NDP MLA says commission’s findings about government e-mails are ‘shocking’

Minister and Parksville-Qualicum MLA Michelle Stilwell says the government interprets the Act differently

A scathing report released by the province’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Thursday illustrates “a government and premier that puts themselves above the law and any sense of accountability,” said Scott Fraser, Alberni Pacific Rim MLA.

According to commissioner Elizabeth Denham’s report, Access Denied, three investigations show records were intentionally destroyed to avoid public release.

One of those requests was for records related to public hearings on the risks of travelling along the ‘Highway of Tears’, a notorious stretch of highway in Northern B.C. where a number of women have gone missing or been murdered.

Fraser, NDP spokesperson for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation, called the findings “shocking.”

The report suggests the government hindered access to information requests by using tactics such as “triple deleting” e-mails to wipe them from the record and other contraventions of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA).

Triple deleting is when a person moves an e-mail from his or her inbox to a deleted items folder, then empties that folder (double deleting) moving the e-mails to a Recover Deleted Items folder and finally deletes items from the recovery.

The report said triple deleting e-mails “completely expunges (them) from the government system.”

“I am deeply disappointed by the practices our investigation uncovered,” Denham wrote in the report.

“The cases we examined largely concern the existence, or destruction, of electronic records.”

Parksville Qualicum MLA and Minister of Social Development and Social Innovation Michelle Stilwell said the Act (FIPPA) is being interpreted differently by the government and Denham.

Asked if her personal interpretation differs from that of the report’s author, Stilwell said: “I certainly didn’t know what ‘triple delete’ was until today and I still don’t know how to do it.”

Denham’s report made 11 recommendations to the province including training government employees to understand their duties under freedom of information law and changing access to information processes.

“I think we certainly need to take action on the 11 recommendations to improve the understanding and function of all of it for all staff members at every level but a critical point would be that technology continues to change and we have to continue to keep pace with that… to ensure that the people of British Columbia, who we are ultimately accountable to, see us as open and transparent,” said Stilwell.

Premier Christy Clark issued a letter to ministers and ministry staff Friday saying: “We will be taking action on the Privacy Commissioner’s recommendations… I am further directing my Cabinet Ministers and all political staff to keep all the emails they send.”

One Liberal staffer has resigned in light of the report and his conduct has been referred to the RCMP.

Denham started investigating the Highway 16 information request after a complaint from Tim Duncan, made after Duncan left his job as executive assistant to Transportation Minister Todd Stone.

Duncan told the commissioner that the Liberal staffer, who has since resigned, deleted a series of e-mails from Duncan’s office computer in December 2014 after they were requested under freedom of information law. None of the allegations have been proven in a court of law.

Fraser said the government has created “a culture of deceit and deception” and he isn’t convinced they will make meaningful changes.

“I’ve never seen revelations so damning of a government,” said Fraser.

— With files from Tom Fletcher

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