Shredding ban in environment department still in place, Notley says by Mariam Ibrahim, January 7, 2016, Edmonton Journal in Calgary Herald
Premier Rachel Notley said Friday a shredding ban in the environment department will remain in place until she’s confident the ministry has enacted stronger records management policies. Notley made the comments one day after a provincial watchdog investigation into the destruction of government documents in the days after the spring 2015 election found widespread confusion and no oversight over Alberta’s records management policies.
“Now what we’ll be looking at is … how do we incorporate recommendations from the commissioners’ report, and once those are clearly in place and we’re confident that they’re being acted on, then the moratorium will be lifted.”
She said her government has already introduced some changes, included better training and a team of people to ensure compliance with existing and new policies. … Former Tory MLA Kyle Fawcett, the environment minister at the time, was not interviewed for the investigation. Clayton said nobody interviewed in the investigation indicated they received any instruction from the former minister to improperly destroy any documents.
FUNNY ARTICLE! The PCs shredded for days, but we don’t know what they shredded, so it’s all good by Don Braid, January 7, 2016, Calgary Herald
The great shredding began only hours after the great shaming — the defeat of Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives last May 5.
By 9 a.m. the next morning, the mechanical paper-chewers were humming in many ministerial offices in the legislature. More ominously, it was also happening deep in a government department, Environment and Sustainable Development.
Bags of shredded paper appeared in hallways. Reporters aimed their cellphones and the images went viral — the shabby symbols of a regime defeated after more than 43 years in office.
What wasn’t recorded was the tremendous tension between government staffers and NDP operatives who were already in the building, in some case demanding access to ministerial offices.
There were arguments and even a couple of standoffs. The staffers said that the NDP had no right to enter. Jim Prentice remained premier, and the PCs the government, until the New Democrats were sworn in May 24.
The orgy of shredding went on for days, with virtually no management control.
That fact is now confirmed through a dual investigation by the commissioners of privacy and public interest, both of whom were appointed by the PCs, not the New Democrats.
On Thursday they said: “There is no internal oversight or control over the destruction of records in the government of Alberta, and no sanctions or consequences for contravention of the Records Management Regulation.”
That was the case in normal times, when documents would be routinely shredded according to schedules.
These times were wildly abnormal. The PCs had four decades of clutter in front of them, often with no clue about what mouldy embarrassments might be hiding in the piles.
Nobody seemed to be in charge. Prentice wasn’t there. Mike Percy, his chief of staff, had already abruptly retired and headed to British Columbia. What authority there was fell to a deputy chief of staff who wasn’t even sure he had the legal right to use it.
Percy had sent out a memo, reminding everyone that only documents of transitory importance could be destroyed. To this day, former staffers get indignant at the mere suggestion they would do anything improper.
But thousands upon thousands of documents went into the grinder. And the commissioners found there was a very weak understanding in government of what could properly be eradicated, and what couldn’t.
In the Environment Department offices, a long way from the cellphone cameras, the commissioners found that “344 boxes of executive records were destroyed between May 1 and May 13.”
There was no departmental control over the mass cull, they say. Even senior records officers had “little or no direct involvement in the management of records.” Really now?
The report seems to be edging toward serious business. But then, everything falls through one of those bureaucratic trap doors that make bureaucrats and politicians almost invulnerable in this country.
“Without any oversight over the destruction of records, the investigation was unable to conclude whether the records were destroyed in contravention of the Records Management Regulation,” says the report.
The PCs actually elude any consequence because they destroyed the evidence without recording what evidence they destroyed. Appallingly bad management — or conveniently refusing to manage at all — can be its own reward.
It would be fascinating indeed to know what was in those boxes.
The little rump of the PC caucus, deeply relieved that no actual wrongdoing was proved, acknowledged quickly that “there was a lot of confusion and misunderstanding by staff.” Those darned employees, shredding for fun.
The Wildrose opposition, which is ardently courting Progressive Conservative support these days, doesn’t even mention the former government in a news release.
Instead, it notes that “many of the same key civil servants are in place that oversaw these egregious mistakes.” The dastardly NDP must solve this problem.
In Alberta, there’s even a shredder down the rabbit hole. [Emphasis added]
Document shredding rules not followed after Alberta election, investigation finds by Jode Sinnemia, January 6, 2015, Edmonton Journal in Calgary Herald
The government’s record management system lacks accountability and oversight, with little ability to spot improper actions or level sanctions when policies are violated, says an investigation into document shredding by the government of Alberta.
A joint investigation by Alberta’s information and privacy commissioner Jill Clayton and public interest commissioner Peter Hourihan discovered no one was monitoring or reviewing how records were being destroyed at Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development after the May provincial election. Following the stunning loss of the Progressive Conservatives, photos of bags of shredded documents lining legislature halls and piled in minister’s offices appeared on social media. One whistleblower complained, alleging illegal shredding in the environment department, sparking the investigation.
On Thursday, the investigation revealed rules weren’t followed when 344 boxes of department records were destroyed. Few safeguards were in place to make sure master copies weren’t deleted in place of secondary copies. Scheduled records destruction took place that contradicted approval.
“The investigation found that the Government of Alberta’s records management program lacks accountability,” reads the investigation report. “There is no internal oversight or control over the destruction of records in the Government of Alberta and no sanctions or consequences for contravention of the (Records Management) Regulation.”
While the investigation found no evidence that records were destroyed to evade a request for information, it determined some Service Alberta officials had a “serious misunderstanding” on how to apply parts of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to those requests, raising questions about how the office responded.
The investigation made 16 recommendations, including the need to identify gaps and clarify policies on how documents should be saved or shredded. It suggested Service Alberta and the Provincial Archives of Alberta monitor reporting requirements. Operational records schedules should be available to the public online. Consequences and sanctions should be set for those found to have destroyed or handled records improperly.
