Charges have been laid against a mid-level civil servant who worked in the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.
The Criminal Justice Branch announced today (March 11) that George Gretes, a former ministerial assistant, has been charged under the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection Act with two counts of willfully making false statements to mislead or attempt to mislead.
The incident relates to what’s come to be referred to as the “triple delete” scandal.
On October 22, the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of B.C. (OIPC) released a report that detailed how several offices of the B.C. Liberal government failed to adequately create and maintain records. The OPIC also singled out specific staff for routinely “triple deleting” emails as a means of permanently destroying records.
One of those named was Gretes, who, during the course of the investigation leading up to that report’s release, allegedly gave false testimony to the privacy commissioner while under oath.
Gretes's case was forwarded to the RCMP and a special prosecutor has now approved charges.
The OPIC’s investigation was sparked by a whistle blower named Tim Duncan. Duncan claimed that Gretes deleted emails from his government computer to obstruct a freedom-of-information request related to the Highway of Tears.
The privacy commissioner noted that its investigation was complicated by the government failing to back up records but that it still found Duncan’s claim was “more likely than not” the truth.
“After initially testifying under oath that he did not engage in the practice of “triple deleting” emails, George Gretes ultimately admitted that he did in fact engage in this practice,” the report reads.
The OIPC’s report describes triple deleting this way: “The practice we observed was the routine emptying of the Recover Deleted Items folder to ensure that emails were permanently deleted from an employee’s system. This is not the intention of the Recover Deleted Items folder and for employees managing their mail account it serves no legitimate purpose.”
In an interview today with CKNW, Duncan described Gretes as a “good guy” who was pressured to do bad things by a government “culture”.
“He was a relatively mid-level guy,” Duncan told reporter Shane Woodward. “He was pressured to do this.”
Since the OIPC’s report was released last October, the Straight has compiled a list of Liberal politicians and government employees who have been caught deleting emails, have claimed they don’t use email, or who have otherwise aroused suspicion for questionable communication practices.
The list stands at 10 names.
In addition to Gretes, it includes Michele Cadario, the premier’s deputy chief of staff; John Dyble, deputy minister to the premier; Nick Facey, chief of staff to the minister of advanced education; Tobie Myers, chief of staff to the minister of natural-gas development; Stephen Brown, deputy to the health minister; Sam Oliphant and Maclean Kay, both of whom worked in the premier’s office as media-relations officers; Mike de Jong, B.C.’s finance minister; and the premier herself, Christy Clark.