Premier John Horgan’s chief of staff knew about the unfolding scandal at the Legislature almost four months before the clerk and sergeant-at-arms were suspended and escorted from the Parliament Buildings.
Doug LePard’s Oct. 8-released report found ex-sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz breached his oath as a special constable. The scathing report mentioned a meeting that Horgan’s right hand-man, former Vancouver city councillor Geoff Meggs, hosted at the Vancouver Cabinet Office on July 30, 2018 with Speaker Darryl Plecas, Deputy Speaker Raj Chouhan and Alan Mullen, Plecas’s aide.
LePard refers to Meggs not by name, but by his title and as Witness 10. In his interview with LePard, Meggs remembered Plecas gave him a 40 to 50 page report with a long list of allegations, including the 2013 liquor incident that Lenz did not properly investigate.
“He recalled every page had surprising material and that the liquor incident was not the most shocking part,” LePard wrote. “He recalled that the key point regarding the liquor was that it was purchased with legislature funds, placed by the carton in (Clerk Craig James’s) pick-up truck, and delivered to the previous Speaker (Barisoff). He recalled he was told that this information was known to Lenz, and he hadn’t done anything about it, Witness 10 said this information was in the document he saw and was briefly part of their conversation.”
Meggs called the meeting brief and he advised Plecas to bring the information to police so that it could be “professionally assessed.”
“Witness 10 said the Speaker left behind a copy of his report, but he subsequently shredded it, and didn’t brief the Premier until the news broke in November, nor did he have any further knowledge of the matter,” LePard wrote.
Meggs finally wrote a memo after Solicitor General Mike Farnworth informed Horgan on Nov. 19, 2018 that two special prosecutors had been appointed upon request of RCMP investigators. James and Lenz were suspended with pay and escorted from the Parliament Buildings the next day. For months they said they did no wrong and demanded their jobs back, but James retired in May after being found in misconduct and Lenz quit eight days before the LePard report’s release.
In his interview with LePard, Chouhan also called the meeting brief, but did not recall discussion about the liquor incident. Plecas, LePard wrote, told Lenz on Aug. 2, 2018 that the meeting “did not go well.”
Plecas and Mullen had alleged that Lenz told them on several occasions that he encouraged Plecas to inform Horgan about James stealing the liquor in 2013, in order to force James to resign.
Meggs did not respond for comment.
“Geoff has nothing further to add,” said Sage Aaron, Office of the Premier spokeswoman, by email in the morning on Oct. 9. By afternoon, however, it had become the lead-off issue in Question Period. Meggs released a statement that said Horgan asked him to meet with Plecas about his concerns with James. Horgan is a former Legislative Assembly Management Committee member and NDP house leader who opposed James’s controversial installation as clerk by the BC Liberals in 2011. Meggs’s statement said Vanessa Geary, executive director of the Premier’s office, joined him at the meeting.
“The document I reviewed was not evidence, but a copy of a summary of internal investigations conducted by the Speaker’s Office,” Meggs wrote. “There was no supporting documentation or back-up material. As the report was a duplicate and had nothing to do with the business of the government, I disposed of the copy of the report.”
Did Meggs decide on his own, without seeking legal advice, to shred the document? “Yes, correct,” replied Aaron.
theBreaker.news has asked for comment from Information and Privacy Commissioner Michael McEvoy.
Meggs was elected three times on the Vision Vancouver ticket led by Gregor Robertson. Despite a promise to run a transparent city hall, Vision made it one of Canada’s most-secretive. In 2016, B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham slammed City of Vancouver for routinely breaking the freedom of information laws. In 2018, theBreaker.news revealed how Robertson used a secret Gmail account to hide email from FOI requesters.
Meggs’s admission that he destroyed a copy of the report puts him at least at odds with the spirit of B.C.’s freedom of information laws — laws that the NDP promised during the 2017 election to reform, after slamming the BC Liberals for mass-deleting email.
In an April 27, 2017 letter from the NDP campaign to the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, the party boasted of tabling a private members’ bill for a strict duty to document law.
“Our proposed legislation creates the duty to investigate instances of unauthorized destruction of government information and removes legal immunity from officials who fail to disclose documents, making contraventions of the Act an offence subject to fines of up to $50,000,” said the letter.
Instead of tabling such a law, the NDP government made minor additions to the BC Liberal-enacted Information Management Act that it had previously criticized as insufficient.
The previous BC Liberal government had often used the transitory records loophole to avoid keeping records. Transitory records are temporary records that “are only required for a limited period of time for the completion of a routine action or the preparation of an ongoing record” and can be disposed.
Non-transitory records include useful information that helps explain the history of a relationship, decision, or project; and documentation that is evidence of a significant action (e.g. verification or approval to proceed).
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