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B.C. public safety minister Farnworth denies existence of ‘gag order’ to RCMP

Farnworth said it is up to RCMP how to communicate with public over issues like drugs
Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth this week acknowledged that safe supply diversion is taking place, but denied that his government is interferring with RCMP communications. (Canadian Press/Chad Hipolito)

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth says his ministry has never and will not direct RCMP communications.

“If there’s information, that you are wanting, we will do our best to get information for you,” Farnworth said to reporters to Tuesday (April 9). “But at the end of the day, it’s the RCMP that decide how to communicate.”

He made these comments after the emergence of an internal RCMP memo first reported by Northern Beat earlier this week. The memo dated March 11 directs RCMP detachments to forward all questions including those from government about “hot button issues” like decriminalization and drug seizes to divisional headquarters.

“I do not direct the RCMP on what they they say,” Farnworth said, when asked about the memo, calling it an internal memo. “I have never directed the RCMP on what they say.”

Parts of the political opposition have interpreted the RCMP memo as evidence of government attempting to control information. B.C. United’s Elenore Sturko is among those referring to the memo as a ‘gag order’ designed to suppress public access to safety information.

“Police (in individual detachments) should be free to inform British Columbians about investigations serving the public interest, not to shield the Premier from scrutiny and political embarrassment,” she said during Question Period on Thursday.

Farnworth repeatedly rejected the existence of such a “gag order” during the week to reporters as well as during multiple Question Periods. He also turned the phrase against B.C United on Tuesday.

“The only gagging that is taking place is that of the opposition every time they see a poll that shows them going from opposition status to third party after the next election,” he said in responding to a question from B.C. United’s Renee Merrifield, MLA for Kelowna-Mission.

Farnworth was referring to polls that show B.C. United as the official opposition behind the Conservative Party of B.C.

RELATED: Safer supply studies say B.C. gives different answers to different questions

Looming behind these exchanges are questions about the importance of public safety related to issues such as decriminalization and the diversion of safe supply.

Recent weeks have seen B.C. United and the Conservative Party of B.C. intensify criticism of government handling of public safety. This criticism intensified after media reported on RCMP seizing drugs believed to have been diverted from safe supply.

Farnworth said in early March that RCMP had told him that they did not find evidence of “widespread” diversion. Speaking to reporters, Farnworth acknowledged that diversion has taken place.

“What there isn’t, is evidence of widespread diversion,” he said. “This is not a new issue. Diversion takes places within the prescription drug supply and has done for a very long time.”

When asked about the definition of widespread, Farnworth said he based his comments on what RCMP had told him.

“They (RCMP) let us know,” he said. “It’s not saying diversion does not happen, but what they are saying is that it is not, from what they have seen, widespread.”

Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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