PEI

3 former civil servants file $1.8M suit against former P.E.I. premier, government agency over privacy breach

Three former civil servants who raised concerns about P.E.I.’s provincial nominee program in 2011 have filed a lawsuit against former premier Robert Ghiz, a provincial Crown corporation and others.

3 women who raised concerns about immigration program had personal information leaked

Susan Holmes at the podium, with Cora Plourd Nicholson and Svetlana Tenetko behind, at a news conference alleging bribery in a P.E.I. immigrant investor program in 2011.

Three former government employees who raised concerns about P.E.I.'s provincial nominee program in 2011 have filed a lawsuit against former premier Robert Ghiz, a provincial Crown corporation and others.

A statement of claim was filed in P.E.I. Supreme Court Thursday on behalf of Susan Holmes, Cora Plourd Nicholson and Svetlana Tenetko.

The three women, who call themselves whistleblowers, are seeking $1.8 million in damages plus a further undisclosed amount representing loss of income and out-of-pocket expenses in the aftermath of a privacy breach.

A report from P.E.I.'s privacy commissioner released in Dec. 2017 concluded government was either directly or indirectly responsible for a privacy breach where personal information about the three women was leaked to the P.E.I. Liberal Party during the 2011 election campaign.

Also named in the suit, besides Ghiz and the provincial Crown lending agency Island Investment Development Inc., are former innovation minister Allan Campbell, former deputy minister of innovation Michael Mayne and a lawyer involved with the Liberal Party, Spencer Campbell. 

When reached Thursday afternoon, former premier Robert Ghiz said he had no comment as the issue is before the courts. CBC has not yet been able to reach the other individual defendants.

Susan Holmes is shown at her home in Moncton, N.B., in January 2018. She has said she won't fade away without being compensated for the economic and emotional toll on her life. (Ron Ward/The Canadian Press)

Personal information leaked to Liberal Party

The three women, who had all worked for the provincial government, made national headlines in September 2011 with allegations of bribery and fraud within P.E.I.'s provincial nominee program.

Later the same day, the Liberal Party of P.E.I. issued a media release that included personal information about the three women, including work histories, details about a human rights complaint and personal emails.

Spencer Campbell, speaking for the Liberal Party at the time, said the information had been leaked to the party and he didn't know where it came from.

"The Liberal Party is not subject to the information and protection of privacy legislation in this province," Campbell said at the time.

6-year investigation concluded breach happened

After an investigation that took six years, P.E.I.'s Privacy Commissioner Karen Rose concluded the information had come from government.

Rose said one of two things happened: either, "someone within Economic Development and/or the Premier's Office and/or Executive Council … deliberately disclosed the personal information to the Liberal Party of PEI," or, she said, an unknown third party deliberately disclosed the information because those three government bodies "failed to make reasonable security arrangements to prevent unauthorized disclosure to the Liberal Party of PEI."

In either case, the commissioner concluded a breach of the province's Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act occurred.

In their statement of claim, the three litigants say Ghiz, Mayne, Allan Campbell and others "conspired with each other and with [Spencer] Campbell and the P.E.I. Liberal Party by knowingly and unlawfully publicly disclosing private information … with the predominant purpose of harming the plaintiffs."

Allegations not proven in court

They say the defendants acted "with a common design, to injure, embarrass, intimidate and promote bias against the plaintiffs" and should have known "their acts would, in fact, cause harm to the plaintiffs."

Holmes, Plourd Nicholson and Tenetko say they suffered depression, mental anxiety, loss of income and costs of "moving and uprooting their lives."

The allegations have not been proven in court.

Investigations by RCMP and border services into the women's allegations regarding the PNP did not result in any charges.

A spokesperson for the province told CBC News the government is reviewing the statement of claim and referred to the statement provided by current Premier Wade MacLauchlan when the privacy commissioner released her report in 2017.

That statement noted the privacy breach occurred "under the previous government, and the key players involved are not a part of the current administration.

"This is something that would not have been, and will not be, tolerated under this current government," the statement read. "We do business differently."

More P.E.I. news