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News

Former BC Gov't Official Charged in Connection to Triple Delete Scandal

George Gretes charged for 'willfully making false statements' to info and privacy commissioner.

By Bob Mackin and Andrew MacLeod 11 Mar 2016 | TheTyee.ca

North Vancouver-based journalist Bob Mackin has reported for local, regional, national and international media outlets since he began as a journalist in 1990.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria and the author of A Better Place on Earth: The Search for Fairness in Super Unequal British Columbia (Harbour Publishing, 2015). Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

A British Columbia government aide who lost his job for inappropriately deleting emails has been charged for lying while under oath.

George Gretes was a ministerial assistant to Todd Stone in the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.

"He is charged with two counts of willfully making false statements to mislead, or attempt to mislead, the Information and Privacy Commissioner (or another person), in performance of the duties, powers and functions of the Commissioner," said a March 11 statement from the province's Criminal Justice Branch.

The charges, approved by Special Prosecutor Mark Jetté, are under B.C.'s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The maximum penalty is $5,000 per count.

In her October 2015 report, Access Denied: Record Retention and Disposal Practices of the Government of British Columbia, information and privacy commissioner Elizabeth Denham found that Gretes 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.

Gretes is scheduled to appear in court in Victoria on April 20. The charges have not been proven in court.

'Little' has changed, says former staffer

Attorney General Suzanne Anton directed questions about the charges to the Criminal Justice Branch. "As this matter is now the subject of an ongoing prosecution, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the specifics," she said.

In a teleconference with reporters, NDP leader John Horgan said the issue "starts right at the top."

"Mr. Gretes was hired by the cabinet, by [Premier Christy] Christy, to do the business of the people of B.C., not to mislead the statutory authorities, not to mislead the public of B.C., but to work on behalf of the public," he said.

Former staffer Duncan went public on May 28, 2015, claiming that Gretes had grabbed the computer keyboard from him and deleted messages. Denham's investigation supported Duncan's allegations.

Denham also found Clark's deputy chief of staff Michele Cadario and issues management director Evan Southern, and Nick Facey, chief of staff for Citizens' Services Minister Amrik Virk, had breached the FOI law.

In an interview, Duncan said he had "mixed feelings" about the charges.

"The process is working," Duncan said. "I just wish something would be done on the actual deletion side, on the fact the government has a culture that allows staffers to delete all their emails every night and very little has been done to change that. The voters need to wake up and look at this."  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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