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Lawyers sent to silence watchdog: BC NDP

By Stefania Seccia

Elizabeth Denham, B.C.'s information and privacy commissioner.
BC Government

Elizabeth Denham, B.C.'s information and privacy commissioner. BC Government

When B.C.’s privacy watchdog was getting ready to release her bombshell report about triple-deleting emails by government political staffers, she was greeted by Ministry of Justice lawyers attempting to impede the report’s release.

BC NDP MLA Carole James raised the issue in the legislature Wednesday, and said the ministry had sent lawyers who “told her not to release the report.”

“My question is to the Minister of Justice,” she said. “Why did she ask lawyers in her ministry to stall off the commissioner’s report?

"Sending lawyers after the commissioner is truly a new low.”

In her report, Elizabeth Denham, B.C.’s privacy commissioner, revealed a widespread government problem of triple-deleting “transitory” documents related to the Highway of Tears.

“In the course of this investigation, we uncovered negligent searches for records, a failure to keep adequate email records, a failure to document searches, and the willful destruction of records responsive to an access request,” she said in a release.

“Taken together, these practices threaten the integrity of access to information in British Columbia.”

Amrik Virk, minister technology, innovation and citizens’ services, did not deny the allegation when it was brought up in the legislature.

“The report by Commissioner Denham was received by government. The report was accepted by government,” he said. “The recommendations are accepted by government, with a commitment to work on taking action on each of those recommendations. We are committed to doing that.”

When pressed by James, who said, “It’s a strange way of showing your commitment to this report by trying to prevent it from being released during this legislative session,” Virk replied that “the answer is not going to change.”

Justice Minister Suzanne Anton did not respond to NDP questions.

After the report was released, Denham declined interviews with reporters because it was now an RCMP matter.

In a request to comment about the Ministry of Justice lawyers visit, Cara McGregor, director of communications for the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of B.C., could not provide much.

“In the course of releasing investigation reports, our office provides copies to affected public bodies in advance for errors and omissions,” McGregor said in an email. “The discussions we have with public bodies in this regard are confidential.”