“Robust and accountable records management programs are critical to ensure Albertans can exercise their access to information rights,” said information and privacy commissioner Jill Clayton in a written statement. “This investigation found there was confusion about the rules guiding records management, and there were no consequences for not following rules.” [Alberta’s Big Oil Advantage!]
While allegations of wrongdoing were unfounded under the whistleblower legislation, public interest commissioner Peter Hourihan said, “Ultimately, the opportunity to investigate the allegation provided faith in the legislation that whistleblowers are protected when they bring forward concerns to my office.” [Emphasis added]
Ed Henderson · Uk
There is little doubt in my mind that any records that might have caused even slight embarrassment to the outgoing politicians and their minions were quickly shredded despite any rules that were in place to prevent it.
Document shredding rules not followed after Alberta election, investigation finds by Jodie Sinnema and Miriam Ibrahim, Edmonton Journal, January 6, 2016, Calgary Herald
Nobody was in charge as the shredders were whirring in the days after the Tory government was toppled in Alberta’s May election, a provincial watchdog investigation revealed Thursday.
The glaring lack of oversight and accountability over the shredding of government documents — some of which might never be recovered — was outlined in the stunning 35-page investigative report released jointly by information and privacy commissioner Jill Clayton and public interest commissioner Peter Hourihan.
“There’s a lack of support, there’s a lack of monitoring and there are no consequences,” said Clayton.
… In particular, 344 boxes of high-level briefing notes, working papers and committee records were improperly destroyed on May 6, 2015 – one day after the Progressive Conservative government went down in defeat against Rachel Notley’s New Democrats.
Clayton said Thursday those records – the contents of which remain unknown – will likely never be recovered and could mean important information was lost forever.
[Important relevant documents that were to be filed in document exchange in the Ernst lawsuit?
The all important baseline water testing data that Encana refuses to disclose in their document exchange, and that Ernst has tried since 2007 to get via FOIPs to Alberta Environment and the Alberta Research Council?
The Information Commissioner’s Office ordered the records released to Ernst in April 2012. Alberta Environment refused, claiming solicitor client privilege even though none of the records ordered released were on the Ernst water well:
“I’m not going to speculate that it was an intentional effort to hide something,” she said. “Certainly we’ve commented in the report that the timing of the destruction of records will definitely raise some questions.”
… The investigation found few safeguards were in place to make sure documents were being either destroyed or retained appropriately. Senior records officers in the environment department “by their own admissions, had little or no direct involvement in the management of records in the Minister’s office,” reads the report.
“Confusion” and “inconsistency” ruled. Some officials described an online records tracking system as a “dog’s breakfast.”
“Everything is obscure. Nothing is clear,” Clayton said of the maze of overlapping and sometimes contradictory rules and policies regulating document retention.
She said she was concerned that some Service Alberta officials had a “serious misunderstanding” about how to apply parts of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to those requests. Overall, the system has hinged on a “culture of obscurity,” the report notes.
The report includes 16 recommendations for stronger oversight, clearer policies and consequences for any violations.
Service Alberta Minister Danielle Larivee said she was “very disappointed” in the investigation’s findings, adding the NDP government began making changes to the records management system soon after taking office.
New employees in the offices of all ministers and deputy ministers were given additional training, rules on record-keeping were tightened up and a new compliance unit was created, she said.
“It is a mess and we will be cleaning it up.”
… Further investigation is needed, said Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark.
“Which files were destroyed, can any of them be recovered, which FOIP requests were not completed and, if they were not completed, can they be reopened and completed?” [Like Ernst’s?] Clark asked. “It’s deeply troubling.”
Clayton said her office is currently considering its next steps, which could include another investigation.
Interim Liberal leader David Swann said Albertans should be outraged the Tories won’t face strict penalties for destroying or mishandling information. [Emphasis added]
Shredfest2015: Lots of confusion, no oversight, penalties on Alberta government document shredding by Matt Dykstra, January 7, 2016, Edmonton Sun
A Rip N Shred truck with the slogan “Better shred than read”, is loaded outside of the Alberta Legislature, in Edmonton, Alta. on Wednesday May 13, 2015. Catherine Griwkowsky/Edmonton Sun
Confusion, ignorance and a lack of oversight resulted in hundreds of boxes of high-level Alberta government documents being improperly and permanently destroyed without consequence following the 2015 election, an investigation revealed Thursday.
Following complaints received last May about the destruction of government records in Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD), a joint investigation by Alberta Information and Privacy Commissioner Jill Clayton and Public Interest Commissioner Peter Hourihan found the destruction of 344 boxes of ESRD executive records “was not in compliance with the rules” and there was no monitoring of post-election shredding in the minister’s office.
“There is no internal oversight or control over the destruction of records in the Government of Alberta and no sanctions or consequences for contravention of the (records management) regulation,” reads part of the report released Thursday.
The records were destroyed on May 6, 2015 — one day after the May 5 election that saw the Alberta NDP seize power — and included “working papers, meeting notes, correspondence, day files, and action requests” related to litigation, legislation and cabinet decisions in the offices of the ESRD Minister and Deputy Minister, with some files going back as far as 1981.
Investigators were unable to determine what documents were destroyed and why they were but contrary to the whistleblower complaints, found “no evidence that records were destroyed with the intent to evade an access request.
The investigation revealed the 11 records retention schedules in the department were “confusing, overlapping and difficult to apply.” Service Alberta officials also had a “serious misunderstanding” of how freedom of information legislation is applied to records the in the Action Request Tracking System (ARTS) database that tracks ministerial correspondence.
