Thursday, October 22, 2015

BC Hansard House Blues October 22, 2015 Morning Sitting. Questions? Any questions? Retention and Disposal Tactics?

 Investigation Report F15-03
Access Denied: Record Retention and Disposal Practices of the Government of British Columbia
Elizabeth Denham, Information and Privacy Commissioner for BC
October 22, 2015

4th Session Blues Debates of the BC Legislature too

If you've ever wondered how the Government of British Columbia is able to spar with the Opposition during Question Period, well today was a great example of the Researchers working below the scenes in the Bunker where the sign on the wall is still painted in Red   IT'S WAR!!!

That's how they treat any questions from the Public
British Columbia Legislative Internship Program

It only feels like a life time ...        
June 2010

Inside Government Caucus Research

By: Rahim Mohamed

A sign that reads "IT'S WAR" in bold red lettering hangs prominently in the Government Caucus research office.  This is a perfect touch.

The ascetic fits somewhere between political campaign office and military bunker.  The ceiling is patterned with crisscrossing pipes, austere walls plastered with newspaper clippings, old campaign posters, and a fain smell of stale coffee in the air.  It is fitting that the room sits across the hall from an actual jail cell, once used to hold prisoners in the bowels of the Parliament Buildings.

It is Monday morning, which means that it is time to set the research agenda for the week.  Research officers begin to trickle into the War Room.  The meeting officially starts at 7:30 am, when Head of Research Blair Phelps enters the room, notepad in one hand, paper cup of coffee in the other.  "What do we have?" he asks.

It is like a scene from TMZ.  Research officers scan their notepads and Blackberries, pitching one idea after another.  Blair listens keenly.  He nods approvingly of some ideas and mercilessly shoots down others.  The research officers then scurry to their respective cubicles.  From then on, the perpetual clack of keyboards fills the room punctuated by sporadic chatter.

Blair can be heard barking at his troops, demanding statistics, quotes and fact checks.  The interns are not spared from the mayhem.

At about 9:00 am, a research officer greets me with an instant message, asking for a statistic that I am not sure exists.  I take a big chug of my luke warm coffee and spend the next thirty minutes chasing the virtual needle in a haystack.  As the office saying goes, "Google is my best friend."

The pace slackens in the afternoon.  Today the office football comes out.  Research officers riff on humours moments from the day's debate while tossing the pigskin back and forth.  The team has survived another day.  As the workday nears its close Kris, my fellow intern, tapes a sign that reads "6 sessions to go" to the back table.

"It's like cramming for a final exam everyday," says Blair of his job.  The end of a frantic session is near and signs of fatigue are written on his face.  Nevertheless, I get the sense that there is nowhere else he would rather be.
 October 22, 2015 

   Honourable Amrik Virk is in the hot seat of Question Period where Today's BC Liberals still treat the Public as if ....its a rerun of 2010        IT'S WAR!!!


J. Horgan: When the Premier took office some four years ago, she promised families would be first. We've been asking questions of the Minister of Children and Family Development for weeks and weeks now, and it's quite clear that families with children in care certainly don't come first.

We also heard from the Premier that she would run the most open and transparent government in Canada, yet today we have a report from the freedom-of-information and privacy commissioner that says that we have probably the least open and least transparent government in Canada.

In fact, her report says the following: "In the course of this investigation, we uncovered negligent searches for records, a failure to keep adequate e-mail records, a failure to document searches and the willful destruction of records responsive to an access request. Taken together, these practices threaten the integrity of access to information in British Columbia." I don't think you can be more scathing than that.

When the freedom-of-information and privacy commissioner began her three investigations — one into the Minister of Transportation's office, one into the very office of the minister responsible for freedom of information, and then lastly, into the heart of government, the Premier's office — the response from the 
Premier was: "Violations will not be tolerated."

Well, we have violations in the Premier's office, violations in the Minister of Transportation's office and violations right under the nose of the minister responsible for the act.

