British Columbia

Former ministry staffer fined $2,500 in connection to triple-delete scandal

George Gretes pleaded guilty to lying under oath in connection with the so-called triple-delete email scandal in Victoria Provincial Court.

George Gretes pleaded guilty to lying under oath to privacy commission investigators

'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)

A former B.C. government staffer has been fined $2,500 to one count of lying to privacy commission investigators in connection to the so-called triple-delete email scandal.

George Steven Gretes, a former employee in Minister of Transportation Todd Stone' s office, pleaded guilty in Victoria Provincial Court on Thursday ​

"The judge was impressed I think by his sincerity and the fact he was really atoned for what he did," said Gretes's lawyer Chris Considine.

 "I cannot really think of very many people who have done so much in order to make up for that error in judgment as the judge called it."

Gretes was 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 while working in the minister's office to delete emails linked to freedom of information requests — an accusation he maintains is false.

In court, Judge Lisa Mrozinski called what Gretes did a "stupid lie" and she had no doubt he regretted his actions.

​Considine says Gretes has voluntarily paid back more than $8,000 in legal fees originally undertaken by the province.

After hearing of Gretes's fine, NDP MLA Maurine Karagianis said she believes penalties need to be stiffer.

"I think the whole issue of what kind of consequences there are for individuals who break these laws needs some revisitng."

The former ministry staffer faced a maximum fine of $5,000.

Triple delete

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.

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)

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.

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