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British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell.
British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell.

Gary Mason

All right, Campbell, time to talk about the e-mails Add to ...

No one wants to talk about the e-mails.

Not the Premier of B.C. Not the minister in charge of the provincial government's electronic information system. Not the woman who swore an affidavit that said digital records potentially critical to a political corruption case were destroyed during the May provincial election. (Or not.)

Not the company contracted to carry out the order.

No one in government will return a phone call to discuss the broad policies and guidelines that apply to the electronic storage and disposal of government records. Officials in the government's massive, and massively expensive, public-affairs bureau refuse to respond to e-mails that deal with requests about e-mails.

All of which should give people in B.C. and across the country an idea of the level of paranoia that surrounds the issue since questions about the destruction of key government records were prompted by a front-page story in The Globe and Mail last week.

It concerned the long-running trial of three former political aides charged with fraud and breach of trust related to the sale of BC Rail in 2003. Two of the three are accused of leaking top-secret information to one of the bidders in exchange for cash and other gifts. Defence lawyers have argued that the extent to which their clients leaked any information was done with the full knowledge of Premier Gordon Campbell and the members of his cabinet and part of a strategy to drive up the sale price of the rail line.

And e-mail records from that period would prove it, defence lawyers have insisted.

Mark Hume took your BC Rail questions Discussing the political corruption trial that is reaching all the way to the office of Premier Gordon Campbell

A government lawyer had earlier said all e-mails from the period in which the defence is seeking records - 2001 to 2005 - had been destroyed. But then The Globe and Mail revealed that an affidavit was filed last week indicating that many of those records were ordered deleted as recently as May, during the provincial election. The same affidavit says some records from that period were later found intact.

So no one seems to know what really is going on. And no one seems to know precisely what the policies are that govern the storage and disposal of government records. Which is what I was trying to find out this week. For the record, here are those who refused to discuss the matter or even respond to interview requests:

Ben Stewart, minister responsible for Citizens' Services, which oversees the government department managing information technology. (An aide said the minister just didn't want to discuss the issue.)

Rosemarie Hayes, the woman in charge of the e-mail service for government and the author of the affidavit that blew the lid off the story about the May records' destruction. (She has not responded to numerous messages left on her phone.)

Sue Goldsmith, Ms. Hayes's predecessor, who understands how the electronic storage system works as well as anyone and whose name surfaced in the Hayes affidavit.

Lee Johnson, an official at EDS Advanced Solutions, the company contracted by government to destroy the records requested by the defence. He was dealing with Ms. Hayes regarding the order to destroy the government information that the defence was seeking in the corruption trial.

It would appear people have either gone into hiding voluntarily or been ordered there by the Premier's office, which controls all messaging during times of crisis. Either way, the government's handling of this matter is disgraceful and shows nothing but contempt for the related concerns of B.C. citizens.

David Loukidelis, B.C.'s outstanding Information and Privacy Commissioner, is concerned, too. For 10 years he's been urging the B.C. government to review the legislative framework around the Document Disposal Act, as well as the policies and practices around records and information management.

He's been completely ignored.

"I am concerned that the public policy objectives of openness, accountability and good management - and frankly, the historical record - are not being well served at this time," Mr. Loukidelis said in an interview.

He said in the digital age, e-mails make up a large part of a government's records. That is why, he said, it's imperative that information is retrievable, well organized, can be used when needed and, most importantly, is not lost.

Mr. Loukidelis agreed that it may be time to consider having a body at arm's length from government overseeing all digital records. That way, no one inside government would have the power to order records destroyed, which seems to be the case involving e-mails sought in this corruption trial.

The commissioner said this fall, an all-party committee of the B.C. legislature is slated to review the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. He said he is going to suggest the committee turn its attention to records management.

"I can't think of a better time to take this on," said Mr. Loukidelis. "It's an incredibly important issue."

And one that is central to the very notion of integrity in government.

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