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HomeBusinessExclusive: Surrey Police threaten to sue citizens who caught chief using a personal email account

Exclusive: Surrey Police threaten to sue citizens who caught chief using a personal email account


Bob Mackin

Opponents of the fledgling Surrey Police Service discovered in documents released under freedom of information that Chief Norm Lipinski uses a private email account while doing public business.

But when they posted to Twitter an excerpt from Lipinski’s email that contained his Gmail address, the non-operational police department convinced the social media company to suspend the Keep the RCMP in Surrey [KTRIS] account and delete the Tweet.

The Tweet that led to a lawsuit threat from Surrey Police Service (KTRIS/Twitter)

When they tried to repost it, SPS retained a lawyer to threaten two KTRIS supporters with a lawsuit.

The Aug. 18 cease and desist letter from Keri Bennett, a workplace privacy lawyer at the Roper Greyell firm in Vancouver, accused them of trying to “unlawfully use and distribute [Lipinski’s] personal email address.” wanted to know why Lipinski uses a foreign-owned, web-based email account for police business. He did not respond Aug. 19.

Coun. Brenda Locke of Surrey Connect, who opposes Mayor Doug McCallum’s slow-moving switch from the RCMP, said Lipinski is in the wrong.

“He’s a police chief and he should be using proper protocol, which is not to use a personal account,” Locke said. “I’m puzzled as to why they’re going after — with citizens’ money, by the way — going after residents for something was provided to them by the very police service itself.”

Paul Daynes, spokesman for Keep the RCMP in Surrey, said the group considers the cease and desist letter “bullying and intimidation of the most-unacceptable kind” toward the senior women who obtained the documents under the FOI law.

“We are currently considering lodging a formal complaint with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner [OIPC] and the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner [OPCC] for B.C. for conduct unbecoming and unacceptable in a senior police officer for the province,” Daynes said.

Surrey Police Chief Norm Lipinski.

It is not illegal for a public official to use a private email address. But the OIPC considers all work-related communications by public officials subject to the freedom of information law. An email address used for business purposes is not personal information.

“The use of personal email accounts does not relieve public bodies of their duty to comprehensively search for requested records and to produce them,” then-OIPC Commissioner Elizabeth Denham declared in a March 2013 directive to appointed and elected officials. “The use of personal email accounts for work purposes can give the perception that public body employees are seeking to evade the freedom of information process.”

Denham’s statement also reminded public officials that a personal email account is a security risk.

Coun. Brenda Locke (Surrey Connect)

First, the terms of service for personal accounts may allow third-party access to content in a way that is in contravention of FIPPA. Second, security features for webmail services may not be adequate for FIPPA purposes. Any public body that allows use of personal email accounts to send or receive personal information is therefore risking non-compliance with FIPPA,” Denham wrote.

Surrey NDP MLA Jinny Sims stepped down in October 2019 from her cabinet post as the minister in charge of the B.C. government’s freedom of information department after she was caught using personal accounts to bypass the FOI system.

In 2018, during his final term as Mayor of Vancouver, revealed that Gregor Robertson was using a Gmail account to hide his communications — including Tweets that were ghostwritten by his chief of staff.

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