My question, absent anyone else who can answer it, is to the minister responsible: what are you going to do about it?

Madame Speaker: Through the Chair, Members.

Hon. A. Virk: Commissioner Denham's report is indeed comprehensive. First of all, she makes a number of findings. Commissioner Denham also makes a number of recommendations. Government is committed to take action on all of her recommendations. In fact, on a number of those recommendations, action has already been taken.

In fact, just this morning I spoke to the previous Privacy Commissioner of British Columbia, a well-respected individual in the privacy circles all across Canada. David Loukidelis will provide advice and advise government on two factors. He will advise government on how to take action on the recommendations, and secondly, Mr. Loukidelis will provide advice on how to strengthen freedom of information and privacy in British Columbia.

Madame Speaker: The Leader of the Official Opposition on a supplemental.

J. Horgan: I know that British Columbians will be heartened to hear that the minister responsible for freedom of information has grave concerns about what's going on in his own office. I hope he has the same concerns about what's going on across government because that's the scathing indictment we got from Ms. Denham today. A scathing indictment. A culture of deception, a culture of deceit and a culture of delete, delete, delete.

Tim Duncan worked briefly in the Minister of Transportation's office. After that, he was working directly for the Liberal research team, and he said that there was a culture within the B.C. Liberal Party of not giving out information. He made reference to a popular television program that said to just win. It's all about winning.

I think most people on this side of the House and the independents on this side of the House felt that we came here to do public service, not to cover up for misdeeds in the government of British Columbia, but that's clearly what the minister is doing.

Now, with respect to the Premier's office, her deputy chief of staff, Michele Cadario, broke fundamental rules with respect to destroying government documents. In fact, the commissioner said the following: "From my investigator's review of her account, we can confirm that she has not personally retained a single e-mail she has ever sent from her government e-mail address."

I know it's not Back to the Future. I know it is really 2015, and everyone in the known universe sends e-mails all the time. In fact, it's the foundation of transmitting information quickly back and forth within government, outside of government. How is it possible that the deputy to the Premier has not retained one single record — not one single record in her time working for the Premier of British Columbia? It seems to me, again, a pattern.

The last deputy chief of staff to the Premier was fired because she blended the B.C. Liberal Party and the government of British Columbia. Again, a pattern of deceit, a pattern of deception.

Is there anyone over there that's prepared to be accountable today for the most appalling government in the history of British Columbia?

Hon. A. Virk: As I said before, the report is comprehensive. The recommendations that the commissioner makes are in administrative areas, operational areas, technical areas, policy and legislation.

With the assistance of Mr. Loukidelis, the specific areas will be actioned. I've already written a letter to the Chair of the special committee that's comprised of both sides of the House here and that's studying the freedom-of-information legislation. I have made recommendations in those areas that…

Madame Speaker: Members.

Hon. A. Virk: …require suggestions for legislative change that have been referred to that committee. I further asked that committee to look at the practices and policies, as to how those particular areas are also done across Canada, and I'll look forward to those findings.

Madame Speaker: Leader of the Opposition on a further supplemental.

J. Horgan: For those who are new to this chamber and new to these proceedings, you're going to hear the words "the report was comprehensive" for the next 20 minutes because that's all — the only fig leaf, I guess — the minister can find here.

It's also interesting that oftentimes when I hear members on that side speak, it's as if they just arrived yesterday and they're not responsible for the past 15 years of deceit and deception.

I'll read further from the commissioner's report. "It's difficult to overstate the seriousness of the problems that my office discovered in the course of this investigation." These problems include either wilfully or negligently failing to produce records; failing to keep any sent e-mails, irrespective of the topic; and failing to tell the truth to an officer under oath.

Now, I appreciate that that may well be administrative and technical to the former member of the RCMP. But I would suggest that if that minister was still an officer of the RCMP, he wouldn't accept that as technical and administrative. It's a lie, a lie. That's what it is. There's no getting around it.

