Delete this!: Notes on the B.C. government’s scandalous culture of cover-up

Most British Columbia voters breathed a big sigh relief last month, as the corrupt and discredited government of Stephen Harper was finally swept from office.

Now it may be time to set our collective sights on another right-wing government: the corporate backed B.C. Liberals’ administration. If an analogy between Ottawa’s Conservatives and Christy Clark’s crew in Victoria seems far fetched, it’s perhaps only because we have paid so little attention to the latter.

For nearly 15 years this provincial government has been ensconced in power, dishing out favours to their big business friends. Because they have changed leaders, wisely ridding themselves of the reviled Gordon Campbell after the HST debacle, we often forget how sclerotic the B.C. government really is.

“Triple deleting” – the Clark government’s M.O. | Photo by Matt McGee

“Triple deleting” – the Clark
government’s M.O. | Photo by Matt McGee

Despite the changes in personnel, this government’s mission has been rigidly focused since they first took power in 2001: to transfer as much wealth and power to corporate interests as possible, and to erode past gains won by social movements, like labour and environmentalists. Under Campbell, they barely disguised their robber baron character, ripping up union contracts and brazenly selling off B.C. Rail, breaking an election campaign promise that they wouldn’t. That privatization was so sketchy, the RCMP raided the legislature and top government aides faced serious charges. After that scare, they at least took more caution to cover their tracks, which brings us to the crisis Christy Clark is currently facing.

The B.C. Liberals, really a coalition of federal Tories and Grits, has for some time been operating at a Harper-esque level of opacity. The recent report from B.C.’s Privacy Commissioner makes this clear, and her findings and other clues leave little doubt that the government is intentionally keeping all of us in the dark. The Commissioner’s “investigators uncovered negligent searches for records, a failure to keep adequate email records, a failure to document searches and the willful destruction of records,” according to a report on Global TV. “In particular, the report highlights an access request filed with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure regarding meetings about missing women and the Highway of Tears.”

The Highway of Tears is a stretch of road, Highway 16, in northern B.C. where nearly 20 women and girls have disappeared in recent years. What possible reason would a government staffer have for expunging any record of information about this urgent and tragic matter. It’s almost unfathomable. It appears, however, that this wasn’t one rogue staffer, but rather that there is a culture of obfuscating and covering-up.

In fact the Privacy Commissioner’s report found evidence of a practice of “triple deleting” emails by employees in the premier’s office and at least two other government ministries.

“Double deleting” an email would be moving it to the Trash folder in your email and then emptying the Trash. A triple deletion requires an extra step of wiping out any back-up on the computer or network. It certainly doesn’t sound like an innocent method of saving hard drive space, that’s for sure. It sounds much more sinister than that.

The practice of “triple deleting” might even make the apparatchiks in Harper’s notoriously secretive PMO blush. It has extremely serious implications for democracy, including for the ability of journalists and various watchdog groups to do their jobs.

Among other things, it’s challenging for the Official Opposition in the Legislature to hold the government to account if there’s no record of what they’re up to. Last week, the Georgia Straight reported that the NDP is in the process of “collecting a growing body of evidence that proves a Liberal government practice of deleting emails was ‘systemic’ and explicitly for the purpose of preventing the release of information to the public.”

All this is highly relevant to the unresolved scandal of the 2012 wrongful dismissal of eight health researchers, one of whom, Roderick MacIsaac, committed suicide soon after his firing. The B.C. Liberals misled the public about an RCMP investigation into the matter, and we have still never really learned why they were fired in the first place, nor who really pulled the trigger. The government eventually apologized to the researchers and their families.

Speaking to CKNW last week, NDP critic Adrian Dix connected the two scandals, and argued all roads lead back to the premier herself:

“She appointed all these deputy ministers, and these are her senior political staff involved in these matters. There’s no buffer, this is the Premier in action. And these two scandals coming together show a contempt for the rights of the individuals involved and a contempt for the Freedom of Information laws of our province.”

The findings of the Privacy Commissioner are just the latest evidence it’s past time to delete the B.C. Liberal government.

With the next provincial election slated for May 2017, our big chance to move them to the Trash folder of history is just a year and a half away.

3 thoughts on “Delete this!: Notes on the B.C. government’s scandalous culture of cover-up

  1. Great column, Thank You! CBC radio one, The Current, noted there are 50 plus countries better than us in freedom to information from their government, Russia and Azerbaijan are better. Also much should simply be a matter of record that we must do an FOI. Ban blackberry accounts by govt officials.

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