The RCMP is facing harsh criticism over what some experts call a botched investigation in the disappearance of an elderly Alberta couple.

The search for Lyle and Marie McCann "has been a banquet of mistakes, of laziness, of unprofessional conduct -- and two lives are in the balance here," Bill Pitt, an Edmonton-based criminologist and former Mountie, told The Canadian Press.

"I think just about every protocol I'm aware of as far as investigation is concerned has been missed, sloughed off or tried to be explained in some ridiculous fashion.

"It's a blown investigation from beginning to end. Completely blown."

Mounties are pursuing some 80 leads in connection with the case.

The couple, who are in their late 70s, left on vacation in their motorhome from their house in St. Albert on July 3. They haven't been seen since and their vehicle, which was being towed behind their motorhome, has disappeared.

A surveillance video released Thursday by the RCMP shows them filling the motorhome with gas that morning.

Two days later, the motorhome was found burning in a wooded area south of Edson, Alta.

Police have come under fire for compromising one of the most promising leads so far.

Mounties in Prince George, B.C., confirmed Wednesday that two local residents came to the detachment, claiming to have seen the couple's light green Hyundai Tucson SUV driving around the area.

But the pair was allowed to leave before police could ask more questions. Police later issued a public plea for them to return to the detachment. On Thursday evening, RCMP in Prince George released a statement saying that the tipsters had contacted them and that they were interviewed at more length.

Gary Godwin, the RCMP spokesman in Prince George, told The Canadian Press that civilian staffers jotted down the tip at the front desk, but were likely unaware of its significance.

"I don't know if the civilian personnel were up on the file, whether they followed the news or not," Godwin said. Police haven't been able to reach the pair at the number they gave staff, he added.

Pitt said the blunder shows the investigation has been struggling from the start. He says police should have investigated the case aggressively as soon as the McCanns' charred motorhome was found in the bush. Instead, police were spurred to act only when family members reported the couple missing five days later.

Pitt says systemic problems – green recruits, staffing shortages and a culture of hoarding information – are undermining the RCMP and endangering Canadians.

Police in western Canada are now on the lookout for any sign of the missing McCanns, who were due to meet up with their daughter in Chilliwack, B.C., for a camping trip. When they failed to show up, their family reported them as missing.

Police are asking anyone with information about the McCann case to call their local police department.

Members of the McCann family have started a Facebook group that provides information about the case, keeping the public up to date about any developments. More than 10,000 people have signed up for the group.

With files from The Canadian Press