Rachel Notley orders end to all government document shredding
Directive comes hours after privacy commissioner launched unprecedented investigation
May 13, 2015 3:03 PM MT
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All departments of the Alberta government have been ordered to immediately stop shredding documents, according to a spokeswoman for premier-designate Rachel Notley.
“At the request of the premier designate, the deputy minister of executive council has directed all departments to stop shredding until the new government assumes office,” Cheryl Oates said in a statement issued by Notley’s office on Wednesday afternoon.
The statement was issued hours after Alberta’s Information and Privacy Commissioner and the province’s Public Interest Commissioner held an unprecedented news conference to announce they have launched a joint investigation after receiving complaints that allege documents were improperly destroyed by the province’s department of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development.
Bags of shredded documents sit in a hallway at the Alberta legislature. (Edmonton Journal)
Jill Clayton, the Information and Privacy Commissioner, said her office has received letters of concern about the improper destruction of records during the transition period that followed the May 5 election, which ended a 44-year Progressive Conservative dynasty.
Never been here before
Clayton was asked whether she was surprised by the bags of shredded documents seen in the legislature hallways in recent days, or whether that was normal procedure during a change of government. “I’m not sure Alberta has been in this situation before,” she said. “So I don’t know to be able to say that this is typical.
“However, I would expect that when somebody is leaving office, that there will be a significant amount of records that will legitimately be destroyed.”
The investigation will try to find out whether any documents were improperly shredded.
The Freedom of Information and Privacy Act does not apply to the personal records of ministers, or an MLA’s correspondence with constituents, but does apply to departmental records and cabinet records, Clayton said.
Under FOIP legislation, she said, it is an offence to wilfully destroy records to evade an access request. The fine for that is $10,000 per offense.
May 12 whistleblower
Public Interest Commissioner Peter Hourihan said his office received a tip on May 12 from an anonymous whistleblower who alleged that some documents in the ESRD had been improperly destroyed.
Asked if his office has ever had similar complaints in the past, during a transition period, Hourihan said: “We’ve never had a transition period.”
No search and seizure powers
Asked if she has ordered the department to stop shredding records, Clayton said: “I don’t have search and seizure powers. I can’t go over there and stop everything from happening and take all the records away.
“They’re definitely aware of this investigation. We’ve pointed out again that there are offences for wilfully destroying records to evade access requests. I think it might be in everybody’s best interest that if there is some concern about the lawfulness of any destruction, that they would stop.”
Clayton put out a statement last week to remind government departments about the guidelines and rules for dealing with documents, and to ask anyone with information about improperly destroyed records to contact her office.
Truck filled with documents
One photo on Twitter showed bags of documents in the back of a pickup truck.
“I’m aware of that photograph,” Clayton said. “I don’t know what records those are, I don’t know whose truck that is.”
In order to prosecute any who improperly destroyed records, the investigation would have to meet the “threshold” to prove it was intentional, Clayton said.
“It has long been a challenge to move forward with offence prosecutions where there is that wilful element. That is the most difficult thing to establish in any of our offence investigations.”
The commissioners have the authority to go to IT people in the department and try to get original documents off computer servers. Clayton said she can compel departments to produce documents.
Clayton said the investigation could serve as a warning to other departments, and is intended to reassure the public that someone is looking into how documents have been handled.
I wonder who gave the order to shred documents was posted on Twitter
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