Ontario privacy chief

Previously reported destroyed emails relating to the controversial cancellation of gas plant projects in Ontario which caused tax payers more than $585 million have in fact been recovered by the Ministry of Government Service.

The latest development in the investigation of the alleged cover up of the Ontario Liberal government’s decision to scrap the plants in Oakville and Mississauga has vexed the province’s privacy commissioner who earlier delivered a scathing 35-page report on missing online messages related to the plant closures.

The report from the office of Ann Cavoukian, Ontario information and privacy commissioner, cast a harsh spotlight on the questionable deletion by Craig MacLennan, former chief of staff of past energy ministers Brad Duguid and Chris Bentley as well as by political staff members of former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty office, of emails related to the case. The whole matter also focuses on the issue of records retention and e-discovery in general and what records and electronic documents are government offices and staff members allowed to destroy and what are they supposed to retain, in particular.

“I was dismayed to learn that my office has been misinformed by the Ministry of Government Services staff, regarding the existence of records that would have been relevant to the special investigation that I had released on June 5th,” Cavoukian said in an emailed statement late yesterday afternoon. “My report was based in part, upon the information that I had received from the Ministry of Government Services.”

Cavoukian said the MGS informed her Tuesday afternoon that they have in fact “recovered a number of emails.”

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“I am appalled that we were provided with incorrect information during the course of my investigation, that was misleading,” she said. “I am, however, pleased that these records have been found.”

Nevertheless, Cavoukian said, the conclusions and recommendations of her report to Standing Committee on Justice Policy titled Deleting Accountability: Record Management Practices of Political Staff “are not affected.”

“The root cause of the problems uncovered over the course of our wide-reaching investigation was that there were routine practices that violated the record retention polices of the Archives and Recordkeeping Act.,” she said. “There was no one in the office of the former Prime Minister and former Minister of Energy who was accountable for records managements practices to ensure that political staff was aware of their obligations.”

When he appeared before the justice committee in June, McGuinty reasoned that staff members deleted emails because the rules around keeping government emails were confusing and that the employees were left to decide for themselves.

When she appeared before the committee, Cavoukian called the testimony of the former premier’s chief-of-staff misleading as he suggested there were “99 reasons why the rules required destruction of records.”

She said the only actual reference to records destruction in the Archives and Recordkeeping Act are provisions instructing people not to delete records.

Yesterday, Cavoukian said she has written the deputy minister of the MGS asking him to make sure no further destruction of records occur for any of the other members of the Premier’s office whose emails were thought to be destroyed.

She also said she was adding the latest development to her report.

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