Canada’s top cop ostracises government data centre provisioning
Wed 1 Mar 2017
Robert Paulson, Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Canada’s highest-ranking police officer, has launched a scathing attack on a series of perceived failures by Shared Services Canada, claiming that the level of provisioning SSC furnishes could be ‘catastrophic’ for the police and the Canadian public.
In a letter obtained by CBC news, Paulson laments to Public Safety minister Ralph Goodale a 29% increase in the advent of ‘critical’ IT failures over the last five years since the SSC appropriated control over all of the Canadian government’s IT services.
Shared Services Canada was instituted in 2011 as an effort to consolidate all data centre services in the country under one authority, but has since come under attack from a number of civil and private sources, including Canada’s auditor general, the House of Commons standing committee on public accounts and the Canada Border Services Agency.
Paulson claims that notwithstanding the SSC’s initiatives of committees and dedicated teams to address a series of outages, that ‘minimal progress’ has been made.
The letter, dated January 20th, seems tacitly to be a response to a major network outage the day before, wherein law enforcement officials were blocked from accessing the critical Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) database for 11 hours. CPIC is reported by CBC to have experienced similar downtimes on more than 12 occasions since the spring of 2016.
Downtime for CPIC means that street-based police officers are unable to check names against criminal records or outstanding arrest warrants, as well as blocking access to license plate searches. One officer at the time described the outages as a ‘huge safety risk’.
Paulson wrote: “A lack of CPIC access severely limits awareness of what threats officers may face when they respond to a call,” and continued. “If a major crime or incident were to occur during an outage of these systems, then the results could be catastrophic.”
He additionally noted that if such service interruptions had happened during a major incident such as the 2014 shootings in Moncton – where three officers lost their lives and two others were injured – the situation would have been exacerbated: “This situation would have significantly impacted officers’ ability to respond to the threat in a co-ordinated fashion and may have resulted in additional deaths.”
The Commissioner also observed “unacceptable delays” in the deployment of IT equipment when Fort McMurray in Alta needed to be evacuated in May of 2016 due to forest fires, noting that it took three days to receive requested IT equipment – and that the devices were fewer than requested, effectively non-functional on arrival (due to not having been activated), and that SSC’s support centre was unreachable during the crisis.
Paulson’s letter opines that “the shared services model is not workable in a dynamic law enforcement environment.” and seems to provide a damning argument against centralised services over the more common trend to outsource and provide infrastructure of this nature on a market-driven model.
On February 6th Goodale made a formal request to meet with Judy Foote, the minister responsible for SSC, expressing his concern about Paulson’s evaluation: “I am deeply concerned about the issues raised by the commissioner and the ongoing impact these deficiencies will have on Canadian law enforcement operations and, consequently, on the safety and security of RCMP officers, their policing partners and Canadians.”