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Privacy commissioner alerts RCMP, claims B.C. employee gave false testimony

Last Updated Oct 23, 2015 at 9:00 am EST

VICTORIA – British Columbia’s privacy commissioner has alerted RCMP after releasing a blistering report identifying major failures in the access to information practices of Premier Christy Clark’s office and two ministries

The whistleblower who was vindicated and the Opposition NDP say the report reveals that a culture of deception and deletion of emails is systemic within Clark’s government.

Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham released her report Thursday saying she had passed on information to the Mounties claiming a Liberal ministerial assistant deleted emails, didn’t completely respond to freedom of information requests and then lied about it under oath.

She said her investigation uncovered negligent searches for records, failure to keep adequate email records, a failure to document searches and the wilful destruction of records in response to freedom of information requests.

“Taken together, these practices threaten the integrity of access to information in British Columbia,” she said in a statement

Her 65-page report makes 11 recommendations, including legislating the duty to document key government decisions and installing technology preventing employees from permanently deleting emails.

Denham’s report stated she interviewed former Transportation Ministry ministerial assistant George Gretes under oath multiple times and concluded “more likely than not the email records were in fact deleted by (Gretes.”)

“I did not find Mr. Gretes to be a reliable witness,” Denham’s report stated. “He admitted to giving false testimony under oath, and aspects of his testimony was contradicted by other evidence.”

The report contains unproven allegations against Gretes, who could not be reached for comment. The government said he had resigned his position Thursday.

His Victoria lawyer, Chris Considine, confirmed Gretes was his client, but would make no other comment.

RCMP Staff Sgt. Rob Vermeulen said the Mounties will review Denham’s report and assess it for possible charges. He said it is inappropriate to comment further.

Tim Duncan, the man who set off the investigation, said Denham’s report supports his allegations, which were connected to his Transportation Ministry duties last November, but did not surface publicly until last May.

Duncan said he was demoted shortly after making the allegations. He was fired in March.

“It totally vindicates me,” he said in a phone interview from Calgary. “They’ve been literally saying that I lied under oath, they’ve literally been saying that I am just a disgruntled employee out to get revenge, none of which is true.”

Duncan submitted a complaint to Denham’s office alleging Gretes “triple deleted” his computer records that would have been needed for a freedom of information request about the Highway of Tears investigation into murdered and missing women.

Government emails need to be deleted three times before they are completely expunged from an account.

Denham’s report also found Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act violations within the offices of the premier and Advanced Education Ministry.

Clark was not available for comment Thursday on Denham’s findings that senior officials in her office do not save emails or keep records for search requests.

Technology Minister Amrik Virk said the government has called in former B.C. privacy commissioner David Loukidelis to offer advice on addressing Denham’s recommendations.

Transportation Minister Todd Stone said the report is disappointing but is adamant his office staff do not delete potentially sensitive emails.

Opposition New Democrat Leader John Horgan said the report exposes a culture of deception within the Liberal government where information management involves “delete, delete, delete, deny, deny, deny.”

He said the report uncovers what could be a widespread practice within the government.

“Mr. Duncan said when he exposed this back in May it was just win at any cost,” he said. “That’s how the Liberals operate. That’s how they roll. The public interest, the people of B.C. are absolutely secondary to clinging to power.”

— With files from Geordon Omand.