Notley's executive council blocks release of threat documents

The disclosure of government documents that could shed light on the severity of violent and aggressive threats made against Premier Rachel Notley has been blocked, following a recommendation from Notley's executive council.

Despite no concerns raised by two departments and several law enforcement agencies, documents were withheld

Executive council for Premier Rachel Notley and her cabinet blocked disclosure of FOIP documents about threats against Notley and other ministers. (CBC)

The disclosure of government documents that could shed light on the severity of violent and aggressive threats made against Premier Rachel Notley has been blocked, following a recommendation from Notley's executive council.

The action came in response to a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP) access request filed by CBC News.

The request asked if any of the hundreds of threats against the premier documented in reports about inappropriate contact and communication (ICC) were ever passed on to law enforcement agencies — and if so, which ones.

CBC reported in May the graphic details of more than 300 threats contained in the ICC reports.

The ICC reports show that from the time the NDP came to power in May 2015 until November 2017, the premier received 11 death threats and was the target of numerous vulgar personal attacks on social media, in harassing telephone calls and defiled images.

There was even an attempt to pre-arrange a funeral for Notley without her knowledge, involving an Ontario-based insurance company.

Despite "no concerns" by senior civil servants, the cabinet blocked release of records looking at how threats against the Premier and cabinet members were handled. (Kim Trynacity)

Despite the volume of death threats and disturbing social media attacks, it's not known if police were ever contacted or involved in tracking down those responsible for making the threats.

The premier's office has said it does not comment on security issues.

No objections from law enforcement agencies

In response to the CBC request asking for information about police referrals, seven law enforcement agencies and two government departments — the Sheriffs Branch and the public security division of Justice and Solicitor General —recommended the documents be disclosed.

According to the records, two senior bureaucrats found "no concerns" surrounding the release of records showing which law enforcement agencies, if any, were alerted to threats against the premier.

Police services in Calgary, Edmonton, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Ottawa, as well as the Ontario Provincial Police and the RCMP, had been asked about their concerns about the release of the information. If they had any issues, changes would have been made to the documents before they were released.

However, deviating from previous practices, the assistant deputy minister of corporate services in the Justice and Solicitor General ministry, Gerald Lamoureux, flagged the CBC request to the executive council's office, according to internal documents.

Records obtained by CBC show that executive council opposed the release, despite the recommendation from law enforcement and senior bureaucrats that law-enforcement referral records could be disclosed.

The reason cited for withholding the documents included references to sections in the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act that deal with security.

"Executive council recommended the records be withheld in full under section 18(1)(a) [disclosure harmful to individual or public safety] and section 20(1)(a)(k)(f) [disclosure harmful to law enforcement]," a document states.

Threats ranging from outbursts on social media, to harassing phone calls and death threats have plagued Premier Rachel Notley since she came to office. (CBC)

There was no evidence of such consultation, or prior notice, given to executive council by public servants when hundreds of pages of documents containing graphic threat assessment reports involving the premier and several cabinet ministers were released to CBC in early 2018.

Lamoureux did not respond to email requests to speak with him.

Cheryl Oates, a spokesperson for Notley and executive council, provided a statement by email.

"Executive council made the decision to withhold certain portions of the request, citing sections 18 (disclosure harmful to individual or public safety) and 20 (disclosure harmful to law enforcement)."

Oates added that cabinet does not consider FOIP requests, but relies on advice from its executive council FOIP advisers.

A freedom of information specialist at Mount Royal University in Calgary said it isn't surprising that the government would use a section of the FOIP act to block an access request.

'They've done nothing'

But Sean Holman said it is unusual that cabinet would take that step contrary to the recommendations of two government departments.

Increasingly, politicians are taking advantage of "loopholes" in the legislation to keep legitimate information private, Holman said.

"Two government agencies didn't seem to have a problem with this release," said Holman. "But when it reached a more political level there were concerns raised."

Holman said governments across Canada appear to be equally closed when it comes to access to information.

"And what's sad I think, is the [Alberta] NDP has had an opportunity over their time in government to fix one of the most broken freedom of information laws in this country, and they've done nothing about that."

Alberta's faulty access-to-information system has been called out by the province's information and privacy commissioner, Jill Clayton.

In two investigation reports in 2017, Clayton chided the Notley government for a "lack of respect" for FOIP, and warned the system was fast approaching a "crisis situation."

The Centre for Law and Democracy, an organization that researches and tracks government records and accessibility around the world, consistently ranks Alberta among the worst performers in Canada when it comes to disclosing information.


Kim Trynacity is a former provincial affairs reporter with CBC Edmonton.