New investigation into controversial hiring at The Rooms looking into paper trail
'It is something that raises my eyebrows,' says privacy commissioner
A new investigation related to the hiring of Carla Foote for a position at The Rooms is underway, and the focus is on the documentation of events surrounding the controversial hire.
Information and Privacy Commissioner Michael Harvey said he will examine whether government broke the rules when it asked people at The Rooms to delete emails.
Ted Lomond, deputy minister under Christopher Mitchelmore — who was then minister of tourism and culture — is accused of ordering a staff member at The Rooms to delete an email containing a controversial firing letter.
Those allegations are contained within The Mitchelmore Report, which was written by the Office of the Citizens' Representative and forwarded to Bruce Chaulk, the commissioner for legislative standards, who recommended a reprimand for Mitchelmore.
"If a document is deleted with the intent to evade ATIPPA (Access to Information and Privacy Protection Act) then that's an offence under the act," Harvey told CBC News in an interview Friday.
"I feel the public needs to have confidence that there is nothing untoward going on in this in this instance."
The commissioner of legislative standards found that Mitchelmore was guilty of gross mismanagement for how he moved the long time Liberal staffer, and daughter of the lieutenant-governor, into a position at the Rooms. Mitchelmore ultimately apologized and was suspended without pay for two weeks.
Lomond insists he was just asking the department to delete transitory records. The provincial government defines a transitory record as something that has "no ongoing value beyond an immediate and minor transaction or the preparation of a subsequent record."
That would cover routine emails, but not documentation related to final government decisions.
In his interview with the citizens' representative for the Mitchelmore Report, Lomond said the firing letter was a transitory record.
The email that was deleted, according to the Mitchelmore report, contained a letter to the person who was employed under contract at the rooms ("A.B.," as they are identified in the report) — whom the minister wanted removed from the position in order to hire Foote.
CBC filed an access to information request in October 2018, requesting all records relating to the hiring of Foote at The Rooms. That would have included the letter referenced above.
But the only records supplied by the Tourism and Culture department were emails from the public raising concerns about the appointment, and the paperwork required to hire Foote — which left several key sections blank.
There were no e-mails within the department discussing her hiring, or any correspondence with The Rooms.
"It is something that raises my eyebrows, and worthy of asking some questions about," said Harvey.
Any member of the public, including media, who files an access to information request and is dissatisfied with the documentation government provides related to it can appeal to the information and privacy commissioner. On Friday, CBC News requested the commissioner review the deletion of emails and whether any records that should have been provided were not.
The citizens' representative did not find any wrongdoing on the part of Mitchelmore for the emails being deleted, but did not rule whether Lomond did anything wrong.
Lomond is now a deputy minister in the Department of Natural Resources.
No duty to document
The issue of records which are kept, and those that aren't, came up at the Muskrat Falls inquiry. There, the former commissioner highlighted that within government, civil servants are told not to write things down, or communicate over text message and then delete those messages, so no record exists.
The review of access to information rules, headed by former premier Clyde Wells in 2014, recommended government legislate a "duty to document." That duty would enshrine in law a requirement for officials to record decisions they make.
However, the provincial government didn't act upon that recommendation, so that is not currently required.
With files from Ryan Cooke