UPDATE: Following BC Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham’s report, the Criminal Justice Branch (CJB), Ministry of Justice, announced on Nov. 19 that Greg DelBigio has been appointed as a special prosecutor. DelBigio will give legal advice to the RCMP in relation to the on-going investigation. Following the investigation, the RCMP will decide whether to submit a report to Crown Counsel for charge assessment and possible prosecution.
B.C. Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham is sounding the alarm over the investigation into access to information practices of two provincial government ministries and the Office of the Premier.
Denham’s report suggests investigators uncovered negligent searches for records, a failure to keep adequate email records, a failure to document searches and the willful destruction of records.
In particular, the report highlights an access request filed with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure regarding meetings about missing women and the Highway of Tears.
The commissioner launched an investigation after Tim Duncan, a former executive assistant in that ministry, submitted a complaint this May alleging destruction of records in relation to the Highway of Tears request in November, 2014.
Eighteen women and girls were either last seen or found dead along Highway 16, the so-called Highway of Tears.
READ MORE: Former B.C. staffer alleges emails deleted relating to Highway of Tears
“Mr. Duncan came forward with a very serious allegation – that a fellow employee had willfully and deliberately deleted records from his computer that were responsive to an access to information request about the Highway of Tears. It was imperative that my office give this matter a thorough but timely hearing,” said Denham in a release.
The commissioner’s investigation of the Highway of Tears request found the ministry contravened the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act when it interpreted the applicant’s request narrowly and failed to clarify the nature of the records being sought with the applicant.
WATCH: What does the Christy Clark government’s seeming contempt for freedom of information laws mean to the average British Columbian? Ted Field and Keith Baldrey report.
The commissioner’s report says this same access request was at issue in Tim Duncan’s allegation of destruction of records by ministerial assistant George Gretes.
Duncan alleged that after identifying 12 to 20 responsive records in his mailbox, Gretes “triple deleted” the records from Duncan’s computer. Gretes denied the allegations.
The commissioner has referred the matter to the RCMP.
WATCH: Vincent Gogolek from the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association explains the implications of the report
The investigation also examined two additional access requests directed to the Ministry of Advanced Education and the Office of the Premier, which were brought forward last June.
In the case of the access request made to the Ministry of Advanced Education seeking emails sent by the chief of staff to the minister from February to July 2014, the commissioner found that the ministry contravened the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act due to a negligent search for records by the chief of staff.
Meanwhile, the investigation into the access request to the Office of the Premier about all emails sent by the deputy chief of staff for certain dates in November 2014 revealed that the office contravened the same act due to the lack of documentation of the search for responsive records and the overly broad interpretation given to transitory records by the deputy chief of staff.
Global BC Legislative Bureau Chief Keith Baldrey says the rest of the report blasts the government for its attitude when it comes to record keeping and sharing those records with the public as it is required to do by law.
Baldrey says Denham is concerned about what she calls ‘oral government.’
“There is an increasing resistance from civil servants to put things down on paper,” says Baldrey. “A lot of things nowadays are never written down, they are just oral briefings, with no record.”
Baldrey says Dehman wants to see more political staffers being required to put things down in writing and keep public records.
Denham made 11 recommendations in her report, among them technological changes to stop employees from permanently deleting emails and mandatory training in records management, including training on what is a transitory record and what is not.
Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services Minister Amrik Virk says the government takes the report seriously and is committed to acting on the recommendations.
Virk says he has asked the former B.C. information and privacy commissioner David Loukidelis to advise government on how to address the recommendations and how to enhance freedom of information training for staff.
Read the full report below: