08/21/2012 08:07 EDT | Updated 10/21/2012 05:12 EDT

RCMP forensic delays not a problem, says Toews

Federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews is rejecting suggestions that bottlenecks at national RCMP crime labs are slowing down important police investigations, including the Richard Oland murder investigation in Saint John.

But if any improvements are needed, provinces might have to pay for them, he said.

"Are there challenges? There are always challenges," Toews told CBC News.

"Generally, I think the delays that were occurring say five, six, 10 years ago even are much reduced."

Saint John police revealed in court documents earlier this month that their investigation into last year's murder of prominent businessman Richard Oland was being hampered by delays at national RCMP forensic labs.

In an affidavit sworn this June and released in August, Const. Stephen Davidson, the lead investigator in the Oland case, said the national crime labs were only accepting a few pieces of evidence at a time and nearly a year after the murder was committed, the force still had a backlog of exhibits waiting to be sent and analyzed.

Toews says to the extent problems exist for municipal forces getting evidence processed, it's really an issue for them and their provincial governments to solve, not the federal government.

"It's a question of how much each level of government should be paying," said Toews, who was in Saint John on Monday to announce $300,000 in crime prevention funding for the province.

"Police work, including laboratory services, is essentially a provincial or municipal responsibility. It's not a federal responsibility," he said.

Oland, 69, was found dead in his Saint John office on July 7, 2011.

Police have seized 378 pieces of evidence to date, ranging from Oland's financial records to the lint trap from his son's dryer, search warrants released by the court reveal.

Of those, 243 require forensic analysis, according to the lead investigator. So far, only 43 exhibits have been sent, he said.

The RCMP recently announced the closure of three of its labs, including one in Halifax, and the consolidation with three others, in a bid to save money and produce more efficient results.