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News

Liberal Aide Expected to Plead Guilty in Triple Delete Scandal

Chief of staff to Transport Minister Todd Stone charged with lying to cover up email deletions.

By Bob Mackin 13 Jul 2016 | TheTyee.ca

North Vancouver-based journalist Bob Mackin, a regular contributor to The Tyee, has reported for local, regional, national and international media outlets since 1990. Find his Tyee articles here.

A former aide to BC Liberal Transport Minister Todd Stone is expected to plead guilty Thursday in Victoria to charges that he lied under oath to the Information and Privacy Commissioner, according to court records.

George Gretes was charged March 11 with two counts under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The maximum penalty is $5,000 per count.

Gretes was charged after another former aide, Tim Duncan, went public with a complaint to then-commissioner Elizabeth Denham on May 28, 2015.

Duncan alleged that Gretes ordered him to delete email related to the Missing and Murdered Women's Inquiry that should have been disclosed to FOI requesters.

Denham investigated and released her damning Access Denied report last October. Her investigation confirmed Duncan's allegations.

Denham referred her report to the RCMP because Gretes had allegedly lied to her investigators under oath six times.

Gretes was Stone's ministerial assistant from July 2014 to October 2015, after spending 13 months as executive assistant to Finance Minister Mike de Jong. De Jong, who said earlier this year that he does not use email, is now the minister in charge of the government's centralized FOI office.

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. Southern is now operations director at the BC Liberals' provincial office.

The scandal became known as "Triple Delete" because Denham found the political appointees were deleting email from their mailboxes, trash folders and government servers, eliminating all records.

No punishment for deleting information

Duncan said the charges against Gretes leave important questions unanswered.

"It's been a long process, it's been on for months, over a year now," he told The Tyee. "If it went to trial, either way we wouldn't have had the questions answered that we want answered."

"This is just on the lying under oath. There was no punishment whatsoever for deleting anything." Gretes' appearance in Provincial Court comes the week after Denham finished her six-year term in B.C. to become the United Kingdom's information and privacy commissioner. B.C.'s acting commissioner is retired Telus chief compliance and privacy officer Drew McArthur.

Denham strongly advocated for a new "Duty to Document" law that would require the government to keep certain information. The BC Liberals began to proactively release some information, like calendars and no bid contracts, in May, but have not announced any proposed amendments to the law.

Gretes isn't the only BC Liberal facing charges.

Former multicultural ministry communications director Brian Bonney is scheduled to appear August 9 in Vancouver Provincial Court on a breach of trust charge related to the 2013 Quick Wins scandal.

BC Liberal executive director Laura Miller faces charges of breach of trust, mischief, mischief in relation to data and misuse of a computer system to commit mischief in Ontario from her time as deputy chief of staff to Ontario Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty. Her trial is scheduled for September 2017, four months after the B.C. election, but two months before the Ontario election.

The Liberals have recalled the legislature for July 25 to pass legislation to re-regulate real estate agents and allow the City of Vancouver to tax owners of vacant houses and apartments.

The party, which seeks re-election next May 9, is gearing up for a door-knocking spree across the province on Saturday, two days before the fifth anniversary of Clark's unfulfilled open government pledge.  [Tyee]

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