Several years ago, Premier Christy Clark promised a new era of accountability.
We assumed that would mean politicians and bureaucrats alike would be putting their decisions and decision-making processes out to the public for all to witness.
Instead, what we have is an era in which ministers and government staff alike have been in the habit of ‘triple-deleting’ emailed correspondence – not simply deleting emails from their computers, but also from their electronic trash folders and backup servers.
Simply put, emails – untold thousands of them that should have been part of the public record –have simply ‘disappeared.’
B.C. Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham – in last week’s withering report on her investigation of Freedom of Information requests concerning the Highway of Tears case – says it is “difficult to overstate the seriousness of the problem… and the resulting effects on the integrity of the access to information process in our province.”
However, what it seems to have come down to for the premier, in her account before the Legislature, is that government communications were being triple-deleted because emails are new technology, and there is no consistent understanding among her staff on how to treat them. She followed Denham’s report with an order that all ministers and political staff must keep every email they send until new procedures are in place.
(It should be noted the premier has said her new no-delete policy won’t affect her, as she rarely uses email for government business.)
It is not surprising that many have trouble with Clark’s explanation. This is 2015, after all. Not 1995, nor even 2005. Many of us, by now, have mastered the concept of email. We might delete old correspondence. But most of us are not in government, with a responsibility to be able to produce key communications when asked.
Chances are that most private individuals do not employ a triple-delete protocol. We would do that only if… well, if we had something to hide.
And that is why Clark’s explanations won’t wash. Triple-deleting is the electronic equivalent of shredding documents. That it is being done on such a scale is disturbing. In the old, paper-trail days, such wilful destruction would have involved hundreds of truckloads of files being hauled to the incinerator.
Clark’s glib explanations show more than a troubling lack of understanding for the need for public trust and confidence. They show a contempt for the intelligence of the public itself.