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Canada Ford staffer using private e-mail for government business

A staffer in Doug Ford’s office has used his personal e-mail account to conduct government business, including managing the Premier’s interactions with lobbyists and police.

More than 130 pages of partly redacted records have been released to The Globe and Mail after a request for government records held in the Gmail account of Nico Fidani, an executive assistant to Mr. Ford.

It was first revealed that Mr. Fidani had used his personal e-mail for government work in a court case this past winter. A police commander alleged in court filings in an OPP-related case that the Gmail account was used to relay an “off-the-books” $50,000 van-retrofit request to the Ontario Provincial Police. This disclosure prompted The Globe to follow up with a freedom-of-information request for other work records in the personal account.

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The office of Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner (IPC) says it strongly discourages the practice of government employees using personal e-mail and instant-messaging services to discuss official business.

Government systems archive all official e-mail exchanges, while communications made via personal e-mails can remain undisclosed. While not strictly prohibited, the IPC worries that personal e-mail usage can potentially undermine the laws intended to ensure public access to government records.

“The Premier’s Office is not exempt from the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act as it relates to government business,” said Brian Beamish, the IPC commissioner. In a statement responding to questions from The Globe, he added that “we have recommended that government and political staff only use government devices and platforms.”

The Globe asked the Premier’s Office whether Mr. Ford and his staff are circulating his staffer’s Gmail address.

“Mr. Fidani hands out his business cards with his Ontario.ca address when he’s with the Premier,” spokeswoman Ivana Yelich replied. She added that “it’s not uncommon for members of the public to mistakenly send e-mails to his personal e-mail address.”

She said that Mr. Fidani makes a point of complying with freedom-of-information laws by making duplicates of his work-related Gmail records. “He forwards it to his ontario.ca address,” she said.

The released Gmail records relate to dozens of Mr. Ford’s interactions with lobbyists, developers and ordinary Ontarians. Many of the e-mails are partly redacted.

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For example, in August, Mr. Fidani e-mailed the Premier’s scheduler the name of a registered lobbyist − Paul Pellegrini, whose company later helped sell tickets to one of Mr. Ford’s fundraising dinners. In October, Mr. Fidani circulated an e-mail saying “Frank Klees meeting in 2 weeks please.” Mr. Klees is a former Conservative cabinet minister who is now a registered lobbyist.

In another e-mail, after the Progressive Conservatives were elected last summer, OPP officers asked whether Mr. Ford would consider attending performances by the police force’s Golden Helmet precision motorcycle team. “Nothing like getting support for our team then having the Premier behind us,” the e-mail said.

And the day before cannabis consumption became legal in October, the Gmail account was used to circulate a speech the Premier was giving to a police union. “We will work with police services − including the OPP − to rigorously crackdown on illegal sellers,” the text reads.

That same day, a provincial conservation officer sent a message to Mr. Fidani’s Gmail account suggesting that the Premier urged him to get in touch “Hey Nico I sent a text to Doug for a preferred mailing address, he recommended I e-mail you.”

The use of Gmail first arose during a lawsuit initiated this winter by the former OPP deputy commissioner Brad Blair.

In court filings, the ousted police commander accused the Progressive Conservative government of passing him over for a promotion in favour of a friend of Mr. Ford. Mr. Blair also alleged that the Premier’s Office engaged in improper procurement practices as it sought to retrofit a van for Mr. Ford’s potential use.

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On Nov. 5 of last year, Mr. Ford visited A1 Mobility, a Mississauga company. On Nov. 16, the company e-mailed Mr. Fidani. “Nico I’m sorry for the delay we are waiting on pricing for the 360 [degree] swivel seats from our supplier,” the previously undisclosed e-mail said.

Five days later, Mr. Fidani received A1 Mobility’s detailed proposal for a $50,000 retrofit and relayed it to the OPP, which oversees the Premier’s transportation and security.

The plan, which did not include the vehicle cost, called for gutting a van’s interior to install comfortable seats, a couch, a television and a refrigerator.

The Premier’s Office says it did nothing improper by relaying the cost estimate and points out no van was ever overhauled. “The Premier travels in an SUV provided by the OPP,” Ms. Yelich said.

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