Tory MP fires student after allegation of theft from O'Toole campaign

A Conservative MP from Calgary has fired a summer student working in his office following allegations that someone stole campaign data from party leadership contender Erin O'Toole.

MP Greg McLean's office confirmed firing was in connection with allegations against Peter MacKay's campaign

The campaign team for Conservative Party of Canada leadership candidate Erin O'Toole, left, is accusing the team of rival candidate Peter MacKay of stealing confidential campaign information. (Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press)

A Conservative MP from Calgary has fired a summer student working in his office following allegations that someone stole campaign data from party leadership contender Erin O'Toole.

Greg McLean — one of dozens of MPs who have endorsed O'Toole — made the announcement in a terse statement Tuesday morning.

"Upon learning of a breach of trust involving a summer student in my office, I immediately took action and the individual was terminated," said McLean, MP for Calgary Centre.

"This matter is entirely regrettable."

McLean's office confirmed the firing was in connection with allegations by the O'Toole campaign that first surfaced publicly late Friday night: that rival Peter MacKay's campaign hacked into a trove of confidential campaign information and broke the law.

McLean's office didn't name the student.

MacKay campaign denies allegations

The MacKay campaign has denied the allegations and said Tuesday the fact that an MP's summer student was involved raises new questions about whether O'Toole's campaign is improperly using House of Commons resources on his leadership bid.

O'Toole had previously been scrutinized for using his parliamentary email address to facilitate campaign endorsements, as has one of his supporters, Sen. Leo Housakos.

"Given Mr. McLean's statement today, this is looking more like a story of the O'Toole campaign's negligence rather than the sinister attack on their internal information they are trying to allege," MacKay campaign spokesperson Jordan Paquet said in an email.

"The only leaks seem to be from inside the O'Toole campaign so, as we've said before, they might be better off talking to their volunteers and staff rather than using police resources for their campaign's benefit."

RCMP, police launch investigations

The RCMP and the Toronto Police have acknowledged receipt of a complaint from the O'Toole team.

"An investigation into mischief in relation to data is ongoing and we are working with colleagues from the RCMP," Toronto police Const. Michelle Flannery said in an email Tuesday.

According to a letter from O'Toole's campaign to the RCMP, Ontario Provincial Police and the Toronto Police Service — obtained by CBC News and first reported on by the National Post — the O'Toole team claims it first discovered private information was stolen when Radio-Canada published a story on June 15 that contained an excerpt of O'Toole speaking with Quebec social conservatives on a video call.

The letter was partially redacted, with the covered-up portions including the detail that the original source of the alleged hack was traced to a student working in an MP's office.

After McLean issued his statement Tuesday, the O'Toole campaign confirmed a student had been involved but had no comment on McLean's decision to let a person go.

The campaign alleges the student got access to the log-in data for the O'Toole campaign's Zoom account, the digital conferencing platform in widespread use due to the physical distancing requirements of COVID-19.

The student allegedly downloaded campaign information, passed some of that along to the MacKay campaign and then shared the log-in information itself with that team.

Senior MacKay organizer in Alberta accused

Though O'Toole's campaign redacted the identity of the student in their complaint, they did name one of the senior MacKay people they allege was on the receiving end of the information: Alberta organizer Jamie Lall.

Jamie Lall is shown during an interview with CBC News in 2015. Erin O'Toole alleges that Lall, a campaign organizer for Peter MacKay in the Calgary region, was involved in the 'theft of confidential O'Toole campaign data and strategy.' Lall says 'not a single word' of the allegation is true. (CBC)

O'Toole claimed that Lall, a campaign organizer for MacKay in the Calgary region, was involved in the "theft of confidential O'Toole campaign data and strategy."

"Our investigation uncovered that [there] were numerous unauthorized instances where access to our private and security accounts had occurred and where sensitive information owned by the campaign was illegally accessed, downloaded, and seemingly disseminated."

The letter goes on to allege that Lall persuaded a person — whose name is redacted in the letter — to download private video calls and share them with the MacKay campaign.

It alleges that Lall met in person with someone — whom it does not name or specify is the same person — and at that meeting was given log-in credentials and passwords by that unidentified person.

After news broke of the allegations, Lall posted a message on Twitter saying "not a single word" of it was true. He did not return a request for comment on Tuesday. The MacKay campaign says he remains a volunteer.

O'Toole's campaign would not say on the record why it named Lall but not the student.

Possible sanctions if allegations verified

MacKay could also face sanction from the Conservative Party should the allegations be verified.

Each candidate must pay a $100,000 compliance deposit to enter the race, and the party reserves the right to subtract fines if they take any actions deemed in conflict with the leadership race rules.

The O'Toole campaign said while it had provided a summary of the issue to the leadership organizing committee, the issue is far more serious than an internal party matter.

"In the era of campaigning during COVID-19, our campaign office exists online. Our boardroom is Zoom. So many of our internal meetings, strategy sessions, etc. take place in that boardroom" said Melanie Paradis, a spokesperson for the campaign.

"This is the 2020 equivalent of breaking into the campaign office and bugging the boardroom."

With files from the CBC's Peter Zimonjic and Hannah Thibedeau