British Columbia

Former ministry staffer George Gretes expected to plead guilty in triple-delete scandal

The former B.C. government staffer charged with lying under oath in the so-called triple-delete email scandal is expected to enter a guilty plea in court today in Victoria.

Gretes allegedly told colleague to delete emails linked to FOI requests

'If those requests aren't processed in a timely matter then people don't have access to that information and their democratic rights are not being fulfilled,' says B.C.'s Privacy Commissioner. (Getty Images)

The former B.C. government staffer charged with lying under oath in the so-called triple-delete email scandal is expected to enter a guilty plea in court today in Victoria.

George Steven Gretes has been charged with two counts of willfully making false statements to mislead, or attempt to mislead, under the province's Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

He allegedly told a colleague to delete emails linked to freedom of information requests while working in Minister of Transportation Todd Stone' s office.

B.C.'s Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said there was a culture of regularly triple-deleting emails from government servers by political appointees. (CBC)

The scandal broke in May 2015 when former B.C. government staffer Tim Duncan revealed more than a dozen emails were deleted in November 2014 following a freedom of information request relating to the Highway of Tears, a stretch of road notorious for cases of missing and murdered women.

An investigation into the scandal by Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham concluded Gretes lied under oath when he denied that he intentionally deleted emails and records related to the Highway of Tears. Gretes resigned after Denham's report was referred to the RCMP for investigation.

According to Denham's report, Access Denied, 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.

Stiffer penalties needed?

Gretes is expected to appear in Victoria Provincial Court at 2 p.m. PT today.

If found guilty, the former ministry staffer could face a maximum fine of $5,000 but no jail time.

Vincent Gogolek from the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association says the penalties that Gretes could face aren't stiff enough. 

Vincent Gogolek, Executive Director of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, says there are still many unanswered questions relating to the firing of health workers in 2012. (CBC)

"You don't really have something going, 'Well, I could go to jail for this or there could be serious consequences'," he said. "That is what we need to see." 

Gogolek added the government needs to add stricter rules around keeping files. 

"The legislative committee has come up with a lot of important things including the duty to document which is a record of what you are doing," he said.

After the scandal came to light, Premier Christy Clark hired former privacy commission David Loukidelis to draft new guidelines for the government, which he issued in a report in December 2015.

With files from Richard Zussman