A senior bureaucrat swept up in a criminal probe into the destruction of government records says he did not know the boyfriend of a former staffer in the premier's office allegedly wiped clean two dozen computer hard drives.
David Nicholl, who was demoted last week for his alleged role in a document purge at the centre of a criminal investigation, testified at a committee of the Ontario legislature on Tuesday that he was "directed" by the cabinet office to give Dalton McGuinty's chief of staff access to all the computers in the premier's office.
Mr. Nicholl's testimony before the committee was consistent with what he has told police. But it contradicted what other senior bureaucrats have said in their interviews with police investigating the gas plants scandal.
It was Mr. Nicholl who gave the go-ahead to David Livingston, then Mr. McGuinty's chief of staff, to erase computer hard drives in the premier's office, according to allegations in recently released police documents, which have not been tested in court.
Mr. Nicholl, the province's corporate chief information officer, told the committee he was instructed by cabinet secretary Peter Wallace's executive assistant to provide Mr. Livingston with access to the computers. However, other bureaucrats, including Mr. Wallace, have told police Mr. Nicholl acted on his own and without their authorization.
Mr. Nicholl, who was removed as acting deputy minister of government services after the release of the police documents, told the committee he was not prepared in his interview with police for questions about the special access to computers.
"I hadn't prepared at all," Mr. Nicholl said, "so I completely admit I was probably a bit of a babbler and I did not do a particularly good job."
Mr. Nicholl also said that, contrary to impressions police have, he and Mr. Livingston are not friends. Their paths might have crossed a couple of times, he said, when both men worked at Toronto-Dominion Bank.
The Ontario Provincial Police believe Mr. Livingston committed a criminal breach of trust by allowing Peter Faist, an IT expert and the boyfriend of his deputy, to gain "unrestricted" access to 24 hard drives in the premier's office. Mr. Livingston's lawyer, Brian Gover, has said his client did nothing wrong.
Mr. Nicholl, who is not under investigation, testified that he learned about Mr. Faist's alleged involvement after the police documents were released. "Do I think it's appropriate?" he said. "No, I do not." Even though someone else is alleged to have logged onto the computers and erased documents, Mr. Nicholl said, Mr. Livingston was the one who was ultimately accountable.
Mr. Nicholl declined to talk to reporters after his testimony. "I gave it my all in there," he said.