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Louie Palu/The Globe and Mail

A spate of drive-by shootings and arsons on the Lower Mainland earlier this year terrorized the 13 victims. All had a connection to an institution that trains police officers, paramedics and prison staff.

Now, the RCMP says a key link in the mysterious attacks may have come from inside the province's publicly owned auto insurance operation.

According to police, a claims adjuster at the Insurance Corporation of B.C., since fired, obtained privileged data on 65 individuals, including the 13 people targeted in the attacks, and passed some of it on to others.

"We have every reason to believe this individual did not act on their own, and that this person is involved with other individuals," RCMP Sergeant Peter Thiessen said on Wednesday. "There were houses set on fire, there were houses shot up, there were cars shot up. Somebody could easily have been killed."

However, no one was injured in the attacks.

Sergeant Thiessen would not say what police believe was done with the ICBC information.

The 13 victims included former and current staff and students at the Justice Institute of B.C., plus several others connected indirectly with the institute, Sgt. Thiessen said.

Police have yet to pinpoint a motive for the shootings and arson.

B.C. Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham called the incident a disturbing use of personal information, and said she is taking "a deep look" at ICBC's privacy protocol.

"This is an open, active file," Ms. Denham said. "We are deeply concerned for the affected customers and the general public. We want the public to know that this is a high priority for our office."

ICBC spokesman Mark Jan Vrem said the matter was discovered after police asked the corporation to check whether anyone had improperly accessed licence plate numbers of the victims.

"We found that one individual had [looked at]those files with no real business to do so," Mr. Jan Vrem said.

He said the woman, a 15-year employee who had an unblemished work record, was fired immediately, with no severance.

Mr. Jan Vrem said ICBC has an audit system that records what information employees obtain and the time of day.

"Employees know there's this audit trail. It acts as a real strong deterrent not to misuse their access," he said. "There was just no indication this person was going to go rogue."

In a statement, ICBC president and CEO Jon Schubert said the corporation is appalled by the allegations. "Our main concern is for the customers who have suffered as a result of this privacy breach."

He said the Crown corporation has taken steps to better guard against this type of incident.

Justice Institute president Jack McGee said enhanced security is in effect at the institute's seven Lower Mainland campuses.

He noted that the number of victims was originally thought to be 10, when the connected attacks first came to light in September.

"We are very concerned that there have been additional incidents," Mr. McGee said. "The safety and security of our students, staff, faculty and the public who uses our campuses is of paramount importance."

Police said the targeted individuals have no links to criminal activity.

Sgt. Thiessen said he's never seen a case like it.

"Really, in my 33 years of policing, I have not seen one with such interesting and complex dynamics," the veteran officer said.

A large team of police investigators is on the case, which has broadened to include members of municipal forces.

Mr. Jan Vrem of ICBC said he too is mystified by the many linkages and unexplained twists and turns.

"We've never had anything of this magnitude happen here before," he said. "This is really strange."