03/11/2015 05:58 EDT | Updated 05/11/2015 05:59 EDT

RCMP Say Backlog In Criminal Database Won't End Until 2018

The RCMP have acknowledged there's a large backlog of entries for its national criminal-record database, known as CPIC, and say the problem won’t be cleared until 2018.

But the Mounties say they have found some workarounds in the meantime to help mitigate the problem in a database that is relied on daily by police, prosecutors and judges.

By this spring, all police services will be connected to an up-to-date central database of fingerprint images, says Sgt. Greg Cox. The system will allow police forces to send and receive images electronically.

The Mounties are also working to eliminate an archaic system, in which police forces send paper copies of criminal records to Ottawa, in favour of a purely electronic transfer by March 2017.

And the RCMP are currently fast-tracking the data entry of criminal records for “high-risk and prolific offenders,” based on consultations with the provinces, Cox said.

But the existing backlog, estimated at several hundred thousand criminal records, will not be eliminated until paper records can be electronically scanned over the next three years

Cox said the improvements in updating the CPIC database have cost the government $180 million since the auditor general sounded the alarm in 2009 and 2011.

Database is used to vet volunteers

Police and justice officials rely on the CPIC database to monitor suspects, to determine bail, for sentencing – even to vet candidates who want to volunteer to coach kids. But many have told CBC News that a gap of recent data, more than two years’ worth in many cases, leaves them blind to fresh convictions.

“We’ve noticed over the years that the CPIC doesn’t always include all of the person’s record,” Rick Woodburn, president of the Canadian Association of Crown Counsel, said from Halifax.

Woodburn said the lack of a reliable national system can leave officials in one province blind to crimes committed in another province.

“Somebody can come from another jurisdiction, Ontario, and come to Halifax, Nova Scotia - we can run a CPIC on them and it’ll show they have no record at all. … They can show up in each province with virtually no record.”

NDP justice critic Francoise Boivin said the stale CPIC database shows the government’s tough-on-crime agenda is “more hot air than action.”

But Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney cited the $180 million the government has put into improving the CPIC database, claiming the NDP did not support the expenditure.

“Is it that the NDP are still in the dinosaur age when we are now moving from a paper era to an electronic era?” he told the House of Commons on Wednesday.

 RCMP Deputy Commissioner Peter Henschel noted the CPIC had to be developed from scratch, and needed to be operational even as it was being improved. "Try to change the engine in a plane while you're flying it," he told CBC News.