Duffy-Wright access response draws info watchdog's attention

Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault conducting preliminary investigation into the federal government's claim last summer that no documents on the Duffy-Wright deal could be found. Kady O'Malley has more.

Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault not yet looking into reappearing PMO emails

Suzanne Legault, Information Commissioner of Canada, has initiated an investigation of the government's contention in the summer there was no paper trail on the $90,000 payment from Nigel Wright to Senator Mike Duffy. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Canada's information watchdog hasn't yet joined the hunt for answers over those mysteriously reappearing emails from former PMO legal advisor Ben Perrin on Duffy-Wright affair.

But according to her office, Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault has initiated a preliminary investigation into the government's claim in response to Access to Information requests last summer that no Privy Council Office documents existed.

Her investigation is based on a complaint filed by deputy Liberal leader Ralph Goodale earlier this month.

Last June, Goodale submitted an access request for all documents related to the now-infamous $90,000 payment deal between then-PMO chief of staff Nigel Wright and Senator Mike Duffy.

A few weeks later, he got a reply from the PCO access coordinator, who informed him that, after a "thorough search of the records under the control of PCO carried out on [his] behalf," no "relevant" records could be found.

Even at the time, Goodale recalls in a letter to Legault, he found that particular claim to be "implausible," but he nonetheless "accepted it at face value" — that is, until he heard what Duffy himself had to say about "all those emails" that had been flying back and forth during his negotiations with PMO.

"You can imagine my shock when I heard there's not a single document about all of this in the PMO, not one," the embattled former Conservative mused to his Senate colleagues.

That, it seems, was sufficient to convince Goodale to file an official complaint over the original PCO response.

Since then, of course, still more evidence has emerged to cast doubt on the claim that no such documents could be found.

RCMP court documents

Days after Goodale filed his complaint, a second batch of RCMP court documents seemed to bolster Duffy's claim by including, as evidence, dozens of examples of increasingly frantic intra-office correspondence between Wright, Perrin and other senior PMO officials.

And just this weekend, PCO officials sheepishly told the RCMP that still more email had surfaced — this time, from Perrin's erstwhile account, which, according to PCO, hadn't been deleted after all, but had been frozen due to an "unrelated litigation hold."

It's important to note that both the above developments — the RCMP court files, and the rediscovery of the Perrin emails — occurred after Legault had launched her initial inquiry.

Goodale, meanwhile, apparently hasn't entirely lost faith in the access to information system. 

Earlier today, he filed a request for "all correspondence to and from former PMO employee Benjamin Perrin regarding the expenses of Senators between June 1, 2012 and May 1, 2013," as well as "any records that were at any time in Perrin's custody or control related in any way to Senator Mike Duffy."

Under standard timelines, he should, in theory, get a response early next year.


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