Documents show Communities, Culture and Heritage Minister Leo Glavine relied on three different private email accounts while he was Nova Scotia’s health minister — the practice runs counter to government policy.
The records were obtained through access to information and show Glavine and senior government staff used his private emails to communicate dozens of times within a three-month span in 2016.
Privacy and access-to-information lawyer David Fraser called the use of private email troubling.
“The business of government is important to everything we do,” he said. “To have the business of government taking place in the shadows or to have the business of government taking place intentionally to keep it outside of the public spotlight, I think that’s inherently problematic and should be condemned.”
The emails were sent to Glavine’s private accounts hosted by Rogers, Gmail and his MLA website. In an interview with Global News, Glavine maintained his use of private email for government work was “minimal” and that “99 per cent” of them went through his government account.
“There was certainly only a small number that were ever on the Gmail,” Glavine said.
The province’s information and privacy commissioner, Catherine Tully, has repeatedly advised against the use of private emails by public officials.
The report outlines security of personal information and ensuring all documents are available through access-to-information laws among the reasons for sticking with a government email.
Asked if confidential or private information was ever relayed through his private email accounts, Glavine said, “No.”
In some cases though, entire emails were redacted before they were released publicly to Global News. For example, one email chain that was started by government lawyer Donald Grant has its entire contents and subject line redacted citing “solicitor-client privilege,” “information that may have a detrimental financial impact to the public body,” and “advice by or for a public body or minister.”
“There was nothing there of consequence,” Glavine said about the fully redacted email from Grant. “I regard confidential and personal information in the highest order.”
Fraser said he’s “concerned” about the redactions because it means the information “inherently has a level of confidentiality.”
“They’re essentially saying the public can’t see it,” Fraser said.
“Cabinet confidences and legal privilege are the two highest levels of legally recognized confidentiality that we have in Canada so it just causes me concern that that information has been outside of the protection of the government IT systems which are designed to protect it.”
In an emailed statement, ministry spokesperson Brian Taylor said, “A privacy breach occurs when information goes to a party to which it was not intended. The type of email account used does not factor into it. As such, there is no indication of a breach.”
He did not explain how the government could know if there was a breach when it doesn’t have control of the email system used.
Glavine said he was previously told to use government email for government work but said he had a “changeover of a new BlackBerry and I think while I was getting used to it, a couple of my email addresses got out, so there was a little bit of slippage in that regard.”
Some emails show that Glavine had a signature at the bottom of his emails advising people that he had switched from a Rogers account to a Gmail account.
It reads: “Please note my email address has changed to LGlavineMLA@gmail.com, I will no longer be using firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Asked if the use of his private email accounts for government work was appropriate, Glavine said: “Look, I was told to change and I changed.”
The reminder to only use government email for ministerial work came last summer after Global News first reported on the issue. In July, one example of it was uncovered in an unrelated access-to-information request. That email didn’t contain sensitive information.
But the documents obtained in the February release show 18 email threads where some content was redacted. Some of them appear to cover planning for events and the names of reporters, but others appear less trivial.
Areas where the emails were heavily censored include a conversation about “mental-health care” where almost the entire email is redacted citing “unreasonable invasion of personal privacy.” The same reason was used to redact another email that appears to be talking about a case raised with Glavine by Liberal MLA Gordon Wilson.
Most of the emails sent to his private email were sent by his executive assistant Peter Bragg and Rachel Boomer, who at the time was the department’s senior communications adviser. However, in that three-month window, other bureaucrats also emailed Glavine including Deputy Minister for Seniors Simon d’Entremont.
The government has refused to search Glavine’s private email accounts in access-to-information requests. This information request was granted because it searched for Glavine’s private email addresses in the email accounts of Bragg and Boomer. It turned up 47 emails in the narrow time period of March 1, 2016, to May 31, 2016.
Glavine was the health minister from 2013 to 2017.
Taylor did not directly answer whether private email addresses are still being used for government business. But he said in an email that “all Ministers have been reminded of their obligations related to record keeping responsibility and the importance of using government email addresses to conduct government business.”
The information and privacy commissioner has previously said that private emails are subject to access laws, but the government has not compelled searches of Glavine’s private email accounts when access requests were made. Glavine said that’s not why he used private emails.
“That’s not a method of practice that I would engage in to circumvent anything,” Glavine said.