Frustrated staff described the ARTS system as a “dog’s breakfast” of various documents resulting in “a huge hole” in the system, said Clayton. The report shows senior records officers felt they had no ability to act unless “something blows up.”
“Everything is obscure. Nothing is clear,” said Clayton, noting the “easy application is lost in this maze of retention schedules.”
The commissioners recommended the government clarify all policies, identify gaps in procedure, better train staff, make all records schedules available online and “ensure there are consequences” for the improper destruction of documents.
Service Alberta Minister Danielle Larivee said the government is already “tightening up” the rules for record keeping in ministers’ offices, held additional training for staff and established a compliance unit to ensure records kept properly going forward.
Service Alberta Minister Danielle Larivee: “The issues pointed to today clearly indicate there was bad-record keeping on behalf of the previous government…We are very dissappointed that documents were shredded innappropriately and more so, it is very unfortunate that a number of documents we can’t identify…It is a mess and we will be cleaning it up.”
Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark: “This report raises several questions that merit deeper investigation. Albertans deserve to know which files were destroyed and whether some can be recovered. I would also like to know how many FOIP requests were not completed, and to see those requests reopened.” [Ernst’s FOIP request for Alberta Environment water testing records used by the Alberta Research Council remains incomplete]
Wildrose accountability critic Jason Nixon: “The results of this investigation are sobering. They show that there are serious misunderstandings about the application of FOIP and very little adherence to Alberta’s already weak records management policies…Improper destruction of records goes against the heart of an open and accountable government.”
Liberal Leader David Swann: “Albertans should be outraged the PCs were able to shred hundreds of boxes of documents in contravention of their own Records Management Regulation – with no consequences. The bottom line is that there needs to be serious consequences for those who wilfully destroy or mishandle information in their care or control.” [Emphasis added]
Did Encana, the AER, PC Alberta Environment Minister, PC Alberta Justice Minister, PC Energy Minister, Harper and Prentice governments order the destruction of files important to Alberta’s drinking water and the ernstversusencana lawsuit?
Investigation launched into shredding of documents by Vauxhall Advance, May 21, 2015
It was snowing in Edmonton last week, but it wasn’t precipitation falling from the sky.
Reams and reams of shredded government documents from over the course of the former PC government’s 44 year reign piled up outside the legislature in the wake of the NDP win.
And now some of those shredded documents have come under the closer scrutiny of the Privacy and Public Interest Commissioners.
The commissioners announced a joint investigation into the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development last Wednesday after a receiving a whistleblower tip from a ministry insider claiming improper document shredding, skullduggery and cover up.
None of these accusations have been proven, and the investigation will likely take several months to complete, but it would be surprising if there wasn’t some truth to the claims.
A government which has been in power as long as the former one must have had more than its fair share of skeletons in the closet.
[Need to shred because the water contaminating skeletons sneaked out of the Tory cover-up closet?
Theresa Watson was on the Alberta Energy Regulator Board from 2009, when she was appointed, to 2013, when it seems she was replaced by Elizabeth Dowdeswell, President of the Council of Canadian Academies (2010 to current) that did the shoddy, most important evidence and data avoiding frac review.
Records of backroom deals, of favours done and received, and formerly suppressed information which would make the government look bad if it were to see the light of day.
It’s also not surprising the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development would be caught up in such tawdry allegations.
Accused by environmental activists of being little more than a rubber stamp institution for Alberta’s energy sector for decades, the Ministry has frequently been subjected to harsh questions about oil sands development, environmental health and public safety in Alberta which it has had difficulty answering.
One lawsuit, for example, currently before the court alleges the Ministry failed to make a proper investigation when fracking released hazardous amounts of methane, ethane and other chemicals into a well on a property near Rosebud, north of Calgary.
The claimant, Jessica Ernst, won the right to sue the ministry, Alberta’s Energy Regulator and Encana for $33 million last November.
While the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development is the first to receive closer scrutiny under the new NDP government, it will likely not be the last.
There is always a certain amount of cronyism in any government, but the longer said government stays in power the larger the web of favours asked and received which binds insider interests together, sometimes to the detriment of the larger public good.
However, Premier-designate Notley is too good a politician to push too hard and too fast until she has managed her transition into power, received all the keys that go with her office, and consolidated her own base of support within the government.
She also has to put out a new budget for the province as her first priority before other matters can be considered.
After that, expect more stones in Edmonton to be overturned to see what crawls out. It isn’t likely to warm and fluffy. [Emphasis added]
It was Prentice’s duty to halt shredding by Mike Priaro, Calgary, May 16, 2015, Calgary Herald
Re: “Duty to document,” Editorial, May 15, and “A once-great dynasty shreds itself,” Don Braid, Opinion, May 14.
Your editorial chides Rachel Notley for waiting until Wednesday to halt shredding of government documents after several whistle-blowing complaints were made.
Don Braid points out it is still Jim Prentice’s government, technically and legally. While the shredding may be halted, maybe Prentice’s shirking continues.
It was Prentice’s duty to halt shredding by Art and Jenny Barrett, Dalemead, May 16, 2015, Calgary Herald
Kudos to Greg Clark for wanting to stop the shredding of documents or erasing of computer files. Even if these people are not destroying evidence of wrongdoing, they can be making it unnecessarily difficult for the new government to begin work. It should be understood that in the event of a change in government, it is someone’s duty to have all records immediately secured.
In private enterprise, when an employee is terminated, they are escorted to pick up their personal effects and off the property. They have absolutely no access to computers or paper files and shredders. What is happening in Edmonton looks a little Third World.
Duty to document by Calgary Herald Editorial Board, May 15, 2015
Reports that documents are being shredded as the NDP prepares to form government after 44 years of Progressive Conservative rule are disturbing. With few exceptions, the documents belong to Albertans, and it would be an injustice if they were destroyed to avoid casting successive Tory administrations in a bad light, or perhaps to make the transition to Rachel Notley’s New Democrat government less seamless.
