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Rights + Justice
BC Politics

NDP’s Sims Again Accused of Dodging of FOI Rules

Eby, Horgan pledge to respond to allegations from former employee.

By Andrew MacLeod 14 May 2019 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria and the author of All Together Healthy (Douglas & McIntyre, 2018). Find him on Twitter or reach him at

Allegations that B.C. Citizens’ Services Minister Jinny Sims has been trying to thwart the province’s freedom of information laws could make it difficult for her to stay in her position, BC Liberal House Leader Mary Polak said Monday.

“She is responsible for oversight of these very laws,” Polak said. “I can’t see how she could retain her ministerial position if these allegations are proved to be true.”

The BC Liberals released a letter written by a lawyer on behalf of Kate Gillie, who worked as a constituency assistant in Sims’s Surrey-Panorama MLA office from Jan. 8 to Feb. 22 in 2019.

The letter from Vancouver lawyer Donald Sorochan to Attorney General David Eby and others said that Gillie was prepared to swear under oath that Sims communicated with staff through iMessage, WhatsApp and a personal email address “and instructed me to only communicate using these methods in order to avoid her communication being captured by FOIPPA [Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy] law.”

Sims also routinely used iMessage, WhatsApp and her personal email address to conduct ministerial business, Sorochan’s letter said, quoting Gillie.

“Minister Jinny Sims explained to me that she only used her ministerial phone or email for routine tasks or conversations because ‘...I have to have something to show them.’ The ‘them’ she referred to were those members of the public, opposition or media who were making FOI requests for her communications.”

This is not the first time Sims has been accused of flouting the province’s FOI laws. A year ago Sims apologized for using her personal email address to contact staff in her ministry and Premier John Horgan’s office about government business.

Sims said Monday that she had set rules for staff.

“I absolutely am clear with my staff that government business is to be communicated with me on my government phone and they are not to use my government email to send me constituency stuff.”

She said she hadn’t seen the letter and was limited in what she could say in response. “This is an HR matter. I cannot get into the details for privacy reasons.”

Sorochan’s letter said Gillie isn’t seeking compensation for her dismissal.

In an interview, he said she is a highly principled person and his role was to help her organize what she had to say.

“Kate Gillie is an NDPer. She’s not got any axe to grind against the NDP,” he said. “She just thought it wasn’t right and she didn’t get any satisfaction going to any bureaucracies, so she asked me to write a letter, so I did.”

When the Liberals raised the issue in question period, both Horgan and Eby took questions on notice saying they would provide responses after seeing the letter.

Sorochan said Gillie only worked a few weeks in Sims’s constituency office, but had worked for other NDP officials and was known in the party, he said.

“It’s only fair to wait and see what the response is from the attorney general, from the premier and from [Sims],” he said. “This is a problem not unique to any party or any government. This business of not wanting to keep records that are available for FOI is applicable to probably every government everywhere.”

Polak said the allegations are serious.

“We believe the allegations... point to an attempt by the minister to thwart the freedom of information process,” she said. “The reason that someone, a minister, might choose to use or instruct their staff to use WhatsApp or private email or iMessage is because it’s much harder for opposition or anyone else to find out that those messages are there to request.”

The BC Liberal Opposition regularly makes requests for Sims’s email and other electronic communication, Polak said. “Over and over again the response we get, ‘no records.’”

The allegations should have been known to the government at least a couple of months ago, Polak said.

“As I understand it, the woman first approached one of our MLAs, who then advised that under the circumstances she should go seek legal counsel and she should also apprise the appropriate authorities of her allegations, which clearly from the letter she did.”

Sorochan said Gillie found him through her husband, who had been involved in a previous case he had worked on.

He said he was unhappy the letter had been released to the media.

“I find it kind of funny that I made a great point of not distributing it to the world and it gets out there anyway,” he said. “I told them not to distribute it, but if they did it anyways, I’ll be pissed off at them, but I can get over it.”  [Tyee]

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