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Minister responsible for multiculturalism John Yap speaks to media after stepping down over the B.C. Liberals’ ethnic voter outreach plan in Victoria on March 4, 2013. (Chad Hipolito for The Globe and Mail)
Minister responsible for multiculturalism John Yap speaks to media after stepping down over the B.C. Liberals’ ethnic voter outreach plan in Victoria on March 4, 2013. (Chad Hipolito for The Globe and Mail)

Privacy czar stops short of clearing B.C. Liberals Add to ...

British Columbia’s information and privacy commissioner says there’s no evidence the B.C. Liberal government disclosed personal information as part of the ethnic-outreach scandal that rocked the party earlier this year.

However, Elizabeth Denham notes she didn’t use the word “cleared” in her report on the matter, released on Thursday.

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“I was very clear in what I have said so far that we didn’t find evidence of information sharing, but the reality is that all of the pieces were in place for that to happen,” Ms. Denham said in an interview. “Meetings were taking place to discuss ways to share information, staff were circulating plans to discuss information sharing and contemplating the creation of a database. We didn’t find evidence there was sharing of lists.”

That conclusion was based on the review by her office, which included interviews, under oath, with four individuals: Brian Bonney, Fiera Lo, Michele Cadario nd Sepideh Sarrafpour. All had roles in government, the B.C. Liberal caucus and party.

Earlier this year, the NDP opposition disclosed a Liberal ethnic-outreach plan intended to co-ordinate efforts between the B.C. Liberal Party and government to improve fundraising and build the party’s database ahead of the May election. It touted the possibility of “quick wins” by apologizing for historical wrongs affecting certain ethnic groups, and building a roster of supporters to call radio talk shows.

The disclosure stung Christy Clark’s government. In March, Ms. Clark’s deputy minister released a blunt report that concluded several government officials breached the public service code of conduct and public resources were misused for political purposes. The review prompted Ms. Clark to commit to having the Liberals repay $70,000 in improperly spent public funds.

Four Liberal officials, including then-multiculturalism minister John Yap and Kim Haakstad, the premier’s deputy chief of staff, stepped down from their jobs.

Ms. Denham said there was “talk,” but no evidence lists of citizen attendees at multicultural roundtables were forwarded to private e-mail accounts. Still, she suggested officials used personal e-mail as backup for government documents. Ms. Denham said she was concerned about the passing of government information through personal e-mail accounts because it could end up on commercial servers in the United States and subject to U.S. laws in contravention to privacy laws in B.C.

Andrew Wilkinson, the province’s Technology Minister, said in a statement that the government would accept and act on all five recommendations made by Ms. Denham.

Among them: The commissioner said that, for employees and volunteers who have government roles, the Liberals should adopt mandatory training sessions on keeping personal information obtained in their party roles separate from that obtained in their government roles. She said government should provide training for employees on the use of personal e-mail accounts for government business to ensure reasonable security measures are in place to protect personal information. Ms. Denham also said government should provide employees with sufficient technological resources to ensure they do not have a reason to use personal e-mail accounts in government duties.

Ms. Denham said she was pleased at the government’s supportive comments, but that she hoped it would properly scutinize its information-management regime with an emphasis on clear rules and more training. She will be asking all parties for action plans on their responses, and following up in coming weeks.

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