The potential loss of sensitive and important files was raised soon after the May 5 election by Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark when photographs appeared on social media and in newspapers of bags of shredded documents in the legislature hallways.
“I really want to know what they are destroying, because I have a strong feeling that after 44 years, there’s a lot of skeletons in those closets,” Clark said.
It wasn’t until Wednesday that Notley ordered a ban on destroying documents after two public watchdogs announced a joint investigation earlier in the day. Public interest commissioner Peter Hourihan said he received a complaint Tuesday from a whistleblower alleging records were inappropriately destroyed at Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development. Privacy commissioner Jill Clayton said she received two “letters of concern” about the shredding, one which named the environment ministry specifically.
The public fashion with which Hourihan and Clayton launched their investigation should serve as a warning that those found guilty of destroying records in contravention of regulations could face dismissal, prosecution, or both.
“Our office takes allegations of wrongdoing very seriously,” Hourihan said Wednesday. “I can’t and won’t predict the outcome of this investigation, but it is encouraging that someone saw something wrong and took their concerns to both our offices.”
A spokesperson for the environment ministry pledges the agency will “fully co-operate with the investigation,” and it’s to be hoped any wrongdoers who are found are punished, and that the shredding stops. More can be done, however. Clayton has spoken in the past about government’s duty to document, noting that access to files means precious little if decisions are made verbally, and the steps that led to the action aren’t recorded and kept.
Clayton recommended in her 2013-14 annual report that a statutory framework for records management should be put in place that compels public bodies to “document their decisions, actions, advice, recommendations and deliberations” and “ensure that all records are covered in records retention and disposition schedules.”
If her advice is heeded, it will be much less likely that public records are imperilled as politicians change seats and the reins of power are handed over to a new crew. Notley can add such safeguards to her growing to-do list.
A once-great dynasty shreds itself by Don Braid, May 14, 2015, Calgary Herald
Bags of shredded papers lie inside the common area of the Minister of Energy and Minister of Infrastructure offices. Photo by Shaughn Butts
What an ignoble exit. Such a shabby segue into obscurity. Silent and pouty, the Progressive Conservatives leave one final image behind after nearly 44 years of government.
Clear plastic bags bloated with paper strips in legislature hallways, the unreadable debris of a frantic cleanout in the first three days after the May 5 election defeat.
It started only hours after the results were known. Shredding was Job 1, before dealing with disoriented staff, helping the new government with transition, even shutting down the coffee machine.
All the nervous jokes about shredding trucks and the Vatican chimney suddenly seem to close to the truth to be funny.
Even more ominous is what we don’t see. There are apparently credible allegations of shredding and record destruction in at least one government department, Environment and Sustainable Resource Development.
This would have happened away from the legislature, far from reporters and their cellphone cameras. If it went on in one department, many more could be involved.
Departmental documents are not the “transitory” ministerial kind that may be destroyed under already-lax rules the PCs created for themselves.
Departmental material involves real actions and policies. Such documents are proof of things the government did, or didn’t do, but may not want you and the new NDP government to know about.
The suspicions now go far beyond the sight of shredding bags and complaints from Greg Clark, the Alberta Party MLA-elect.
Two officers of the legislature – the information and public interest commissioners – say they have whistleblower reports from inside government. They feel these are detailed and credible enough to merit the first dual-commission inquiry in memory.
Environment Minister Kyle Fawcett, who lost his riding, hasn’t been reachable for comment. In fact, the Tories have mostly been silent.
But these people are still the government of Alberta. Fawcett remains the minister. The PCs have authority, as well as a responsibility to explain themselves.
It wasn’t premier-designate Rachel Notley’s job to order a halt to all shredding. She did it Wednesday in the absence of any public word from Premier Jim Prentice, who is still officially responsible for every action of the caretaker government.
(Wildrose Leader Brian Jean’s criticism of Notley for not acting quickly enough is the only case I can recall of a political leader being blasted for the actions of somebody else’s government.)
Prentice hasn’t said a public word since election night except “it’s a beautiful day.” But he will speak Thursday night — at a PC party fundraiser.
In the face of silence about shredding, we’re entitled to wonder what’s going on. Could it relate to lax oilsands monitoring? Higher emissions than reported? Something about the eternally stalled climate-change policy? Further evidence of a sweetheart golf course deal?
We just don’t know. And maybe we never will, if certain environment department documents and e-records no longer exist.
Notley says Prentice has been helpful with the transition. This is surely true. But decision-making of the kind needed here has gone missing, along with top people.
Mike Percy, Prentice’s chief of staff, left his office a week ago, apparently for the last time. This was said to be pre-arranged — win or lose, he wouldn’t be chief of staff any longer.
Percy had sent an email to staff asking that all procedures regarding documents be respected. Like many others in this failing operation, he’s an honourable person.
But when he left, there was little sense of direction at the political level.
Prentice came to office last fall on a promise of accountability, transparency, integrity — all those modern buzzwords that can mean everything, or nothing.
At the very end, they didn’t seem to mean much.
But the party moves on to what it’s always done so well: the money thing, holding a dinner for $500-a-plate donors, and surely happy to get one more in before the NDP and Wildrose unite to ban all corporate and union donations.
The PCs were often brilliant in their earlier days and highly competent in many later ones.
Over five decades the words Progressive Conservative came to define the province itself. This party hauled Alberta out of obscurity to fame, and sometimes notoriety, that extends far beyond Canada.
