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British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell.
British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell.

Gary Mason

Destruction of e-mail records puts heat on B.C. Premier Add to ...

Tapes containing the e-mail correspondence of B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell and members of his cabinet that lawyers in a government corruption trial have insisted are critical to the defence of their clients were ordered destroyed in early May, The Globe and Mail has learned.

According to several sources, the person responsible for managing the government e-mail delivery service has filed an affidavit in court that contains the potentially politically explosive information.

In her affidavit, Rosemarie Hayes, director of Messaging and Collaboration Services, Workplace Technology Services (WTS), states that at the beginning of May of this year, her department requested that backup tapes of government e-mails created prior to May of 2004 be expunged from the system. The e-mails are the subject of a legal proceeding and as such should not have been deleted, according to the government's own guidelines.

The affidavit apparently does not say who gave the order to kill the electronic records or why.

Ms. Hayes did not return a call from The Globe and Mail requesting to speak about the contents of her affidavit.

The order would have been given during this spring's provincial election, in which questions around Mr. Campbell's involvement in the sale of BC Rail - at the centre of the corruption case - was an issue. Mr. Campbell's Liberal Party easily won the May 12 contest.

The new information would appear to contradict statements made in court last month by government lawyer George Copley, who said that executive branch e-mails from 2001 to 2005 could not be recovered because backup tapes were kept for only 13 months.

At the time, that revelation triggered calls by the provincial New Democratic Party for a public inquiry.

However, if e-mails that were potentially damaging to the government of Mr. Campbell existed as recently as this May and were ordered destroyed, demands for a probe into the matter could grow even louder and spark calls for an obstruction-of-justice investigation.

The criminal proceedings around the missing e-mails stem from the infamous raid on the B.C. Legislature in December of 2003 when the offices of ministerial aides Dave Basi and Bob Virk were searched and files seized. Months later, the pair were charged with fraud and corruption. (A third employee was charged with money laundering.)

At the core of the case is the assertion by the Crown that Mr. Basi and Mr. Virk were leaking sensitive information pertaining to the sale of BC Rail back in 2003 in exchange for money. The pair have steadfastly denied accepting any money. They have acknowledged that they leaked information but on orders from superiors and as part of an overarching government strategy to drive up the price of the rail line.

Beyond that, the accused have maintained that others in government, including cabinet ministers, were also leaking information pertaining to the sale.

In June of 2007, lawyers for the accused filed a request for access to all executive branch e-mails from 2001 to 2005. However, the period in which they were most interested was from between 2002 and 2004, when government activity around the sale was at its height.

Cabinet began discussing the sale of the rail line in 2002. Mr. Campbell announced in February, 2003, that he was backtracking on a pledge not to privatize the provincially owned rail line. That November, Canadian National was announced as the successful bidder.

The deal wasn't officially consummated until the following spring when the associated sale of a spur line close to Vancouver was launched by the government. That second deal was later cancelled when the tendering process was found to be tainted.

It was the backup tapes of government e-mails prior to May of 2004 that were ordered destroyed, according to Ms. Hayes's affidavit.

The defence in the case has said it believes information contained in these e-mails would demonstrate that their clients were only following orders when they leaked confidential information related to the sale to selected bidders.

According to information found on the Ministry of Finance website under the heading: Information Management and Information Technology Management, there is a section dealing with disclosure requirements for legal proceedings.

It states: "Government records destruction schedules must be suspended during court orders for Demand for Discovery." It also says: "Records disposition must be suspended during legally mandated reviews (e.g. litigation, document discovery and commissions of inquiry)."

In her affidavit, Ms. Hayes apparently states that the company contracted to dispose of the backup tapes recently found some pre-May, 2004, tapes that somehow escaped destruction. Some fall into the period from June, 2001, to the present.

The defence has already entered into evidence e-mail correspondence between lobbyists representing one of the bidders for CN Rail - OminTrax - and key government officials.

The defence believes the executive branch e-mails would contain more of this kind of information, which it asserts shows that those outside of government were receiving privileged cabinet intelligence about the BC Rail sale from a number of sources inside the B.C. Legislature, including senior elected officials.



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