A former B.C. government employee who allegedly deleted e-mails involving the Highway of Tears has been charged with two counts of willfully making false statements to mislead, or attempt to mislead, the province's information and privacy commissioner.
The B.C. Criminal Justice Branch announced the charges Friday – approximately 4 1/2 months after Commissioner Elizabeth Denham released a scathing report that said Premier Christy Clark's government routinely thwarted freedom-of-information requests through tactics such as triple-deleting e-mails.
The Criminal Justice Branch said charges against George Gretes, a former assistant to Transportation Minister Todd Stone, were sworn Friday morning at Provincial Court in Victoria. The case is due back in court on April 20.
The charges were laid under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Mr. Gretes faces a maximum fine of $5,000 a count.
Ms. Denham's report was released in October. She said Mr. Gretes offered contradictory testimony and she referred his "failure to tell the truth under oath" to the RCMP.
A special prosecutor, Mark Jetté, was appointed one month later to assist police with their investigation. Mr. Jetté ultimately approved the charges.
Chris Considine, the lawyer for Mr. Gretes, said he had no comment on the charges against his client. The allegations against Mr. Gretes, who resigned from his position after the report was released, have not been proven.
Requests for comment from the B.C. government were referred to Justice Minister Suzanne Anton, who in a statement wrote it would be inappropriate to comment on the matter since it is before the courts.
John Horgan, Leader of the opposition B.C. NDP, said the incident demonstrates a culture of deception that starts at the top of the provincial government.
"Why in the world are we deleting e-mails that have to do with murdered and missing women? This is an issue that requires openness and transparency. We got the exact opposite from the B.C. Liberals," Mr. Horgan said during a conference call.
Vincent Gogolek, executive director of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, said he was pleased with the charges. However, he noted that while Mr. Gretes was charged over his statements to Ms. Denham, he was not charged for allegedly deleting the e-mails themselves. Mr. Gogolek said he'd like to see harsher penalties in that regard.
Ms. Denham's report said Tim Duncan, another former Ministry of Transportation employee, alleged Mr. Gretes triple-deleted e-mails from Mr. Duncan's account. Mr. Duncan said the e-mails could potentially have been released as part of a freedom-of-information request involving the Highway of Tears.
Ms. Denham said Mr. Gretes initially testified he did not triple-delete e-mails, before later testifying he engaged in the practice.
Mr. Duncan, in an interview, said he took no pleasure in charges being laid. He said he believes he was let go from his position because he objected to the deleting of e-mails.
In addition to deleting e-mails, Ms. Denham's report said the provincial government either "willfully or negligently" failed to produce documents and evaded personal accountability by relying on verbal responses to information requests.
Ms. Clark, in response to the report, said her government would prohibit the triple-deleting of e-mails and consider establishing a duty to document.