The earlier glories make the end even more pathetic. Thousands of lingering PC loyalists and volunteers, some involved for much of a lifetime, have every right to bitter dismay. [Emphasis added]
Warning issued to staff busy shredding government documents by Graham Thomson, May 14, 2015, Edmonton Journal
Ah, the signs of spring at the Alberta legislature after a historic election.
The reflecting pool filled with water, the smell of freshly cut grass, the sound of the paper shredder.
Not a loud noise, mind you, more like a hum coming from the offices of the defeated Progressive Conservative cabinet ministers. It is the Muzak of the transition of power playing in the background as we, politically speaking, are stuck between floors.
Since the election, bags of shredded documents have been piling up in the hallways of the legislature before being carted out the back door for final disposal.
Shredding at the Legislature is not unprecedented. Over the years, we have seen the invasion of the industrial shredding companies after PC leadership races when cabinet ministers who backed the wrong horse had to clean out their offices.
Ministers are allowed to shred documents that are copies, or are of a purely personal nature or are deemed to be “transitory” with no legal, financial or long-term value.
In the past they have shredded with abandon.
But this time is different, of course. For the first time in four decades we are dealing not just with a transition of politicians but a transition of government. In that light, the shredding of documents looks suspicious if not downright sinister. That’s why photographs of recycling bags filled with documents-turned-confetti have gone viral on social media and raised both eyebrows and hackles.
And it’s why on Wednesday two of Alberta’s public commissioners held an unprecedented joint news conference to announce an investigation into allegations of illegal shredding of documents at Alberta Environment.
“We received an anonymous complaint,” said Public Interest Commissioner Peter Hourihan. Privacy Commissioner Jill Clayton said her office received two letters about shredding, one specifically naming Alberta Environment.
Both said the complaints did not contain proof that any shredding was improper or illegal but the commissioners jumped into action nevertheless. It’s apparently not unusual for the two to help each other with investigations but it’s most unusual for them to hold a news conference to kick off an investigation.
They are perhaps besmirching the reputation of the folks over at Alberta Environment. [What reputation?] Why not carry out the investigation quietly to find out if anything improper is going on before going public?
“It’s an opportunity to educate government departments,” said Clayton. “The fact that we are investigating might serve to encourage others who have evidence to come forward.”
Clayton said she was also sending a message to the public: “This is an opportunity to bring these issues to the forefront to reassure the public perhaps that there are rules in place, that the rules are expected to be followed, that there is some oversight.”
But the news conference was really about sending a message to government workers. When Clayton said she wanted to “educate” she meant “warn.”
Wednesday’s news conference was a shot across the bow of government departments, letting them know that if they have improperly shredded documents, or are thinking about it, they face an investigation — and if found guilty could be fined up to $100,000.
When reporters asked Alberta Environment officials for reaction, a spokesperson would only say they have done nothing improper and would co-operate with the investigation but would not say if they would stop destroying documents.
Clayton and Hourihan don’t have the power to stop shredding.
However, realizing something foul might be afoot, Premier-designate Rachel Notley got involved. Even though she is not yet premier and has no authority over the outgoing government, she approached the province’s top civil servant, Richard Dicerni, for help.
On Wednesday Dicerni issued an order directing “all departments to stop shredding until the new government assumes office.”
So, to the new NDP government’s list of things to do when it takes office add this: go through every piece of paper and every bit of computer data whether it’s crucial, interesting or a note reminding a former minister of an upcoming golf game.
You have to imagine there’s payoff to all the extra work — maybe a paper trail showing where a skeleton or two is buried. Or, given that the PCs were in power for 44 years, the New Democrats might discover a veritable catacomb under the Legislature.
Photos of shredded documents in Legislature Building prompt fears of PC document destruction spree by David J. Climenhaga, May 14, 2015, rabble.ca
If serious document destruction has actually been taking place in Alberta, chances are good it happened well before Albertans marked their ballots, let alone before their votes were counted. For one thing, if the outgoing Progressive Conservative government led by Jim Prentice had access to quality public opinion polling — as it most certainly did — it would have been pretty obvious to it a few days before May 5 what was going to transpire on that day, and that the likely beneficiary would be Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party.
For another, nowadays documents are not destroyed with paper shredders as effectively as with their digital equivalents — giant horseshoe magnets or something. Just the same, it was the sight of bags of shredded documents in the hallways of the Legislature Building that seems to have set off a flurry of activity yesterday, with Alberta’s Freedom of Information Commissioner Jill Clayton and Public Interest Commissioner Peter Hourihan holding a joint news conference in the morning to say they’d be investigating complaints that records were being improperly destroyed at Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development.
For her part, Premier Designate Notley asked the province’s top civil servant to order a halt to all document destruction forthwith. The facts the photos were circulating on social media and the public is in a cynical and distrustful mood about the outgoing PCs spurred everyone to respond to the reports with a certain amount of gravitas. Seriously, though, with the PCs securely in power for close to half a century, you can count on it that some of the most outrageous deals were done with a nudge, a wink and no written records whatsoever — over gins and tonics in the clubhouses of pricey Rocky Mountain golf resorts and the like.
So it was a bit unrealistic for incoming Wildrose Opposition Leader Brian Jean to bleat that Notley didn’t act quickly enough when the official final vote counts won’t even be completed and announced until tomorrow.
Then again, you can hardly blame the Wildrosers for trying to establish the narrative that they’re on the ball, looking out for Alberta taxpayers, while getting us to forget that their caucus has about the same proportion of inexperienced MLAs as that of the new government.
Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark, that party’s only MLA, joined in too, having already told the media he’d be submitting numerous Freedom of Information and Privacy information requests in hopes of stopping the shredding, not that it’s clear how that would stop a determined document destroyer.
Voters can take comfort from the facts everyone — except perhaps the small Legislative cadre of PC survivors — is anxious to uncover as much Tory dirt as possible from the past 44 years, and moreover that there’s too much stuff that happened over a span of time that long for all records to have been destroyed in a few days.
