APTN National News
Senior RCMP officials considered a “soft launch” of their second report on murdered and missing Indigenous women because they believed the federal Public Safety department would “appreciate” the move, internal emails show.
The emails also show how RCMP planners tried to arrange the release of the report around the Harper government’s plan to highlight the moment its new anti-terror legislation became law and the expected end of the Parliamentary session.
APTN National News obtained the emails through the Access to Information Act.
The RCMP released its second report on murdered and missing Indigenous women with a press conference on Friday, June 19, three days after its originally scheduled launch.
The emails show that Public Safety wanted the report released that Friday, the day Parliament eventually rose, and a day after Bill C-51, the anti-terror law, received Royal Assent.
Senior officers, however, initially toyed with the idea of doing without a press conference and simply releasing the report with a plan to do follow-up interviews after it became public.
“Given Bill C-51 is going to receive Royal Assent on June 16 (same date as our proposed press conference), I am meeting with my team at noon to discuss,” wrote RCMP deputy commissioner Janice Armstrong on June 9 to the RCMP’s chief strategic policy and planning officer Rennie Marcoux. “We could do a soft launch.”
Marcoux responded saying the House of Commons was “likely to rise on June 18.” Marcoux suggested holding a press conference after that date.
Armstrong’s reply email is partially redacted, but in it she floats the idea of the soft launch.
“(REDACTED) seems a bit long to wait (so that would leave the 19th of June-Friday). Or we could do a soft launch the following week…PS might appreciate a soft launch,” wrote Armstrong.
PS refers to the federal Public Safety department.
“Wouldn’t be surprised if they would appreciate a soft launch on June 19, but does that interfere with or go against what you are trying to achieve?” wrote Marcoux, in response.
None of the emails released to APTN explain why the senior RCMP officials believed Public Safety would “appreciate” a soft launch of the report.
The RCMP then settled on June 17, a Wednesday, as the date for the press conference after learning the Harper government expected Bill C-51 to receive Royal Assent on June 16, the emails show.
“Since we received information that the government is going ahead with their announcement on June 16 we have moved our news conference to June 17 at 2 p.m.,” wrote RCMP communications official Catherine Fortin on June 10. “The dry run will take place on June 16 at 10 a.m. in the auditorium.”
Fortin said in the email that releasing the report on the same day as the Bill C-51 announcement would result in a lack of media coverage and possible public perception the RCMP was “trying to bury the report.”
On June 11 Armstrong emailed her team saying Public Safety was “looking for us to change our date to Friday.”
Fortin confirmed Public Safety transmitted the request.
“Christine Papas, our DG Comms received the request from PS DG Comms and we were going to check with you. Now we have your answer, we will respond back to them that we are going to go on the Wed June 17,” wrote Fortin in the reply email.
An RCMP spokesperson told APTN National News on June 15 the report would be released during a press conference on June 17.
The emails released to APTN do not explain why that date was scrapped and replaced with June 19, as Public Safety requested. The public record shows that Bill C-51 finally received Royal Assent on June 18 and Parliament rose the next day.
The email trail picks up on June 16 with Fortin informing Sgt. Julie Gagnon, the RCMP’s media relations officer for the national capital region, and Const. Elenore Sturko, the media liaison officer with the RCMP’s G Division in Yellowknife, that the date had changed.
“It now looks we are releasing our update on Friday,” wrote Fortin, on June 16 at 1:19 p.m.
Earlier that day, the emails show there was confusion around the report’s release. One of the RCMP officers involved in the planning wrote an email at 9:35 a.m. saying they were working on getting the French version ready “as we’re still uncertain whether we’re going ahead tomorrow or not.”
This triggered a perplexed reply from Chris Power, manager of new media for the RCMP.
“I’m confused, didn’t you say at 9:00 it was off?” wrote Power to Fortin.
“Yeah, but it keeps changing every minute,” wrote Fortin.
The change caught some of the RCMP’s regional communications officers off guard. The emails show the British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and Nunavut regions were all preparing for the report’s release on June 17.
“Can you confirm if the report is being released today? Our BC Min of Justice is asking,” wrote Dawn Roberts, director of strategic communications for the B.C. RCMP, to Fortin on the morning of June 17.
“My CrOps officer is looking to find out when an MMAW (missing and murdered Aboriginal women) news release is going out today…I can’t seem to find any emails etc. about it,” wrote Sgt. Yvon Niego, media coordinator for the RCMP’s V Division in Nunavut, at 9:39 a.m. on June 17.
RCMP headquarters in Ottawa was also bombarded with media calls the same day, prompting the Mounties’ communications team to push out an advisory saying the report would be released two days later.
“Reporters are calling (Sgt. Harold Pfleiderer) trying to confirm that the press conference is still on today. He has been screening calls, but we think it would be better if he was able to respond with a line like this: The timing of the press conference is still not firm, but it will not be today,” wrote Joe De Mora, the RCMP’s director of operations communications.
Pfleiderer said they should just release the advisory.
“That would STOP the calls as we then have a definite time and date,” wrote Pfleiderer, in an email sent at 9:44 a.m.
The RCMP report revealed that, as of April 2015, 174 Indigenous women across the country were missing and 111 of these cases were considered suspicious.
“Our 2015 update confirms the unmistakable connection between homicide and family violence and that Aboriginal women continued to be over-represented among Canada’s missing and murdered women,” said Armstrong on June 19, the final date of the report’s release.