Explainer: The NDP Email Deletion Scandal
Like the Liberals before them, the B.C. NDP has been criticized for mass record deletion
Opinions / July 2, 2018
During the NDP’s first 100 days in power, seven of Premier Horgan’s staff members and three of the party’s ministers were caught deleting emails from their work accounts. Every single email sent by John Horgan and his closest employees was deleted. These included emails focused on policy changes, hiring staff, and setting budgets.
Don Wright, Deputy Minister to Premier and the Head of the B.C. Public Service, has launched an investigation into the deleted emails. He hasn’t, however, made any promises to publicly document his findings for the investigation, nor has he revealed how he plans to launch the investigation.
It’s not the first time that a British Columbian email scandal has happened, and it most likely won’t be the last if current legislation regarding freedom of information requests doesn’t change.
Under B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the only government records that can be deleted are called “transitory records.” These are records that can be deleted after a short time if a corresponding record is already available. The emails in question do not fall under this category, and the content of them will remain unknown to the public following the investigation.
The scandal came back into the public’s attention when the B.C. Liberal Party sent freedom of information requests to Advanced Education Minister Melanie Mark. The FOIs came back with zero text messages and emails from Mark’s account for all of February, months after the several other members mass deleted their emails.
Mark argued that she was not obligated to keep her emails as her deputy minister logs them for her.
The previous, Liberal government was also criticized for triple-deleted emails in the past. Again, FOIs came back with little information. These emails were found to be illegally deleted, a distinction between the NDP and Liberal scandals that current Finance Minister Carole James made in an article from the CBC.
“[The Liberals] were caught out. They deliberately tried to delete information. They deliberately tried to hide information,” she said. “What we [the NDP] are talking about are people who have deleted emails, believing they were following best practices.”
Some of those emails triple-deleted by the Liberals were thought to be connected to information about the Highway of Tears, after the NDP filed an FOI seeking “all government records that make reference to the issue of missing women along Highway 16/the Highway of Tears.” That information was not released.
Michael McEvoy, the Information and Privacy Commissioner for B.C., wrote in an online post that record-keeping in government needs to have “independent oversight” in order to prevent email deletion issues in the future. McEvoy also highlighted the implications of a government record deletion, writing that “meaningful access to information is not possible without proper systems for record creation, retention and destruction.”
“If government doesn’t document its decisions or records are created but improperly destroyed, the right to access is lost.”