If the Notley Government wants advice on where to start looking, it could always call the CBC’s estimable investigative journalist Charles Rusnell, who has made a career of uncovering records the former government would have been just as happy to leave undisturbed.
Notley bans destruction of all government documents by Mariam Ibrahim, May 13, 2015, Edmonton Journal
Premier-designate Rachel Notley on Wednesday ordered a sweeping ban on document destruction across all ministries after two government watchdogs launched an unprecedented investigation into Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development.
Notley has asked Richard Dicerni, deputy minister of executive council, to direct all government departments to immediately stop destroying records until the incoming NDP government has assumed office, a spokeswoman said.
“It was out of an abundance of caution today,” Cheryl Oates said. “Obviously, there are a lot of documents that need to be preserved to ensure the smooth transition of government.”
Public Interest commissioner Peter Hourihan said a whistleblower phoned in a complaint to his office Tuesday alleging records were inappropriately destroyed at Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD). “Our office takes allegations of wrongdoing very seriously,” Hourihan said. “I can’t and won’t predict the outcome of this investigation, but it is encouraging that someone saw something wrong and took their concerns to both our offices.”
While the complaint was anonymous, he said he was led to believe it came from someone who works in the ministry.
Privacy commissioner Jill Clayton said she has received two “letters of concern” about the shredding. One specifically named ESRD, prompting the joint investigation, she added.
The mass shredding of documents at the legislature has become the subject of widespread scrutiny after Alberta’s 44-year Progressive Conservative government was defeated by the NDP in the May 5 election. Photos of bags of shredded documents piled in the legislature hallways and trucks hauling the bags away have proliferated on social media, prompting Clayton’s office to weigh in last week.
The investigation will examine whether the ministry destroyed records according to the rules, if any person wilfully altered, falsified or concealed any record, or directed another person to do so. It could include office visits, staff interviews and examining documents. It will also strive to uncover which documents have been destroyed and whether it was the act of one person or a concerted effort.
Neither Clayton nor Hourihan have the authority to order ministries to stop shredding. Both said other government departments could come under investigation if warranted.
Katrina Bluetchen, a spokeswoman for the ministry of environment, said it will “fully co-operate with the investigation.”
Wildrose Opposition leader Brian Jean said the incoming NDP government should have halted the shredding sooner.
“It might be too late to close the corral after the horses have already left the barn,” said Jean.
While government staff are expected to follow provincial rules for records management, no formal process exists to oversee the destruction of documents.
Under provincial law, ministries should have a records management program that establishes rules for the retention, destruction or archiving of public records. However, the privacy commissioner can’t approve or change these programs, or ensure they are being enforced.
A memo reminding staff to adhere to those rules was issued shortly after the election by outgoing Premier Jim Prentice’s chief of staff, Mike Percy.
The destruction of records isn’t uncommon in government, but it does happen on a greater scale following an election or cabinet shuffle.
Rules for document retention say “transitory” records in a minister’s office can and should be regularly discarded.
That includes documents of minor importance or drafts and working papers that likely won’t have any long-term value.
Documents related to a cabinet portfolio are considered property of the Crown and should be treated differently.
Under the province’s freedom of information law, it is an offence to destroy records to evade requests for documents and could result in a fine of up to $10,000.
The province’s whistleblower protection law sets fines of up to $25,000 for anyone who makes a false statement, destroys or conceals documents or obstructs an investigation. The fine increases to $100,000 for a second offence.
Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark has filed a series of freedom of information requests to all government departments asking for copies of any shredded documents and deleted electronic files. He hoped the move would halt the destruction of records.
Notley halts all document shredding as watchdog probes ‘improper’ destruction by Matt McClure, May 13, 2015, Calgary Herald
Premier-designate Rachel Notley ordered a halt to all document shredding at Alberta government offices Wednesday after the province’s information and public interest watchdogs launched a joint investigation into allegations of improper destruction of records inside the environment department.
Public Interest Commissioner Peter Hourihan told reporters the probe was launched after an anonymous caller left a detailed voice message on his office’s whistleblower hotline late Monday to register concern that regulations — requiring important documents and electronic files be retained and archived — had been broken in the aftermath of the last week’s election defeat of the Tory government.
“Some of the information we received in the complaint leads me to believe it is a legitimate concern that someone has,” Hourihan said.
“The accuracy of that concern we will determine through investigation.”
Information and Privacy Commissioner Jill Clayton said her office had also received two signed letters detailing general and specific concerns about how records were handled by the department in the wake of last Tuesday’s vote in which the NDP topple the Progressive Conservatives’ nearly 44-year-old dynasty.
“The investigation is focused on Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, but certainly (it) could be expanded to include other government departments as information becomes available,” Clayton said.
Both Clayton and Hourihan expressed concern last week about potential indiscriminate destruction of records after pictures of bags of shredded documents outside the legislature office of Environment Minister Kyle Fawcett were published online and in newspapers.
But Notley spokeswoman Cheryl Oates said the future premier asked top bureaucrat Richard Dicerni to issue the directive to all 29,000 government employees after hearing that the two legislature officers were investigating specific allegations.
“We had no reason to believe anything was being shredded that shouldn’t be shredded,” said Oates, “and we’re halting shredding now erring on the side of caution in light of the complaints coming forward.”
Opposition Wildrose Leader Brian Jean said Notley should have acted last week when reports of mass shredding at the legislature first surfaced.
“This is sort of closing the barn door after the horses have left,” Jean said.
“These documents belong to Albertans and I’m concerned now they may not find out what the Tories have been up to over their many years in power.”
