Prosecutor to be named in email deletion case

Privacy commissioner says records not kept or not created to avoid scrutiny under freedom of information laws

B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham

An independent prosecutor is being appointed to see if a B.C. Liberal political staffer should be charged for lying under oath to the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

Commissioner Elizabeth Denham referred the case to the RCMP in October after investigating the deletion of emails by ministerial assistant George Gretes in Transportation Minister Todd Stone’s office in late 2014. Denham interviewed Gretes and other staffers after former executive assistant Tim Duncan made a complaint to her describing deletion of emails that were sought by the NDP opposition under freedom of information (FOI) legislation.

Denham’s investigation found that in the transportation ministry case, records were intentionally deleted to avoid public release. Gretes denied under oath that he had taken over Duncan’s computer keyboard to “triple delete” a series of emails related to meetings on transportation safety on Highway 16 in northern B.C.

The Criminal Justice Branch announced Thursday it was appointing Vancouver lawyer Greg DelBigio to see if Gretes should be charged. Within hours, DelBigio resigned from the case because he is representing a B.C. Liberal Party staffer charged with Election Act violations.

Denham said she referred the case to the RCMP after Gretes “admitted to giving false testimony under oath.”

Gretes resigned when Denham’s report was released. Stone has repeatedly said since that whatever emails were deleted from Duncan’s computer, official records related to a series of meetings with communities along Highway 16 are intact.

NDP leader John Horgan said the appointment of a special prosecutor means the government won’t be able to “just sweep it under the rug” and it allows the police to look beyond the issue of whether false testimony was given.

Denham’s report looked at three FOI responses to the B.C. government and found incidents of “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.”

Denham spoke to an all-party committee of MLAs this week, calling for the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to be changed to include a “duty to document” key actions and decisions by government.