Complainant at centre of Sask. NDP assault allegation investigated for electoral database breach

The Saskatchewan NDP confirms it is investigating the first alleged breach of its online electoral database.

Rylee Schuhmacher says she did nothing wrong

Saskatchewan's NDP is being tight-lipped about the investigation into an alleged data breach by a volunteer, citing the need to respect the process. (Getty Images)

The Saskatchewan NDP is investigating an alleged breach of its electoral database by a volunteer.

Rylee Schuhmacher, the woman at the centre of an assault complaint against a former candidate, admits she accessed the party's database and is being investigated.

But Schuhmacher says she did nothing wrong and questions if she is being targeted for speaking out.

I feel at the end of the day like I'm being gone after for needing to feel safe.- Rylee  Schuhmacher

The investigation into the alleged breach — the first for the Saskatchewan NDP —  was launched in January, said John Tzupa, the party's provincial secretary.

"I can confirm that we've received an allegation from an individual that one of our volunteers used our electoral database to access their information for a reason that was not for electoral purposes," Tzupa said.

Schuhmacher is a volunteer with the party and told CBC News she is being investigated for the alleged breach.

The party will not comment on who made the complaint that spurred the investigation.

Elections Saskatchewan notified

Tzupa said the party notified Elections Saskatchewan about the allegation immediately.

"We've co-operated and communicated closely with Elections Saskatchewan throughout this process," he said.

The findings will be reported to the party's executive "at the earliest opportunity," according to Tzupa.

"I can't comment on any aspect of the investigation. I've been advised by our legal counsel that I have to be very careful not to prejudice or compromise the results of the investigation," he said.

"We think that the protection of individuals' privacy is incredibly important and we take that incredibly seriously."

Hard to track who has access

The database the party uses is called Populus. Tzupa said it keeps track of information relevant to the operations of a political party, like records of people who live in a riding or hold NDP memberships.

Populus contains information from the voters' list provided by Elections Saskatchewan, which includes a person's full name, occupation, date of birth and addresses.

I can't comment on anything that could potentially be deliberated on as a part of the investigation.- John Tzupa, Saskatchewan NDP 

Access is given to campaign workers and some volunteers for duties associated with constituency work, Tzupa said, noting it's hard to track the number of users at any given time.

Schuhmacher said she used Populus for a lot of things relating to her volunteer work for the party.

"I did data entry on a campaign; I've used it to pull lists and look up people to contact them for campaigns. I don't know what I would have used Populus for," she said.

Schuhmacher said she was notified in a letter from the party of an alleged breach on Jan. 22, 2018.

She said the letter confused her and she did not know how to respond.

'I could have Googled her'

Schuhmacher said she was later informed by her lawyer, who corresponded with the party, that the breach involved a search on the name of a female police officer who interviewed Schumacher's after she reported an alleged sexual assault to Saskatoon police.

Schuhmacher accused a man who had been a candidate for the Saskatchewan NDP of sexual assault. She said that before the alleged assault, she had been harassed by the same man while she was working as a volunteer for the party.

She said complaints about his behaviour were made to higher-ups in the NDP but nothing was done about them.

Her complaints spurred two investigations, according to the party. No further details of those investigations have been provided.

Schuhmacher described leaving the interview with the female police officer "in shock" at how she had been treated. She took to social media to share her experience. Schuhmacher said she has also complained to the public complaints commission.

She said she searched the name of the officer in Populus on advice from a friend who suggested the officer might be a party member. Schuhmacher said she wanted to know if she might run into the officer at party events.

"I didn't even really think there was anything wrong with it. Having done Populus work for quite awhile, I opened it up and typed in her name," Schhumacher told CBC News.

"I could have Googled her, I could have looked her up in the phone book and I would have gotten the same information I'd gotten off of Populus."

"I feel at the end of the day like I'm being gone after for needing to feel safe."

CBC has contacted Saskatoon police for comment.

Schuhmacher said she also searched the name of her alleged attacker on at least one non-electoral occasion.

Party mum on training

Asked if volunteers are trained on how to use the database, Tzupa responded: "I can't comment on anything that could potentially be deliberated on as a part of the investigation."

Schuhmacher said she's heard others say they have also accessed the database for non-electoral reasons. She acknowledged it could be a problem, but said it's the party's fault.  

"It's their training that led me to think that there was nothing wrong with what I was doing."

About the Author

Stephanie Taylor

Reporter, CBC Saskatchewan

Stephanie Taylor is a reporter based in Saskatchewan. Before joining CBC News in Regina, she covered municipal politics in her hometown of Winnipeg and in Halifax. Reach her at stephanie.taylor@cbc.ca