Why did an ex-BC Liberal cabinet minister’s aide, who is known for mass-deleting government email, remove a page from his company website which named a leadership candidate that claimed to not use email?
George Gretes was the only BC Liberal charged in the “Triple Delete” scandal. He pleaded guilty in July 2016 to lying under oath to Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham during an investigation of email purging across the Christy Clark administration. Provincial Court Judge Lisa Mrozinski fined Gretes $2,500.
Gretes was fired from Transportation Minister Todd Stone’s office after Denham’s damning Access Denied report in October 2015. The former University of Toronto wide receiver originally came to B.C. in 2013 to work on the Clark Clique’s re-election campaign and was rewarded with a job as Finance Minister Mike de Jong’s special advisor. CKNW reported in March 2016 that de Jong requires his staff to print correspondence, briefing notes and reports for him. De Jong’s excuse for not using email? “I just never got into it.”
Since leaving Stone’s office, Gretes became a partner in BLRD Strategies. De Jong’s name appeared on a page of the company’s website until it was deleted on Nov. 26.
The page showed what was labelled as a company performance graph under the heading “BCL Leadership 2017.” “De Jong” and “8/24/17” were below the graph. The page disappeared from the BLRD website shortly after IntegrityBC published a screen shot on Twitter.
Though 2011 leadership loser de Jong did not announce his entry in the 2018 race until Sept. 26, he was already making plans to run in late August. Longtime de Jong supporter Markus Delves was behind a strategic Mainstreet Research poll designed to favour de Jong. It was publicized Aug. 25 in the Vancouver Sun.
Toronto-based Gretes did not respond to email queries from theBreaker.
Tamara Little, spokesowman for de Jong’s campaign, said BLRD and Gretes are not doing any work for the campaign. “We weren’t even aware of this company,” Little said.
Stone, to whom Gretes once reportred, is also vying for the leadership and his campaign logo resembles BLRD’s. Stone campaign spokesman Stephen Smart did not respond to theBreaker’s email.
BLRD describes itself as a “boutique firm specializing in 21st-century corporate due diligence and research” and boasts “an innovative approach to information collection, management, and disruption.” Its services include digital microsite campaigns and, ironically, freedom of information.
“We focus on the truth,” Gretes Tweeted on Nov. 26. “In a world of fake news and Twitter trolls, we help companies and associations tell their stories when pundits and critics are presenting to the public inaccurately.”
But Gretes’s name does not appear on the BLRD website.
“It’s the clandestine style of his new company that should set-off alarm bells,” said IntegrityBC’s Dermod Travis. “Normally a company like this would first and foremost be putting its leadership team up, front and centre, because you are generallly attracted to a company because of who is involved with it. There is nothing, as of yesterday, that would include the principals behind the operation.
“[Gretes] is either working for, or has some association with a leadership campaign, or he is monitoring a leadership campaign. Given his track record and the campaign in question, whoever it may be, should be forthright about this.”
Denham investigated the BC Liberal government after former Gretes subordinate Tim Duncan went public in May 2015.
“It is my belief that the abuse of the Freedom of Information process is widespread and most likely systemic within the Clark government,” whistleblower Duncan wrote to Denham.
Documents that should have been released to freedom of information applicants instead were triple-deleted from individual email accounts, computers and government servers.
Wrote Denham in October 2015: “The forensic evidence conclusively demonstrates that emails were deleted from Duncan’s computer on November 20, 2014. That evidence also proves that there was a triple deletion of emails on Duncan’s computer that day. I find Duncan’s evidence about the triple deletion to be credible for the reasons already described. Conversely, Gretes was not a credible witness. His denials of the allegation during the second interview – that he triple deleted emails on Duncan’s computer – were unconvincing, up to and including his statement that he didn’t know for sure if he did it. He admits to falsifying his testimony in this investigation. The justification he gave for his failure to tell the truth also proved to be false. The only reasonable explanation for his failure to tell the truth was to hide the triple deleting of emails as alleged.”
When he pleaded guilty, the court heard that Gretes repaid $8,000 in legal fees to the public treasury.
It is not an offence under B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to delete email. Denhan unsucessfully lobbied the BC Liberal government for a “duty to document” amendment with penalties for deleting email. In opposition, the NDP had promised to bring in a strict duty to document law with fines, but the earliest it could happen is February 2018.
From spring 2016 to winter 2017, according to his LinkedIn profile, Gretes worked on contract for Staffy Inc., a restaurant and bar staff recruiting app created by Peter Faist.
Faist is, coincidentally, the common law husband of former BC Liberal executive director Laura Miller. She was charged in Ontario in 2015 with breach of trust, mischief and misuse of computer systems from her time as deputy chief of staff to Ontario Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty.
Miller’s trial heard that she “double-deleted” email about the politically motivated cancellation of two gas-fired power plans in 2011 and that she hired Faist in early 2013 to erase computer hard drives in the premier’s office before Kathleen Wynne succeeded McGuinty.
Faist reached an investigative assistance agreement with Ontario Provincial Police in 2014. He testified as a Crown witness at Miller’s trial. Judge Timothy Lipson reserved his decision until the new year on the mischief and misuse of computer systems charges, after the breach of trust charge was dropped.
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