federal police communications. Yet that's what it looks like the Public Safety department will be doing in all the instances cited above on non-operational matters. Correction, have been doing, since this has been in effect since late September.

This will detract from the RCMP's credibility as it speaks to the public. Not what that embattled agency needs to begin with, but adding this political element of communications vetting is not going to help at all. It'll be as if the government is speaking.

Now how might these rules apply to a situation where the government itself is being investigated? I assume such an event would be a major operational matter. If such situations arise, and they do, why should the government be tipped off by the RCMP "for information only" prior to the public being alerted? Their rationalization seems to be that it's for a strategic communications purpose. But how are we going to know what information is passed on to the government, internally? How are we to be assured that this information passing won't compromise the investigation? 

There also seems to be the opportunity here for the government to pursue their tough on crime political agenda by capitalizing on police investigations as they are announced. It's as if the business of government, policing included, is one giant public relations opportunity for this government.

The principal point here is that policing matters, operational or non-operational, are not political matters. The government should be keeping their nose and hands out of all of it.

No wonder someone has leaked the policy and various RCMP officials are anonymously speaking to the media. There are red flags here and it is something the public needs to know about. During a majority government, public opinion and media are key countervailing checks on such blatantly wrong developments.