I wrote in a recent column that public service leaks are exceptionally rare, and this has held true even in the context of Stephen Harper’s abrasive relationship with the federal public service, 257,000 federal public servants deal with boat loads of information every week and leaks are barely noticeable. Public servants are hugely loyal (and some say risk averse). They take their oaths of confidentiality very seriously, as they should.
On the other hand, political staff commonly leak or “advance” hundreds of stories every year - and this has now become common in the lead-up to budgets. This is up to the political staff - and "approved leaks" are rarely, if ever, delegated to public servants.
Nevertheless, leaks attributed to the public service are highly disruptive and can understandably involve a lot of finger pointing. An embarrassing leak at the start of a mandate or at election time is the worst of all. Leaks trigger a breach of trust between the public service and the political administration and it can take a while to recover. Public servants work hard to build trust with their political counterparts, and this is done one transaction at a time. But this trust can be eroded very quickly.
Getting the police involved is usually a political call. And, in any event, it's not going to happen without a check-in with the political side of the shop. There are some good reasons to ring the alarm bells though. The government will obviously want to signal that it is taking the matter seriously (or will wait a day to see if the story will last beyond a couple of news cycles). And it's sometimes important to send a wake-up call to the public service in the event that complacency is setting in when it comes to information management.
Realistically though, it’s very difficult to hold sensitive information close in a working environment in which collaboration across departmental boundaries is increasingly necessary, and digital communications are more ubiquitous. Given this, the real story here is the remarkable commitment of Canada's public servants to their professional obligations and to the elected government of the day - regardless of how abrasive it might be.