Madame Speaker: I will caution all members on the use of parliamentary language.

J. Horgan: Thank you, Hon. Speaker, but I'm just referring to someone who failed to tell the truth under oath. That's the words coming from the commissioner. I don't know how to call that anything other than what it is.

Madame Speaker: Mr. Leader, it's never appropriate to do indirectly what you're not permitted to do directly.

J. Horgan: I'm not impugning the motives of the minister. I'm telling the House what the officer of the Legislature said she heard when she talked not to administrative and technical staff but political staff in the Premier's office and in the minister's office.

Again, my question to the minister responsible for the integrity — the integrity — of freedom of information and privacy in this province. Certainly to goodness, you can do better than you've done so far. Try to be comprehensive with accountability.

Madame Speaker: I will caution all members that commentary is directed through the Chair.

Hon. A. Virk: While the commissioner's report indeed puts a spotlight on a number of issues, my expectations and government's expectations are very clear. Government's expectations are that all….

Madame Speaker: Members. The Chair will hear the answer.

Hon. A. Virk: The government's expectations are very clear that all employees at all levels throughout government abide by all applicable legislation. That cannot be stressed more. That one particular individual, as the member opposite refers to, has tendered his resignation, and that resignation has been accepted. My expectations are clear that everyone follows the legislation.

D. Routley: This is about credibility and integrity, of which this government has none, apparently. Time and time again, this minister and ministers before him have stood up in this House and promised this House, promised British Columbians, of what they expect.

They expect employees of government to follow the law. I think that British Columbians expect their government to follow the law. I can hear them revving up the bus outside to throw people under, rather than face the accountability themselves.

Last May, Tim Duncan, the former executive assistant to the Minister of Transportation and former B.C. Liberal caucus research officer made troubling allegations about how the B.C. Liberals' flagrant disregard for the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act functioned. Mr. Duncan said that ministerial staff, political staff, routinely delete records contrary to the act if they feel those records would be embarrassing to government.

This morning, the Information and Privacy Commissioner confirmed that Mr. Duncan's allegations were true. In fact, it confirmed something he said about this government's culture of avoiding rules they don't like. They do what it takes to win.

In fact, the commissioner found that Mr. Gretes lied to the commissioner, and as a result, this case has been referred to the RCMP. Lest we miss the gravity of these findings, let me repeat that.

Madame Speaker: Question.

D. Routley: The ministerial assistant to the Minister of Transportation deleted government records, lied to the commissioner…

Madame Speaker: Does the member have a question?

D. Routley: …and his conduct is now being referred to the police. When we asked the Premier about this in May….

Madame Speaker: I would ask the member to pose the question.

D. Routley: Thank you.
She said: "If that rule isn't being observed by staff who are currently here or who are no longer in the employ of government, they have not abided by the regulations and rules."

My question is to the minister responsible for freedom of information. Your staff are breaking the rules, the law and the public trust. What are you going to do about it?

Madame Speaker: All members know to pose their questions through the Chair.

Hon. A. Virk: The commissioner's report did make a number of findings and did make a number of recommendations. My expectations and government's expectations stay the same: that all members, all employees at all levels follow all applicable legislation. If there are incidences where that has not occurred, that individual has tendered his resignation, and that resignation has been accepted.

This government has received over 43,000 freedom-of-information requests in the last five years, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of pages of information have been put out and are available for the public to see in an open and transparent way. We are committed to continue that.

D. Routley: It's not about one individual. It's not about two individuals. It's not about any number of individuals this government could throw under their bus. It's about the integrity of this government again and again. And again and again they fail. The commissioner took testimony from Mr. Facey about his rather cavalier approach to his legal duties under the act that his office is mandated to enforce.

She said: "It is difficult to understand how the chief of staff would have thought he had no responsive records in these circumstances. The request covered all e-mails he would have sent to his minister during the period ending…one week before he received the request" — one week. It is pretty clear that the reason Mr. Facey didn't find any records is because he didn't want to find any records.

