The article you just read was brought to you by a few thousand dedicated readers. Will you join them?

Thanks for coming by The Tyee and reading one of many original articles we’ll post today. Our team works hard to publish in-depth stories on topics that matter on a daily basis. Our motto is: No junk. Just good journalism.

Just as we care about the quality of our reporting, we care about making our stories accessible to all who want to read them and provide a pleasant reading experience. No intrusive ads to distract you. No paywall locking you out of an article you want to read. No clickbait to trick you into reading a sensational article.

There’s a reason why our site is unique and why we don’t have to rely on those tactics — our Tyee Builders program. Tyee Builders are readers who chip in a bit of money each month (or one-time) to our editorial budget. This amazing program allows us to pay our writers fairly, keep our focus on quality over quantity of articles, and provide a pleasant reading experience for those who visit our site.

In the past year, we’ve been able to double our staff team and boost our reporting. We invest all of the revenue we receive into producing more and better journalism. We want to keep growing, but we need your support to do it.

Fewer than 1 in 100 of our average monthly readers are signed up to Tyee Builders. If we reach 1% of our readers signing up to be Tyee Builders, we could continue to grow and do even more.

If you appreciate what The Tyee publishes and want to help us do more, please sign up to be a Tyee Builder today. You pick the amount, and you can cancel any time.

Support our growing independent newsroom and join Tyee Builders today.
Canada needs more independent media. And independent media needs you.

Did you know that most news organizations in Canada are owned by just a handful of companies? And that these companies have been shutting down newsrooms and laying off reporters continually over the past few decades?

Fact-based, credible journalism is essential to our democracy. Unlike many other newsrooms across the country, The Tyee’s independent newsroom is stable and growing.

How are we able to do this? The Tyee Builder program. Tyee Builders are readers who chip into our editorial budget so that we can keep doing what we do best: fact-based, in-depth reporting on issues that matter to our readers. No paywall. No junk. Just good journalism.

Fewer than 1 in 100 of our average monthly readers are signed up to be Tyee Builders. If we reach 1% of our readers signing up to be Tyee Builders, we could continue to grow and do even more.

If you appreciate what The Tyee publishes and want to help us do more, please sign up to be a Tyee Builder today. You pick the amount, and you can cancel any time.

Support our growing independent newsroom and join Tyee Builders today.
We value: Our readers.
Our independence. Our region.
The power of real journalism.
We're reader supported.
Get our newsletter free.
Help pay for our reporting.

An Unsung 2015 Newsmaker: The Delete Key

In BC and beyond, it became a sensation among politicians and staff.

By Bob Mackin 31 Dec 2015 |

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.

An emoji was the word of the year for Oxford Dictionaries in 2015. A suffix, -ism, got the nod from Merriam-Webster. But I'm going with Delete, or, more precisely, the Delete key, for the newsmaker of the year.

Consider what happened in British Columbia and beyond, as politicians and their staff were caught playing keep-away in novel fashion.

In February, Ontario Provincial Police court documents claimed 632,118 files from 20 computers were deleted in the premier's office that related to the Ontario government's decision to nix two gas-fired power plants. The decision may have helped save strategic seats in Mississauga and Oakville and helped Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty's 2011 minority election win. It also may have cost Ontarians $1 billion.

Correspondence between McGuinty's then chief of staff David Livingston and deputy chief of staff Laura Miller included musing about double-deleting email rather than letting it be caught in a freedom of information disclosure.

Miller worked in the BC Liberals' backroom in 2013, helping engineer Christy Clark's surprise upset of Adrian Dix and the BC NDP. She later became the party's executive director, but quit immediately after being charged this December with criminal offences over the deletion of computer files related to the gas plant scandal. Livingston was also charged. Both have strongly denied any wrongdoing; the allegations haven't been proven in court.

Miller's successor at BC Liberal headquarters? Evan Southern, Clark's freedom of information coordinator who used Post-It notes to track requests to the Premier's Office. Southern was mentioned by title, not name, in an explosive October report into the government's record-keeping practices by Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, which led to an RCMP investigation of George Gretes, an aide to Transport Minister Todd Stone.

Denham, tipped-off by whistleblower Tim Duncan, found that triple-deleting email was rampant in the executive branch. Clark's deputy chief of staff, Michele Cadario, had routinely deleted her email since day one in the job. Gretes, Denham alleged, lied under oath about deleting email that should have been released to FOI requesters.

NDP leader John Horgan pounced on the scandal and blasted Clark for what he called "a culture of deception, deceit and delete, delete, delete."

Clark responded by ordering staff to not delete their email. Denham's predecessor, David Loukidelis, was hired for $50,000 to produce a report that offered more recommendations, but was seemingly buried amid a parade of pre-Christmas government photo ops. Clark carefully said she accepted the recommendations, but will the BC Liberals take the next step and adopt or enact any as policy or law?

