Christy Clark follows Hells Angels style of communication and can probably teach them a thing or two about covering your tracks, according to a report released to the public yesterday.
A stinging report released by the provincial information and privacy commissioner that identifies major failures in the access to information practices in British Columbia Premier Christy Clark’s office and two of her government ministries.
Elizabeth Denham’s report 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.
“I am deeply disappointed by the practices our investigation uncovered,” Elizabeth Denham wrote in the report released yesterday, Access Denied: Record Retention and Disposal Practices of the Government of British Columbia.
Denham’s report said the government’s practices threaten the integrity of the access to information process in British Columbia. She said the broad interpretation of so-called transitory records in the premier’s office resulted in almost all daily emails sent by the premier’s deputy chief of staff being deleted.
She recommends in her 65-page report that legislation be created that enforces a duty to document key government decisions. The report also calls for installation of technology preventing employees from permanently deleting emails.
The issue came to light when government whistleblower Tim Duncan said his supervisor in the Transportation Ministry deleted emails last November from his computer about the Highways of Tears investigation.
Premier Christy Clark left it to cabinet minister Amrik Virk Thursday to respond to the information watchdog’s devastating findings about the culture of coverup inside the B.C. Liberal government.
Clark knew very well what was coming. Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, respecting protocol, had shared her findings with the government in advance.
The government fired back with a legal letter, disputing some aspects of the report and seeking more time to respond. Denham, to her credit, stuck to the scheduled release time of 9:30 a.m. Thursday.
By that time Clark, who was in the capital on Wednesday, was ensconced in the cabinet office in Vancouver, ostensibly to participate in a telephone conference with other provincial leaders.
So it fell to Virk, as minister responsible for the Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation, to handle the press gallery — reporters were given all of 15 minutes to read the 60-page report before the minister met with them — then a barrage of questions in the legislature from the New Democratic Party Opposition.
Denham looked into other instances where the Liberals were accused of failing to respond openly, accurately and completely to public requests for access to information, and each time found them guilty as charged.
Two of her most damning findings were targeted directly at the office of the premier.
Turns out that Clark’s senior staffer in charge of fielding FOI requests, Evan Southern, does not generate any electronic records in connection with his efforts. Rather, he speaks to other staffers in person, sometimes resorting to the occasional sticky note, which is soon discarded.
Denham professed surprise at this deliberate avoidance of a documentary record. But it is perfectly in keeping with the oral culture inside government, well documented in earlier reports from her office. Nor is Southern the only member of the premier’s circle of staffers who is shy about leaving an electronic paper trail.
Deputy chief of staff Michele Cadario deletes pretty much every email she writes at the end of every day. When reminded by investigators of the legal obligation to retain records of advice, decisions, instructions and other policy matters, Cadario insisted “very few” of her emails would qualify.
There’s no truth to the rumour Evan Southam and other BC Liberal staffers and members have been asked by the Hells Angels to act as consultants in matters of privacy protection.