The Premier said that she would not tolerate staff who broke the rules. What is this minister responsible for open government, responsible for freedom of information, going to do about Mr. Facey and all of the others who have broken the rules under this government's watch?

Hon. A. Virk: Two of the recommendations made by Commissioner Denham request the release of e-mails as they refer to two different individuals and two different ministries. Work has progressed immediately to provide not only the e-mails from the Ministry of Transportation but the Ministry of Advanced Education to be provided forthwith, and those will be provided forthwith.

M. Karagianis: The commissioner made a damning observation regarding the culture among government's political staff. Let's remind the minister that this goes right into the Premier's office. This is not about two individuals in other ministries. This goes to the very heart of government, the highest office, the Premier's office.

I quote from the commissioner's report: "The majority of problems witnessed in this investigation occurred in offices that are inherently political in nature. While this investigation is not broad enough to be truly be systemic, it does raise concerns for me that ministerial offices are more likely to suffer from some of the problems illustrated in this report than other offices within government."

Again, to the minister responsible for freedom of information. How is it possible that this government has been in power for 14 years and yet right under the nose of the Premier, we are seeing flagrant disregard for the Freedom of Information Act? And how is it that this government is incapable of ensuring that their own political staff do follow the rules and obligations under the very act that this minister is trying to defend?

Hon. A. Virk: While this report certainly highlights some issues, it also provides remedies — remedies in the form of a number of recommendations. And I have said we are committed to act on those recommendations and have started the process to act on those recommendations immediately.

In fact, the responsibility of the administrative area of freedom of information — tracking those requests in the Premier's office — has immediately been assigned to the deputy minister's office. We are committed to take action on each and every one of those recommendations and have started that process immediately.

Madame Speaker: Esquimalt–Royal Roads on a supplemental.


M. Karagianis: You know, this report today is explosive on what it tells us about the internal cynical workings of this government. We need to ask a bigger question: how deep does this go? How wide does this go? I'm sure in the coming days, those questions will be asked.

Let me just say that one of the things that really upsets me is the really cynical attitude this government has around the sort of genesis of this, which was questions asked on the Highway of Tears. You know, the event that triggered this was someone within the Ministry of Transportation coming clean and revealing to us this systemic culture of deleting e-mails and getting rid of information that may be embarrassing to government.
Every time we've raised this question about a bus on the Highway of Tears, the minister has laughed us off and treated it like a joke. Now we know that what was happening inside that office, the time and energy and effort that went into recklessly deleting e-mails, could have been put to better use protecting women along the Highway of Tears and putting a bus in place. So instead of doing the right thing….

I'd like the Minister of Transportation to explain why the kind of effort that went into deleting e-mails was not used to put a bus along that highway.

Hon. T. Stone: I will reiterate a number of comments that the minister responsible for FOI has said this morning. I certainly expect, as I know everyone in government does, that staff within our offices and staff more broadly within the bureaucracy adhere 100 percent to the act, both in spirit and in the law. Now, the….

Madame Speaker: Members.

Hon. T. Stone: The original request, the 36 pages of records…. As the minister responsible mentioned a moment ago, those records will be provided. It also is worth noting that back in March, a number of other memos and records were proactively provided to the requesters, records that were deemed by staff in the ministry to be very relevant to the requests that came in.

At the end of the day, I also want to make sure that we don't lose sight of the fact that this government is working extremely hard to engage with communities, stakeholders, First Nations up and down Highway 16 to ensure that all options are being explored to make that corridor as safe as it possibly can be.


D. Eby: On several occasions in this House, I rose to ask the former Minister of Advanced Education and current minister responsible for freedom of information about his involvement in a scheme to overpay senior executives at Kwantlen University. He called the questions outrageous and outlandish — outrageous until leaked records, including his own e-mails, showed his direct involvement.

