A former assistant to Transportation Minister Todd Stone is now under RCMP investigation for deleting internal Highways of Tears records to prevent them from becoming public.
A damning report released today by the BC Privacy Commissioner verified accusations leveled at the ministry this spring. It also unveiled other violations of the freedom of information act in both the Ministry of Education and Premiers Office.
“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. Taken together, these practices threaten the integrity of access to information in British Columbia,” Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said.
A complaint by a former Ministry of Transportation staffer Tim Duncan surfaced on May 27th alleging the destruction of records in response to an access request about the Highway of Tears filed with the Ministry of Transportation in November 2014.
“Mr. Duncan came forward with a very serious allegation – that a fellow employee had wilfully and deliberately deleted records from his computer that were responsive to an access to information request about the Highway of Tears. It was imperative that my office give this matter a thorough but timely hearing,” said Denham.
The report said the following investigation was one of the most resource intensive ever undertaken by the privacy commissioner. Forensic computer evidence and several interviews under-oath with Duncan and the subject of the complaint, ministerial assistant George Gretes took place.
“I found Mr. Duncan to be a credible witness and that, on a balance of probabilities, his account of the events of Nov. 19, 2014, was truthful. In contrast, I did not find Mr. Gretes to be a reliable witness. He admitted to giving false testimony under oath, and aspects of his testimony were contradicted by other evidence,” said Denham.
George Gretes has now resigned.
Denham says she has referred the file directly to the RCMP for investigation of possible criminal offences.
The commissioner’s investigation also examined two additional FOI requests directed to the Ministry of Advanced Education and the Office of the Premier, finding serious violations.
“A culture of deception, a culture of deceit, a culture of delete delete delete,” said BC NDP Leader John Horgan today in question period.
The privacy commissioner made 11 recommendations with her reports. Ministry of Technology Amrik Virk says the government will be adopting all of them, saying these were isolated incidents.
(Files from Colin Dacre with MY PRINCE GEORGE NOW)