May 16, 2018 11:27 pm
Updated: May 16, 2018 11:28 pm

BC NDP takes fire over deleted emails once again

A FOI search for Advanced Education Minister Melanie Mark's email came up with no records.

Richard Zussman/Global News
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The B.C. government is once again under fire for how members manage their emails.

On Wednesday, the BC Liberals presented a Freedom of Information (FOI) request in the legislature that showed Advanced Education Min. Melanie Mark had no text messages and no emails for the entire month of February.

But Mark said she moves her emails into folders in Microsoft Outlook and follows all the necessary rules when a FOI request comes in.

Coverage of emails on Globalnews.ca:

“Every time a search comes through I hand over my devices to staff to do the FOI request as is the law. So I turn over my iPad, my cell phones, my laptop all out subject to the procedures,” said Mark.

“The permanent record is held with the deputy minister’s office.”

READ MORE: Transparency advocates tell BC NDP to hurry up on access to information reform

The question is, where are all the emails? Mark said she was advised was that the permanent record of each of her emails was kept by the deputy minister.

That means, based on the FOI rules, duplicate emails can be deleted — she could hypothetically delete the one she sent, as long as the deputy minister had a copy.

“I am not sure how your requests go through the deputy minister,” said Mark.

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“I hand over my devices so there is full disclosure.”

The argument wasn’t very convincing for the BC Liberals. The opposition said the minister should have had to turn over all her emails.

“There are clear requirements for ministries and ministers and they better be consistent,” BC Liberal MLA Shirley Bond said during Question Period.

“The minister said she had been briefed so she said she knew she had an obligation, as does every minister, to produce the records no matter the location and she didn’t.”

READ MORE: Ontario PCs call for investigation into allegations Liberal staff destroyed documents

Earlier this week, Don Wright, the head of the B.C. public service, Don Wright, acknowledged that senior staff in B.C. Premier John Horgan’s office improperly deleted all of their sent emails for nearly three and a half months.

The mass deletions took place immediately after Horgan was sworn in and the staffers who did this included Kate Van Meer Mass, director of operations, Layne Clark, director of liaison and coordination, assistant deputy minister Suzanne Christensen and Stephanie Paik, director in the deputy minister’s office.

All of their emails were requested through freedom of information and came back with no records found.

READ MORE: Former B.C. government worker pleads guilty in triple-delete scandal

“As staff learned their roles and responsibilities, there may have been some instances of best practices not being followed,” Wright said.

“Staff have since received training and are taking a more cautious approach to the management of email.

“While we are not aware of any specific records being handled in a way that violates policy, my office will be reviewing email records for this time period and restore any records if necessary.”

The issue of mass deletion of emails is not a new one in the B.C. Legislature.

The BC Liberals were widely criticized while in government for their practice of “triple deleting,” in which staff would ensure that governments were completely removed from the system so they could not be searched.

The NDP government said these cases are much different from what took place under the previous government.

“They deliberately tried to delete information, they deliberately tried to hide information,” said Finance Minister Carole James. 

“In our government there may be a few examples where best practices were not followed and the deputy minister is going to take a look at all of them and make sure if there were any that should be in the government system they will be transferred over.”

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