In level on level of cover-up, we find out today from the commissioner that his chief of staff was hiding key records on the scandal through gross negligence. First, the minister forgot about his own e-mails. Then his chief of staff helped, through negligence, to hide records about the scandal. This goes all the way into the Premier's office.

To the minister. How can anyone believe that he is the guy to hold this Premier accountable to the freedom-of-information rules in this province?

Hon. A. Virk: There are some 200 million e-mails yearly in our government. In the last five years alone, over 43,000 freedom-of-information requests have been processed. Tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of pages of information have been released and posted publicly for all British Columbians to see.

The Privacy Commissioner has made recommendations that a number of e-mails that were not provided be released immediately, and those e-mails are being released as expeditiously as possible.

Madame Speaker: Vancouver–Point Grey on a supplemental.

D. Eby: Two hundred million e-mails. The minister's chief of staff can't find one, and the Premier's chief of staff can't find one. In fact, she doesn't even have any.

The minister covered up his own involvement in the scandal at KPU. He forgot about his own e-mails until somebody leaked them. He brought in a chief of staff who was grossly negligent, helping hide from the public important records about the scandal. Now, as head of freedom of information for the entire province, he has overseen conduct that has been referred to the police for investigation.

The commissioner writes — and this is very true: "It is difficult to overstate the seriousness of the problems that my office discovered in the course of this investigation and the resulting effect on the integrity of the access-to-information process in our province."

Again, to the minister. How can anyone in the public believe that he is the guy that is going to hold this Premier to account to her office's legal duties to British Columbians?

Hon. A. Virk: As I've said — and wait for it — the commissioner's report is comprehensive. It is comprehensive. It does make…. While it highlights some issues, it suggests a number of areas and recommendations where we can strengthen the legislation and we can strengthen our responses.

As I've said before, I've spoken to Mr. David Loukidelis. We're going to find ways to strengthen not only the manner in which we act on the recommendations but the training that is going to be provided, and is being provided, to staff all across core government.

We are committed to strengthening freedom of information across British Columbia.


S. Simpson: This isn't about an isolated incident. It isn't about a one-off. It's three investigations, including the Premier's office, and three findings of destruction of documents, an investigation that speaks of deceit, that speaks of cover-up, that speaks of lying under oath.

This is about a culture in this government that will do anything to win. This is a culture that starts right at the top. It starts in the Premier's office, and it starts with people sitting on the front bench of that government — a culture where political staff reflect their political masters. Many in the public are already cynical about politics, and this government has validated that cynicism.

Will the minister first apologize for the conduct of his government, and then will he ask the Information and 
Privacy Commissioner to investigate the rest of the ministerial offices where this is going on?

Hon. A. Virk: The Privacy Commissioner has done this report. The Privacy Commissioner has a role. As citizens across British Columbia request information, that information is processed by trusted and well-respected and well-trained public servants. In those rare circumstances — and we're talking tens and tens of thousands of FOI requests — where one does not agree with the manner in which an FOI request is processed, they can certainly lodge that inquiry with the Privacy Commissioner, who has a role to ensure that

she can look into it and make recommendations.
The Privacy Commissioner has made 11 recommendations, and we are committed to act on those recommendations.


M. Mungall: What is absolutely clear here is that we have a culture of contempt from this government, and it comes from the top. This culture is to deny, to delete, to cover-up and to wilfully ignore their legal obligations.

In all of this, we have a bus that is desperately needed on the Highway of Tears, but this government is too busy covering up its misdeeds that they can't even be bothered to do the right thing and get that bus up there for the northern communities that need it.

This is why what they're doing…. Denham is very clear: the wilful destruction of records responsive to an access request. That's the legacy of this government.

British Columbians want to know: when is this government going to apologize for this utter lack of integrity, and just what more are they hiding? How deep does this go in this government?

Hon. A. Virk: The commissioner, within her authority in the legislation, conducted interviews, did examination across government and made findings and recommendations. Those recommendations, as I said, are operational, administrative, technical, policy and legislative. We are committed to take action on each and every one of those recommendations that the commissioner has provided in this report.

