The email purge apparently resumed in Premier Christy Clark’s office before the provincial election was called.
theBreaker applied under the freedom of information law for all of communications director Ben Chin’s email, in all folders, for the period of 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on April 6. That was the day when Ombudsperson Jay Chalke released his scathing 487-page report into the unjust 2012 firing of eight drug safety researchers in the Ministry of Health. The 11 a.m.-unveiled report was the dominant provincial story on the last Thursday before the election period officially began April 11.
On May 25, more than two weeks after the governing BC Liberals lost their majority status, the Office of the Premier sent theBreaker a scant three-pages.
The three pages contain not a single syllable about the Clark administration’s reaction to the Chalke report. They consist of an email between Chin and press secretary Stephen Smart (both former CBC journalists), with an attached two-page, opinion-editorial about B.C. softwood lumber exports to the U.S. Ghost-written for Clark.
Chalke concluded the eight researchers, including suicide victim Roderick MacIsaac, should never have been fired and that the government lied when it claimed the RCMP was investigating a data breach. Chalke’s office also issued a news release headlined “Flawed 2012 investigation, rushed decisions had widespread repercussions.”
The executive director of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association was dismayed by the lack of disclosure.
“It does seem odd that the head communications person in the Premier’s office would have so few incoming or outgoing e-mails on the day of a major report affecting the reputation of the government,” Vince Gogolek told theBreaker. “Or maybe not so odd, given what has happened in the past with important government records.”
History of deception, deceit and delete
In her damning October 2015 report, then-Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham found the government was systemically evading the public disclosure law. Staff in Clark’s office and Transport Minister Todd Stone’s office were mass-deleting email on their computers and the government’s server in a practice called triple-deleting. Stone aide George Gretes eventually pleaded guilty to lying to Denham while under oath.
Clark responded to Denham’s “Access Denied” report by ordering all cabinet ministers and staff to retain their email. Clark’s office hired Denham’s predecessor, David Loukidelis. He made 27 recommendations in his mid-December 2015 report, including a ban on triple deleting email and an endorsement of the Denham-proposed duty to document law.
The BC Liberal government gave itself a pat on the back for the March 16-passed Documenting Government Decisions Act, but Gogolek said it was anything but the duty to document law that Denham had conceived. Instead, it is entirely discretionary, because it merely gives the Chief Information Officer power to bring in “directives and guidelines” on records creation.
In February, the NDP unsuccessfully proposed the Public Records Accountability Act, which included explicit duty to document language and fines up to $50,000 for the unauthorized destruction of government information.
The party’s culture of concealment includes its Ontario-import executive director. Laura Miller is facing a trial to begin Sept. 11 in Toronto. The breach of trust, data mischief and computer system misuse charges date back to Miller’s time as an aide to Ontario Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty in 2011. Chin is also a former McGuinty aide.
Chalke’s report mentioned that Deputy Health Minister Stephen Brown and the premier’s deputy John Dyble met with Chin in December 2013 “to tell him that there would likely be a number of settlements with terminated employees over the following year, which would need to be managed from a communications perspective.” Chin apparently favoured a third-party review, but the government didn’t act until early October 2014, three days after MacIsaac’s sister Linda Kayfish held an NDP-supported news conference.
“There is no indication that, but for Ms. Kayfish’s press conference government would have established the review at that time, if ever,” Chalke wrote.
“[Clark’s] senior political staff and managers and her deputy minister get together, they find out they wrongly dismissed people and they did nothing to tell the truth about it, even though they had smeared them publicly,” said NDP critic Adrian Dix. “That says everything you need to know about them.”
When that review was finally published in December 2014, lawyer Marcia McNeil said it was inconclusive because she lacked “the reports, briefing notes, meeting notes or other documents which are frequently prepared in situations where discipline may be contemplated.”
On April 11, before the Legislature was dissolved, Kayfish challenged Clark to look her in the eyes, apologize and take responsibility for the health firings and her brother’s death. Clark told reporters she would repeat a previous apology if it would bring Kayfish “some closure,” but she has refused to take responsibility.
In the May 9 election, Clark’s BC Liberals went from 49 to 43 seats and lost their majority. The Liberals and the 41-seat NDP are both in talks with the Andrew Weaver-led Greens, which hold a three-seat balance of power.
UPDATE, May 31: theBreaker has filed a formal complaint and request for an investigation directly to Information and Privacy Commissioner Drew McArthur. If you are concerned about the BC Liberals mass-deleting or destroying public records while the governance of British Columbia remains unsettled, you can also complain to McArthur. His email address is DMcArthur@oipc.bc.ca