British Columbia

Christy Clark says she was unaware of triple deleting of government emails

B.C. Premier Christy Clark says that until yesterday she had no idea what triple deleting of emails was.

B.C. Premier says practice of deleting emails has been around for a long time

B.C. Premier Christy Clark said Friday that she does 'not govern by email.' (Canadian Press)

B.C. Premier Christy Clark says that until yesterday she had no idea what triple deleting of emails was and that she has now ordered all political government staff and ministers to retain their sent emails.

Speaking to reporters the day after B.C. Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham's report into serious breaches of freedom-of-information laws by government staff, Clark said that the practice of deleting email had been around a long time.

"I thought that everything was being done properly, because there's really been no change in how things have been done for a decade," Clark said.

Asked if there would be repercussions for Michele Cadario, deputy chief of staff in the premier's office, Clark said no.

The report identified Caderio as having routinely deleted emails in contravention of laws protecting the public's right to hold politicians accountable for their actions.

"It is difficult to overstate the seriousness of the problems that my office discovered in the course of this investigation," Denham wrote in her report. 

"It is important that the government take immediate action to restore public confidence in the access to information process."

According to Denham's report, "triple deleting" means first moving an email to the computer system's "deleted" folder, expunging the email from the folder itself, and then manually overriding a backup that allows the system to recover deleted items for up to 14 days. 

Everyone 'trying,' Clark says

On Friday, Clark said that there were inconsistencies in how the Freedom of Information Act was interpreted, and that those inconsistencies would be addressed by the government's contracting of former B.C. privacy commissioner David Loukidelis who, Clark said, would be training everyone in an effort to implement all of Denham's recommendations.

"I do think that everyone was trying to operate within the act," she said.

Clark said that the standard practice of deleting emails was very different to the situation regarding former Transportation Ministry staffer George Gretes.

Gretes could be facing charges after Denham found he lied under oath when he denied that he intentionally deleted emails and records connected to B.C.'s notorious Highway of Tears, where several women and girls have died or disappeared.

Denham has referred the matter to the RCMP, and Gretes has resigned.

'I don't govern through email'

This is not the first time Clark's government has been questioned over its use of email and accused of skirting freedom-of-information laws.

In 2012, the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association filed a complaint with Denham, pointing to a significant increase in cases where the province responded to freedom-of-information requests by claiming it couldn't find any documents.

In 2013, the premier's then-deputy John Dyble released an internal report into the so-called "ethnic outreach" scandal that, Denham said, raised "important questions about whether personal email accounts were being used in an attempt to evade the access to information law."

Her own email use is minimal, Clark said, because she is meeting with staff and colleagues every day.

"I don't govern through emails, I govern through the meetings we have," she said.

She said that most decisions are made in cabinet, and those records are publicly available.

With files from Richard Zussman