Privacy commissioner launches probe into Notley's former chief of staff

Alberta privacy commissioner Jill Clayton has opened an investigation into possible political interference by John Heaney, the former chief of staff to Premier Rachel Notley.

UCP is alleging John Heaney interfered in a freedom of information request for political reasons

Privacy commissioner Jill Clayton says she is also concerned about allegations of political interference in a freedom information request raised by the UCP caucus. (CBC)

Alberta privacy commissioner Jill Clayton has opened an investigation into possible political interference by John Heaney, the former chief of staff to Premier Rachel Notley.

Clayton decided to investigate after United Conservative Party MLA Nathan Cooper complained Heaney interfered in a freedom of information request filed by party research staff.

In a letter sent to Cooper, Notley and Service Alberta Minister Stephanie McLean in late January, Clayton confirmed she will hold a hearing into the matter, where witnesses will be called to testify.

Clayton will also issue orders to produce documents and ask for written submissions from the UCP caucus, executive council and Service Alberta.

"Considering the serious allegations that have been raised by the UCP caucus, and my own concerns, I have decided to conduct an investigation," Clayton wrote.

Heaney left the premier's office late last summer. 

The issue arose when UCP staff filed a freedom of information request seeking email logs from executive council.

They found an email within the records they received that suggested Heaney wanted to hold off on releasing information until he and another senior staff member in Notley's office talked about it. 

Cooper alleged in his complaint that Heaney's intervention created a two-month delay. In the end, the material in question was not released.

In question period Tuesday, Cooper said the UCP wants the hearing on the complaint to be conducted in public.

"I will certainly take the member's suggestion under consideration as we go forward," Childrens Services Minister Danielle Larivee said.

Larivee, responding for an absent Service Alberta Minister Stephanie McLean, said the government will co-operate with Clayton's investigation. The government will not comment further on the case. 

Last fall, the commissioner opened a probe into why 800,000 emails were deleted by employees in the Service Alberta, transportation, education and executive council ministries.

The UCP learned about the deleted emails through a freedom of information request, which prompted Cooper to lay a complaint with the privacy commissioner in late September.