Q&A: Tim Duncan explains why Highway of Tears emails were allegedly deleted
The Information and Privacy Commissioner is conducting an investigation
A former B.C. Ministry of Transportation staffer is alleging he was ordered to delete key emails in the face of a Freedom of Information request about the Highway of Tears.
On the Coast host Stephen Quinn spoke to Tim Duncan on Thursday afternoon.
What did you do when you were told there was an FOI request for these emails?
I had just finished FOI training which tells you how to deal with these requests and whether you need to save an email or delete an email and I had searched my email and came up with a whole series of emails related to the Highway of Tears.
I alerted our ministerial assistant in our office, and he came over to my desk and took a real quick look at my computer screen and looked at me and [said] 'Ok you have to delete those.' I was totally stunned. I'm like 'these are all reportable under FOI.' Being a bit frustrated with my response, he actually took my keyboard away and deleted all of the emails I had on the Highway of Tears.
What were the emails about specifically?
They were regarding meetings, I don't specifically know what they were about. I had only seen the subject lines of the emails. We have probably about 150 to 200 emails coming into the office so if you are not directly on topic, what happens is you push the email down and just say I'll look at it later. I hadn't actually looked at the emails.
It wasn't the fact these had top secret information in them, it was simply the fact they had 'Highway of Tears meetings' in the subject line and for the life of me I don't know why he acted like he did."
At the time, were you aware an FOI request had been received in regard to meetings to do with the Highway of Tears?
"Oh absolutely. It was very clear, it had just come on to our computers five minutes before saying this was a Freedom of Information request — you need to check your email, check your systems and see if you have any documents relating to this topic and it was Highway of Tears. That was literally five minutes before."
"There's a clear procedure with this and I can't for the life of me understand why the government is allowing political staffers to self report their email. In my view that's like asking a cop to write their own ticket."
So you don't know for certain what was in them or whether it had useful information?
"This is the thing. It could have been the most basic thing so I don't understand why'd you'd delete it. At least it would make sense if it was something very sensitive, but just to delete everything. They are so sensitive about those specific words and I don't understand why.
What happened to you after this incident?
I got moved to the Liberal research office. In my view it was a demotion. I was doing research work for the Liberal Caucus. I was paid the same but it was a demotion in status and a demotion in work, it wasn't as interesting work.
In your submission to the privacy commissioner, you say this sort of abuse of the FOI system is widespread in the current government. How do you know that?
Talking to large number of colleagues, you hear stories of what is going on in various offices. I believe most of them have thousands of emails on their computers and what happens is when they get a FOI request, they delete emails related to the request.
Why did you feel the need to speak out?
I felt the need to speak out because the way you have the government treating the families of the 18 victims of the Highway of Tears. You have at least 18 victims, probably significantly more and they all have family. Nobody is speaking out for them.
I unfortunately had a very similar experience to them, my dad was murdered in a domestic incident so I sympathize with the pain and suffering every single one of these families went through. To watch as the government doesn't take it seriously, a lot of staffers think it is a joke and it is repulsive to me. It came to the point where I couldn't stay silent so I decided to craft a letter.
What are the next steps?
The Information Commissioner is going to conduct an investigation over the next couple of months and I suspect I'll be called to testify at that.
To hear the full interview, listen to the interview labelled Tim Duncan speaks out