NDP accuses Privy Council of dishonesty in Ben Perrin email affair

NDP MP Pat Martin rises to question the government during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Monday February 27, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA – NDP MP Pat Martin is accusing the Privy Council Office of being dishonest with the RCMP about deleting former legal adviser Ben Perrin’s emails.

Martin says PCO official Isabelle Mondou misinformed the RCMP in a letter sent Sunday that states it is “operating protocol” for the PCO – which provides non-partisan support to the prime minister and cabinet – to close and delete the email accounts of departing employees.

But another PCO employee this week told the government operations committee, of which Martin is a member, that employees have a responsibility to go through their records and keep those of “archival value” before the accounts are deleted.

“I think we’ve exposed that (the PCO) were dishonest in their letter given to RCMP,” Martin, public works and government services critic, said in an interview.

“I think they knew full well that that information was important.”

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A PCO spokesman said there is “no conflict between these statements.”

“Both public servants and exempt staff must archive information according to their respective records management guidelines, both on an on-going basis and before they leave the department,” Raymond Rivet said in an email.

Rivet said when employees leave the PCO or PMO, the department deletes emails “which should only contain information that is not required to be archived.” The information is kept in a backup system for 30 days, and then deleted because of storage issues.

READ MORE: Ex-PMO staffer emails not deleted, Privy Council Office tells RCMP

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Perrin served as a special adviser and legal counsel to Prime Minister Stephen Harper but left the prime minister’s office in March. The RCMP is seeking his emails in relation to the investigation into former prime ministerial chief of staff Nigel Wright’s $90,000 cheque to Sen. Mike Duffy.

Perrin is quoted in several of Wright’s emails obtained by the RCMP that allegedly show Wright and others in the PMO brokering or attempting to broker a deal with Duffy to pay back his ineligible expenses.

The RCMP initially thought Perrin’s emails had been deleted. But in a letter to assistant commissioner Gilles Michaud, Mondou said they had actually been retained due to unrelated litigation. She said the emails have now been handed over to the RCMP.

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The legal action involves a privacy breach at Employment and Social Development Canada. A PMO spokesman said Perrin has nothing to do with the litigation.

Although Mondou, assistant secretary to the cabinet, told the RCMP deleting emails of departing employees is “a matter of course,” another official testifying this week gave a much more nuanced explanation.

Michelle Doucet, assistant deputy minister of corporate services, told committee that emails are only deleted “after the application of records management guidelines.”

Employees have a responsibility to go through their records and make sure they keep those of archival value as per the Library and Archives Act, Doucet testified.

“There are rules for records management, so whether you’re an employee of the public service or an employee of a minister’s office you’re expected to follow those rules,” Doucet said.

“When you leave you’re expected to have organized your documents so that the ones which are required to be preserved are there and set aside separately. And the ones that are not necessary can be deleted to make room in the server so that computer systems function efficiently.”

Harper said Wednesday in question period it is the responsibility of all employees to follow the applicable rules, and records are retained by the bureaucracy.

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Harper’s spokesman, Jason MacDonald, wrote in an email Thursday that it’s up to the employee to determine, in keeping with the guidelines, what constitutes a record that should be kept and what does not.

He said PMO asked several times if the Perrin emails had been deleted and was told yes.

“As we know, that is something that has turned out to be wrong,” wrote MacDonald.

“When we learned they were frozen and still available, we asked PCO to ensure they were made available to the RCMP immediately. The RCMP has acknowledged that the PMO has actively assisted them in their investigation.”

But Martin said ultimately Harper is to blame for the fact that Perrin’s emails were not immediately discovered.

“The minister for the PCO is the prime minister, and the ministerial responsibility lies with him,” he said.

“The whole cover-up and the denial of the existence of these important emails resides with the PMO and the prime minister himself.”

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