The City of Vancouver also wasn't immune to the delete button, as one of Denham's investigators confirmed in January that Mayor Gregor Robertson's chief of staff, Mike Magee, purged much of his email. Denham's office announced in November that Vancouver city hall was under an FOI compliance audit.

Delete goes global

In the United States, Barack Obama's 2009 swearing-in brought a government-wide transparency pledge. Ironically, the last National Freedom of Information Day of his presidency on March 16 coincided with the exemption of the White House's Office of Administration from federal FOI laws.

Or, as the USA Today's headline put it, "White House office to delete its FOIA regulations."

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office bowed to pressure and stopped automatically deleting 90-day-old emails in May. That's the good news. The bad news? Staff were allowed to delete messages manually as they please.

The Telegraph reported in June that the Delete key was well-used in the British bureaucracy. The Department of Energy and Climate Change began auto-deleting messages once they reached one year old. The Financial Times reported that Downing Street, headquarters for Prime Minister David Cameron, had been deleting three-month-old messages since 2004.

There were similar policies at the Department for International Development and the Cabinet Office. "If it was ephemeral, or it's already on file, don't clog up your PC with superfluous documents," said a 2004 guidance note from the Cabinet Office.

By August, an online service that archived deleted tweets by politicians in 35 countries was kaput. Twitter blocked the Open State Foundation from continuing Politwoops. All was not lost, however, as the foundation made available an archive of 1.1 million deleted tweets by 10,400 politicians over a five-year period.

"Even when tweets are deleted, it's part of parliamentary history," the foundation wrote in a statement. "This is not about typos, but it is a unique insight on how messages from elected politicians can change without notice."

Deleting, 2016 style

One political hopeful in Calgary likely wished she could've deleted some of her four-year-old tweets in time for the federal election. Ala Buzreba apologized for her angry 2011 tweets, such as "go blow your brains out you waste of sperm," but quit her Liberal campaign against incumbent Conservative Michelle Rempel.

The week before Christmas, MinnPost found that the land of 10,000 lakes might also be the land of empty email boxes. It reported on its largely futile request for two years of email between Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and his aides about a controversial sex offender program. "State policies allow employees -- from minor staffers all the way up to agency heads and the governor -- to delete those emails at their discretion."

Looking ahead to 2016, what will become of the Delete key and its most famous user?

Hillary Clinton wants to go from ex-First Lady to first female president. But her use of an FOI-evading private email server during her Secretary of State years continues to dog her bid for the Democratic nomination. She claimed she deleted 30,000 messages, but reports in September indicated the FBI was able to salvage many of them.

Since May, the end of each month has brought a new trove of court-ordered Clinton email releases. By the end of January 2016, some 55,000 pages will be available online.

Please note our comment threads will be closed Dec. 21 to Jan. 3 to give our moderators a well-deserved break. Happy holidays, readers.  [Tyee]


From Access Denied, the Oct. 22 investigation report by Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham.

"When a government employee deletes an email from his or her Inbox, Sent Items folder or a custom created folder, it normally moves to the Deleted Items folder.

"How long an email remains in the Deleted Items folder varies among employees. Some employees have their account configured so that emails remain in this folder until the employee takes further action to remove it. Others have settings whereby the Deleted Items folder is automatically expunged when the user shuts his or her device down, generally at the end of the workday. Still others have settings that allow for the retention of email in the Deleted Items folder for a set amount of time (14 days, for example).

"Whatever the case, when an email is expunged from the Deleted Items folder, this is referred to as a 'double delete.' Every employee must ultimately double delete emails because system administrators restrict the capacity of an employee's mailbox. Emails within the Deleted Items folder (together with emails in their Inbox, Sent Items folder or custom created folder) count against such storage. Once an employee double deletes items, these items no longer count against that individual's storage.

"When items are double deleted, they do not immediately disappear from the employee's email account. Double deleted items move to the Recover Deleted Items folder. Government has configured employee accounts to keep emails in the Recover Deleted Items folder for up to 14 days. During this period an employee can recover that email and return it to their Inbox if, for example, an email is accidentally deleted. If emails are not recovered within 14 days, the system is configured to automatically delete them. If those emails were not previously copied during a daily or monthly backup they will be permanently lost.

"While government's current configuration provides for emails to remain in the Recover Deleted Items folder for up to 14 days, an employee can shorten that time by opening the folder and manually deleting an email or emails at any time. Some employees refer to this as a 'triple delete.' Triple deleting an email completely expunges it from the government system, unless it was captured by a daily or monthly backup."

Share this article

The Tyee is supported by readers like you

Join us and grow independent media in Canada

Facts matter. Get The Tyee's in-depth journalism delivered to your inbox for free.


The Barometer

What Issue Is Most Important to You This Election?

Take this week's poll