The CEO of AggregateIQ is facing a potential finding of contempt of Parliament after he defied a formal summons – sending MPs a doctor’s note instead.
The House of Commons committee on access to information, privacy and ethics took the highly unusual step of issuing a formal summons for Zackary Massingham, who heads the small Victoria-based data firm tied to an international scandal over the misuse of Facebook data and potential campaign violations during the 2016 Brexit referendum.
The summons was hand-delivered to Mr. Massingham in Victoria by a bailiff. The AIQ CEO was scheduled to appear on Tuesday alongside AIQ chief operating officer Jeff Silvester, yet only Mr. Silvester appeared.
Committee members expressed their strong disappointment at Mr. Massingham’s absence and skepticism about the doctor’s note. The MPs then met privately where they discussed potential options, including the possibility of sending a report to the House asking for Mr. Massingham to be found in contempt of Parliament.
No final decisions were made, but Liberal MP and committee vice-chair Nathaniel Erskine-Smith confirmed that contempt of Parliament process is an option.
“We’re still considering the steps we’re going to take,” he said. “The doctor’s note was nondescript. It provided zero useful information and indicated nothing more than he’s not feeling well and can’t attend… It may well be true, but much like the rest of their story, it’s incredibly convenient.”
Mr. Erskine-Smith said MPs have several procedural options to consider. He also noted that while an eventual finding of contempt of Parliament could theoretically land Mr. Massingham in prison, he said those rules are “arcane.”
The issue is unlikely to be resolved before the House of Commons summer recess, which is scheduled to begin next week.
“My hope is that if it truly is a medical issue, it will have subsided by the time we return in the fall,” said Mr. Erskine-Smith.
Liberal, Conservative and NDP MPs on the ethics committee have been working together for weeks to investigate the many Canadian links of the global data scandal. The British- based political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica and its parent company SCL Group are accused of improperly obtaining the personal data of 87 million Facebook users, including more than 600,000 Canadians.
Canadian whistle-blower Christopher Wylie, who previously worked for Cambridge Analytica, has said the Facebook data was used to microtarget individual voters based on their psychological personality traits.
Mr. Wylie told the ethics committee last month that AIQ’s claims of innocence are “farcical” and accused Mr. Massingham and Mr. Silvester of obfuscating MPs when they first appeared as witnesses in April.
Mr. Silvester stood by his view on Tuesday that AIQ did nothing wrong. He also told reporters that Mr. Massingham is on leave from work, but declined to provide details on the nature of the illness.
The allegations have triggered investigations by elections and privacy authorities in Britain and privacy watchdogs in Canada.
The ethics committee is planning to release an interim report before the summer recess and to continue its work in the fall.
Conservative MP Peter Kent said the committee is unlikely to produce “hard evidence” on AIQ’s activities, but the study has highlighted important larger issues that Canadian governments must address.
“I think the conclusions of our eventual final report are going to talk about the fact that there’s [abundant] evidence that the Canadian electoral process at all levels is vulnerable to interference,” he said.