The criminal investigation into a BC Liberal government official's alleged illegal deletion of emails moved a step forward today with the appointment of a special prosecutor.
"Greg DelBigio, Q.C. has been appointed ... to provide legal advice to the RCMP in relation to an investigation arising out of Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham's recent report to government," an announcement from the criminal justice branch of the ministry of justice said today.
In Access Denied: Record Retention and Disposal Practices of the Government of British Columbia Denham found that George Gretes, a ministerial assistant to Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Todd Stone, had likely deleted emails that were subject to a freedom of information request related to the Highway of Tears in northern B.C.
During Denham's investigation, Gretes at first denied having deleted the emails on former staffer Tim Duncan's computer, but later changed his story, Denham wrote. "The Commissioner has referred this case to the RCMP for investigation, including Gretes' failure to tell the truth under oath," her report said.
On Nov. 10 the RCMP requested the appointment of a special prosecutor and on Nov. 13 assistant deputy attorney general M. Joyce DeWitt-Van Oosten, Q.C. appointed DelBigio, according to the statement from the criminal justice branch.
Special prosecutors are independent from the government, justice ministry and criminal justice branch. The Crown Counsel Act allows for such an appointment "where some aspect of an investigation, or prosecution file, carries a significant potential for real or perceived improper influence in prosecutorial decision making."
DelBigio's role will include deciding whether or not to lay any charges based on the RCMP's report on its investigation when it is completed.
His practice in the Vancouver office of the tax law firm Thorsteinssons LLP focuses on defending individuals and corporations charged with criminal tax evasion, according to the firm's website. He also advises "clients upon strategies and remedies available against other investigation and enforcement measures such as audit powers, the execution of search warrants and the inspection and seizure of records."
The day Denham released Access Denied, Technology, Innovation and Citizens' Services Minister Amrik Virk said the government had accepted Gretes' resignation.
Denham's report detailed the deletion of emails in the transportation ministry alongside other examples of poor record management in the ministry of advanced education and in Premier Christy Clark's office.
"In the course of this investigation, we uncovered negligent searches for records, a failure to keep adequate email records, a failure to document searches, and the wilful destruction of records responsive to an access request," Denham said when she released the report. "Taken together, these practices threaten the integrity of access to information in British Columbia."
The issue dominated the fall sitting of the B.C. legislature, which ended two days ahead of schedule on Nov. 17.
NDP leader John Horgan said DelBigio's appointment comes just as another special prosecutor, David Butcher, wraps up his work on the investigation into the use of government resources to conduct outreach to multicultural voters. "This has become second nature for the BC Liberals," Horgan said. "We've been creating jobs for special prosecutors, lawyers and the RCMP."
The appointment of DelBigio is good news as it will bring openness and transparency to the government's actions, said Horgan. "It's bad news for the people of British Columbia if you assumed your government had integrity."
Read more: BC Politics
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