[End of question period.]


Anonymous said...

BC liberals lost the moral authority to govern?

Anonymous said...

Regardless of his current office: The BC Liberals designating Amrik Virk to take questions about missing emails shows a thorough contempt of the Legislator.

e.a.f. said...

The first order of business for any government is to stay in power/office. That is what the B.C. Lieberals are doing. They will not change. this isn't the first time we have gone down this road, nor will it be the last.

In my opinion the B.C. Lieberals lost the moral authority to govern some time ago. i.e. when the children's advocate started writing reports regarding the death of children in care. The children have continued to die. the record keeping continues to be less than optimal. Will anything change? Not in my opinion. The B.C. lieberals will simply become better at what they have been doing, hiding the evidence.

All of this is bad enough, but the public is to blame. They have continued to elect these politicians to office and they have not requested them to resign. Therefor it might be argued, the public is as much to blame for the deaths of these children and the B.C. Lieberals deleting information. We and the B.C. Lieberals continue to contribute to the deaths of First Nations Women on the Highway of Tears, there still is no bus, but the M.L.A.S all continue to receive $12K in housing allowance every year, with out need for a receipt. the B.C. Lieberals spent how many million on a Bollywood special but no money on a transportation on the Highway of tears? How much money has the Premier spent on travel, expenses, etc. and still no money for a bus on the Highway of Tears.

In my opinion the B.C. Lieberals don't care how many children die in care or how many women are murdered on the Highway of Tears as long as it does not impact their ability to form government. The rest of B.C. doesn't care either as long as it isn't one of them, because the citizens of the province continue to keep the B.C. Lieberals in office.

Scotty on denman said...

Thanx for the Hansard, NVG, no other commentary captures the perfidy of the BC Liberal government better than this. The government appears to be heading toward the non-redemptive end of purgatory when it exposes itself to charges of lying in order to shirk its duty to address the unsolved murders of Aboriginal women on the Trail of Tears that warrants even more damning charges of racism; there'd still be plenty of time for the government to redeem itself if it didn't didn't continue to actively deflect the more serious charge with the merely banal charge---it risks shortening the available time to redeem itself to the point of unpardonable condemnation for the remainder of its mandate.

Lately, though, this government looks beyond hope, and hope, as e.a.f. may recall, wass the only thing Christy had on offer during her first campaign as Premier. The tacit racism (or "racialism," or habitual discrimination, or unthinking generational prejudice,...) harboured by virtually everyone, sometimes even more viciously among some of its victims, wasn't on most voters' minds when they held out hope that Christy would supply a remedial dose of medicine to her party once it had been purged by election, and she'd gotten her own mandate and renewed caucus, not an unreasonable hope considering half of the Campbellites were not seeking incumbency. Certainly her opposition did not, for inexplicably foolish reasons, compare in terms of hope (the NDP's flatly refused to recognize pusillanimity was a hopeless match against the BC Liberals' notorious play-for-keeps reputation). I would not, therefore, overtly blame the electorate for murdered and missing women on the TOT; the government won by a relatively small margin, and it wasn't surprising, all things considered.

A similar hope was held out for Harper's government, temporarily accepting his ruthless aggressiveness as a necessity of minority, hoping he'd be different once he'd got a majority; yet he was turned out after disappointing that hope after only a single majority term, and nothing he could do would forgive him. It looks like the BC Liberals are headed for the same thing---on the condition, of course, the NDP shows up this time ( and John Horgan looks quite promising in this regard).

The government now has about two seconds left if it wants to avoid plunging off the purgatory diving-board and campaigning while bobbing about in a lake of boiling sulphur. It's only hope, perhaps now beyond-hope, is to repent immediately; if Christy can't or won't do it, she'd have to be replaced, like, in about one-and-a-half seconds now---and counting.