B.C. Liberal Premier Christy Clark ramped up her rhetoric about alleged hacking of her party's website on Thursday, while backing away from her claims that the opposition NDP is responsible.
With the legislative session about to resume in Victoria for the first time since last summer, Ms. Clark has driven headlines this week about allegedly stolen party data, rather than her government's intended agenda.
She has vacillated on the significance of the alleged incidents, describing the matter as a criminal action one day, as a meaningless distraction the next and, most recently, as a disturbing attempt to subvert the democratic system.
Initially, the Premier bluntly accused the New Democratic Party of criminal behaviour: "We saw them try to hack into our website the other day," she said Tuesday during a Facebook Live interview with the Vancouver Sun and the Province. "Hacking into websites with malicious intent is against the law."
When pressed for evidence during a media availability on Wednesday, the Premier repeatedly played down the affair, saying reporters were pursuing an issue that the public doesn't care about. "At the end of the day, no damage was done. But for me, I don't want to get distracted by all the horse-race, inside-baseball politics that you guys like to talk about."
The Liberals say their party website was successfully hacked three times on Feb. 4, and "stolen" personal information was subsequently passed on to a columnist at the Province newspaper. Party officials say they have traced the breach to an Internet address in the provincial legislature, and that they plan to submit a report to police.
On Thursday, Ms. Clark conceded that she had been too hasty in accusing the NDP. She said she misspoke because she was incensed by the attack on democracy.
"We know that someone with very strong technical knowledge, someone with malicious intent, hacked the BC Liberal website. We know that it came from the legislature," the Premier said Thursday during a Radio NL interview in Kamloops.
"I guess people can draw their own conclusions about who in the B.C. Legislature might want to hack the BC Liberal website and distribute the information that they received from it," she added. "I shouldn't have jumped to those conclusions so quickly."
She said she was "really mad" that the party's website was breached from a source inside the legislature. "We should all be concerned, someone is trying to subvert our democratic process … This kind of activity is just not acceptable."
The NDP has demanded an apology and threatened to sue the Premier for libel, saying it is not responsible for breaching the Liberal's website security.
In response, Ms. Clark invited yet another day of debate on the issue, saying NDP Leader John Horgan can ask her for an apology when the legislative session resumes on Tuesday.
"John Horgan should probably be focused on some of the more important issues that are facing us," she said Thursday. "If his feelings are hurt, I have to say I'm a little bit surprised."
Mr. Horgan said Thursday his party has consulted a lawyer, but dismissed the notion that the NDP's response is emotional.
"I think it has gone beyond that. Were we libelled? Of course we were. That's not the issue at this point," he said in an interview. "It's about her and her character. When the most powerful political figure in the province believes that it is okay to just make stuff up, that's a problem. Not for me, but for the people of B.C."
The alleged hacking is now being investigated by the Information and Privacy Commission. "We have received a notification of a breach," said the commission's spokeswoman Erin Beattie. The report has been assigned to an investigator and until that probe is complete, the commission won't divulge details, she said.
British Columbia's privacy laws require organizations that collect personal information to take reasonable security measures to protect it, and an investigation such as this one will focus on how to correct the weakness that led to the privacy breach in the first place, and to determine if the information loss poses a risk to individuals.