While MLAs are free to destroy any personal or constituency records, government regulations require ministers and their departments to archive all records unless they are transitory.
Hourihan told the Herald the joint probe is not focused on activities inside the legislature, but rather those that may have occurred at the department headquarters several blocks away in the Great West Life Building.
“If we get over there and find out that something else is entangled in this that we have to go look at then we would certainly do that,” he said.
“We will follow the trail.”
The province’s freedom of information legislation provides for fines of up to $10,000 if records are destroyed in an effort to evade a request.
The whistleblower protection law that Hourihan oversees allows for fines of up to $25,000 on a first offence for anyone who makes a false statement, destroys or conceals documents, or otherwise obstructs him in his investigation.
And he said the file could also be turned over to police if warranted.
“If a wrongdoing is found, we will recommend corrective measures to the minister,” Hourihan said.
“If any wrongdoing constitutes an offence under an act, we will report it to the proper authorities.”
It’s unclear what records may have been destroyed.
Oates said the Environment Department’s deputy minister, Bill Werry, has invited Clayton and her staff to visit the department and assess whether there are ongoing concerns with how records are being handled.
She said Dicerni will also review the government’s document retention policies to see whether current practices could be or should be strengthened.
This is not the first time the environment department has faced scrutiny over its handling of records.
Former information commissioner Frank Work launched an investigation in 2011 after CBC revealed that former environment minister Ted Morton had two email accounts and his executive assistant told FOIP staff all the documents in his office were shredded when he left the post.
Work recommended that decisions about what to trash and what to keep in a departing minister’s office be made by records management personnel from within the department, not partisan staff who serve at the minister’s pleasure.
“Their whole existence is predicated on taking care of that minister, so they lack the impartiality to handle or oversee records properly,” Work said in an interview.
“The platinum standard is you want a trained records manager in charge all the way from the filing cabinet to the shredder.”
A spokeswoman with Service Alberta confirmed Work’s recommendation was not implemented, although she said the department has provided training to about 10,000 government employees on proper records retention since 2012.
Donna Babchishin said the government’s policy on proper records management was also circulated to civil servants and ministerial staff as soon as the election writ was dropped on April 7 and again after the May 5 vote.
Fawcett, who was defeated by NDP candidate Craig Coolahan in the Calgary-Klein riding, was not immediately available for comment.
Katrina Bleutchen, spokeswoman for Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource, said the department would co-operate fully with the investigation.
Watchdogs investigate document shredding at Alberta legislature by Justin Giovannetti, May 13, 2015, The Globe and Mail
Premier-designate Rachel Notley ordered an immediate stop to all document shredding by departing Progressive Conservative ministers on Wednesday, hours after two watchdogs announced they would be investigating allegations that records were illegally destroyed by Alberta’s outgoing government.
A call from a whistle-blower on Tuesday prompted a joint investigation of Environment Alberta by the province’s privacy and public interest commissioners. The call to one office was corroborated with correspondence sent to the other investigative office.
“Our office takes allegations of wrongdoing very seriously,” said Public Interest Commissioner Peter Hourihan. “It’s encouraging that someone saw something wrong and took their concern to both our offices.”
More ministries could be the target of the investigation, depending on what is uncovered in the coming days. While the whistle-blower was anonymous, Mr. Hourihan said he believes the complaint came from within the ministry and is credible. The office of Jill Clayton, Alberta’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, received two letters, one with specific details on Environment Alberta.
On Wednesday, Ms. Notley asked the head of Alberta’s civil service to direct ministers to immediately cease the shredding until her government assumes office. A spokeswoman for Ms. Notley said important documents needed to be preserved during the transition.
Opposition parties have raised concerns about the amount of shredding at government buildings after the province’s New Democrats swept the Tories from office last week, ending nearly 44 years of uninterrupted rule. A stream of bags filled with shredded paper has been carried out of the provincial legislature since the morning after the election.
Trucks with special equipment to shred mass quantities of paper have also been parked outside the legislature, some with the company’s motto “Better Shred than Read”– a twist on an anti-communist slogan from the Cold War. An official with outgoing premier Jim Prentice’s office has said it’s an unfortunate coincidence as the left-leaning NDP prepares to take office.
Minor documents and those that relate to a minister’s role as an MLA can be shredded under government rules, but records that document a minister’s portfolio should be archived.
Both Ms. Clayton and Mr. Hourihan can levy fines ranging from $10,000 to $100,000.
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.”
The anonymous tip, Hourihan said, “just talked about records,” but the complaint did not say whether the records were paper or electronic.
“I do know, just based on some of the information that we’ve received in the complaint, that leads me to believe that it is a legitimate concern that someone has.”
Clayton said the investigation could expand beyond a single department.
“The investigation is focused on Environment and Sustainable Resource Development,” she said, “but certainly the investigation could be expanded to include other government departments as information becomes available.”
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.
“We have had a number of media inquires about this issue,” Clayton said.
Within two days of the May 5 election, warnings about document shredding in government offices began to spread on social media and in news stories. Clayton was also asked Wednesday about photos and comments that began to appear on Twitter within 48 hours of the election.
“We might follow on Twitter and see that there’s a photo that’s posted that shows shredded documents,” she said. “In my view, that’s not enough to launch an investigation, which is why we put out the statement. I don’t know what records those are, I don’t know if they’re subject to FOIP, I don’t know who’s responsible for them. So, we requested that anybody with some evidence, or with concerns, that they provide that to me so that I would have something to go on, someplace to start with an investigation like this. We’re not able to go out there an seize records. I don’t have the people to be overseeing every single shredding machine in the Government of Alberta.”
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.
“This has got so much attention right now by people across Alberta … that I think Albertans want and need to know that something is taking place.”
