Ontario's Privacy Commissioner says there is no evidence that Toronto District School Board trustees tampered with documents requested under the province's Freedom of Information Act.
Senior staff launched a formal complaint with the Information and Privacy Commissioner's office last year, targeting a handful of trustees for allegedly interfering with a media request for copies of an audit report into expenses. Maria Mavroyannis, the school board's FOI commissioner at the time, singled out veteran trustee Shelley Laskin for her harshest criticism, accusing Ms. Laskin of arguing against releasing the documents and of "trying to tell her how to do her job," according to a report from the Privacy Commissioner's office, summarizing its investigation and findings.
Ms. Laskin declined to comment when reached on Wednesday.
The 30-page report, a copy of which was obtained by The Globe and Mail, says Ms. Mavroyannis also accused four other current and former trustees who have clashed with education director Donna Quan of interfering with the FOI process.
During its investigation, Ms. Mavroyannis told the Privacy Office that the level of interference by the trustees was "extraordinary," the report says. But assistant commissioner David Goodis rejects that characterization in its entirety, saying there is no evidence of any attempt to "inappropriately influence or interfere" with the FOI request.
His report also criticizes the school board for the confusion surrounding the FOI request, "severe weaknesses" in its processes for dealing with such requests and the lack of training for trustees.
"It is clear that there were a number of problems that contributed to the poor handling of this request," Mr. Goodis says.
Ms. Mavroyannis did not respond to a request for comment. She stepped down as executive director of board services in February.
A copy of the internal audit on trustee spending was initially requested by The Toronto Star under the FOI act. The newspaper also requested copies of e-mails sent by Ms. Mavroyannis to Ms. Quan regarding the request. The e-mails accused trustees and staff of discussing what information to release and of making several changes to the audit. The Star published a front page story on the e-mails under the headline: "Trustees tampered with FOI request for expense reports emails suggest."
Mr. Goodis' report notes that Ms. Mavroyannis's concerns were not shared by other senior staffers involved in the process. The comptroller said she was not aware of any trustees attempting to stop or delay the FOI request, the report says. Nor did the internal auditor receive any pressure from trustees to change documents, it adds.
"The allegations are unfounded," Mr. Goodis says. Ms. Mavroyannis sent trustees a letter about the FOI request, "seeking their views and then accused some trustees of 'interfering with the process' when they provided their views."
The audit covered trustees' expenses for a 3.5 year period ending in February, 2014. A draft version was completed in March of that year and copies were provided to trustees to give them an opportunity to make any corrections, the report says. A number of trustees contacted the auditor to say their concerns and changes had not been incorporated into a later draft, and there was confusion among several over which version would be released.
Ms. Laskin wanted corrections made to her expense report but never received a revised copy of it, Mr. Goodis says. Even though Ms. Laskin had consented to the release of her expense report in its entirety, he says, Ms. Mavroyannis sent The Star a redacted version. "Understandably, [Ms. Laskin] was upset," he says.
Howard Goodman, a former trustee, told the Privacy Commissioner that the final audit report on his expenses "bore no relation" to his actual spending but was told he was not allowed to change the report. As a result, he asked that it be redacted because he did not want inaccurate information released. Mr. Goodman was criminally charged with forcible confinement last November after Ms. Quan lodged a complaint against him. The Crown dropped the charges in June.