Ontario gas plants trial hears from IT consultant allegedly hired to wipe hard drives

Laura Miller (left), who had been Dalton McGuinty’s deputy chief of staff, and David Livingston (right), who was McGuinty’s chief of staff, are charged with breach of trust and mischief.

TORONTO – A private IT consultant who was allegedly hired to wipe several hard drives in ex-premier Dalton McGuinty’s office testified Friday that he didn’t know or check what was on the computers he worked on.

Peter Faist told the trial of two former senior political aides that he was brought on in early 2013 to remove personal data from computers belonging to outgoing government staff during the transition period after McGuinty’s resignation.

He said the software he used, made by the company White Canyon Software, was meant to erase local files but preserve the operating system and computer programs.

If used on a computer connected to a network, the software would not reach the server, Faist said, adding he expected that any business records would be saved on a network drive. He also told those who hired him it would have minimal impact on day-to-day operations, court heard.

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“I informed them that it would have no impact on their email,” he said.

Faist – who is not charged in the case involving the alleged destruction of documents related to two cancelled gas plants – told the court he signed an agreement preventing his statements from being used against him before speaking to provincial police investigating the matter.

Prosecutors allege he was hired to wipe clean about 20 hard drives in McGuinty’s office in 2013.

David Livingston, McGuinty’s former chief of staff, and his deputy Laura Miller, who is also Faist’s common-law spouse, are charged in connection with the deletion of emails about the Liberal government’s decision to cancel two gas plants just before the 2011 provincial election.

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They have both pleaded not guilty to breach of trust, mischief and unlawful use of a computer.

Faist testified that he did not know Miller’s exact role in government when he came in to do computer work in her office.

He said Miller had mentioned wanting to “clean the personal data off the machines in the office” and asked if he knew anyone who could do that type of work.

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“I said that I could do it myself,” he told a Toronto court Friday.

Court heard that on Jan. 9, 2013, Faist received an email from Dave Gene, another deputy chief of staff, that read: “Hey were you looking into wiping our computers?”

Fri, Sep 22: Two senior aides to former Premier Dalton McGuinty are accused of acting illegally in the deletion of computer hard drives. Alan Carter has more.

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He later met with Gene to discuss “whether it was feasible,” but at no point did he sign a contract, go through a procurement process or undergo a background check, Faist testified.

Documents presented in court show Faist’s IT company sent an invoice for more than $11,000 to the Liberal Caucus Service Bureau later that month for “consulting and implementation services.”

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Before attempting to use the software on government computers, Faist said he did a successful test run on his home computer. But he said a similar test on Miller’s computer failed because she did not have “local admin rights,” which would allow her to install software and make other changes.

“I recall saying something like, ‘You would have to get permission to do this,”‘ he said. Faist said he later learned that local admin rights had been obtained.

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The IT consultant said he began the work on Feb. 5, 2013. He testified Miller’s assistant and another staff member escorted him to the computers he was meant to clean. That staff member, Wendy Wai, would log him into each computer, he said. Most employees were out when the group stopped by, court heard.

There were some problems installing the software that day, prompting Faist to send Miller an email with the subject line “Things aren’t going well,” court heard. The message read: “May have to wipe them.”

Overall, Faist said he cleaned roughly 20 computers at Queen’s Park and a nearby government building.

The Liberals’ decision to cancel the gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga set off a political firestorm.

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The party’s initial refusal to hand over documents related to the cancellation to a legislature committee triggered a contempt debate that eventually saw McGuinty resign as premier in the fall of 2012.

He was never the target of the investigation and is reported to have co-operated with the police probe.



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