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B.C. privacy watchdog reviews Liberal party ethnic-vote plan for privacy breaches

B.C. Premier Christy Clark speaks at the International LNG Conference in Vancouver on Feb. 25, 2013.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

B.C.'s information and privacy watchdog wants to find out if a Liberal government plan to woo the ethnic vote violated any laws.

Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said she has launched a preliminary investigation into the multicultural outreach plan, after a report on the scandal and other details about the plan were released last week.

"These documents raise important questions about whether personal email accounts were being used in an attempt to evade access to information laws, and whether personal information was inappropriately shared," Denham said in a statement released Monday.

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She said her staff will review records and meet with the people involved in order to determine whether a formal investigation is needed.

Denham's office has also released guidelines for applying B.C.'s freedom of information law to personal email accounts, and the risks of using such accounts for government business.

She said the events around the ethnic vote plan reinforces the need to document and preserve key government advice, recommendations and decisions.

"A duty to document is not only in the public interest; it promotes openness and transparency, good governance, and provides documentation of government's legacy for future generations," she said in a statement.

A report released last week by Clark's Deputy Minister John Dyble said government resources were misused on the ethnic plan, including having Liberal government communications official Brian Bonney work for both the government caucus and the Liberal party while he was being paid as a government employee.

Dyble said at least half of Bonney's time was spent doing work for the Liberal party on the ethnic outreach strategy.

Clark has apologized several times for the plan, and said the Liberal party had written a $70,000 cheque to repay the government for work that Bonney did for her party.

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She has also said two staff members in her office have since resigned without severance and John Yap also stepped down as multiculturalism minister and he won't be returning to cabinet.

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