This is the first time the two commissioners have launched a joint investigation. The results will be made public, she said, even if it turns out nothing was done wrong.
Alberta’s privacy and public interest commissioners are probing improper destruction of PC documents by Catherine Griwkowsky, May 13, 2015, Edmonton Sun
The hum of shredders went silent at the Alberta Legislature after Premier-designate Rachel Notley ordered shredding to stop on Wednesday afternoon.
Notley sent the order to Deputy Minister for Executive Council Richard Dicerni on Wednesday following reports that the Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) ministry — currently under investigation for improper destruction of documents — was continuing to run the shredders, according to spokeswoman for the Premier-elect Cheryl Oates.
The order came hours after Jill Clayton, the Information and Privacy Commissioner, and Peter Hourihan, the Public Interest Commissioner, opened the joint investigation into the alleged improper destruction of records by ESRD, the ministry headed up by outgoing PC MLA Kyle Fawcett.
Last week, fears that important documents were being destroyed by outgoing Alberta government officials had Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark seeking to halt potential illegal shredding.
On Wednesday, Clayton and Hourihan said an anonymous whistleblower led them to launch the investigation on Tuesday. Clayton received correspondence from two sources, while an investigator from Hourihan’s office received a call.
“It is encouraging that someone saw something wrong and took their concerns to both our offices,” Hourihan said.
In the wake of the May 5 provincial election that saw the NDP sweep power away from the 44-year PC dynasty, large bags of shredded documents have appeared outside the doors of government department offices.
Under provincial law, it’s illegal to destroy cabinet or departmental information, while constituency records and personal documentation are exempt.
Clayton, encouraging others to come forward if they have similar concerns, wants to find out if one person or a group of people were involved in any improper document shredding. She also wants to learn how document retention rules were communicated to staff. “
Both commissioners have the authority to compel the production of electronic records that may have been backed up on a server.
If there was an attempt to circumvent laws, fines are possible.
Hourihan warned people not to go after whisleblowers. That carries a fine of $25,000 for the first offence and up to $100,000 for subsequent offences.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to warn people in the private sector against levelling a reprisal against these individuals,” Hourihan said.
The same penalties apply to anyone who withheld information or made a false or misleading statement, or encouraged another person to do so.
The deputy minister of the ESRD has invited the privacy commissioner to the office in response to the investigation.
Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, the commissioners will release a public report.
Clayton said the investigation may serve to “educate government departments” and to reassure the public.
“The fact that we are investigating might serve to encourage others who have evidence to come forward and also to address their concerns,” Clayton said.
But Wildrose Leader Brian Jean said the shredding probe may be too late and he added that he heard from several people they received instructions to shred everything.
“There’s just been a blanket statement saying ‘shred this’ and obviously some things are appropriate to shred and some things aren’t,” Jean said. “The paperwork itself belongs to the people of Alberta.”
Clark says he is working on a request for a forensic audit of information destruction from the Auditor General.
Shredding probe facts:
* Under section 53(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP Act), the Information and Privacy Commissioner has the authority to ensure compliance with rules relating to the destruction of records.
* Under section 18 of the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act (PIDA), the Public Interest Commissioner has the authority to investigate a disclosure of wrongdoing.
The investigation will examine whether:
* ESRD destroyed records in compliance with rules relating to the destruction of records.
* ESRD made reasonable security arrangements to protect against unauthorized destruction of records in compliance with section 38 of the FOIP Act.
* Any person willfully altered, falsified or concealed any record, or directed another person to do so, with the intent to evade a request for access to the record in contravention of section 92(1)(e) of the FOIP Act.
* Any government employee contravened rules surrounding the disposal or removal of documents during or following the current transition of government in contravention of section 3(1) of PIDA.
The investigation may be expanded to include other government departments, if necessary.
Upon conclusion of the investigation, an investigation report with findings and recommendations will be made public.
Watchdog warns Tory caretaker government against trashing files by Matt McClure, May 7, 2015, Calgary Herald
A couple bags of shredded papers lie outside the minister of environment offices. A massive transition will occur at the legislature in the coming days as the Conservatives move out to make way for the NDP government.
The province’s information watchdog is reminding Tory ministers and their departments that the long-standing rules regarding destruction of records are still in force during the transition period to New Democrat rule.
With hallways at the legislature filled with bags of shredded documents in the wake of Tuesday’s election, Alberta’s Information and Privacy Commissioner issued a news release Thursday saying she will investigate any specific allegations of inappropriate or indiscriminate destruction of records that her office receives.
“There are rules for government ministries and their employees relating to the retention, destruction and preservation of records, and these rules apply and must be followed during the government’s transition period,” Jill Clayton said in a prepared statement. “If there is evidence that the rules are not being followed, a complaint can be submitted to my office.” [Alberta PCs heed rules?]
Premier-designate Rachel Notley met with the lieutenant-governor Thursday and was invited to form the next government, but until she and her cabinet are sworn in, Premier Jim Prentice and his ministers remain as Alberta’s caretaker regime.
Wildrose leader Brian Jean issued a statement calling on Notley to take steps to prevent the possibility that records are being destroyed improperly.
“Recent media reports raise the possibility of illegal shredding,” Jean said. “It is important to remember that these documents belong to the people of Alberta.”
… While the departing ministers are permitted to do as they wish with their personal or constituency records, legislation requires that departmental and cabinet records they generate or receive during their term must be retained and sent to the provincial archives when they leave office.
According to a guide produced by Service Alberta, transitory records that have only immediate or short-term value may be destroyed so long as they are not subject to a request under freedom of information legislation.
But the legislation says those containing information that will have future legal, financial, research or archival value should be retained.
“Determining whether a record is transitory depends on individual judgment,” the guide says. “If you’re in doubt, keep the record.”
Rick Klumpenhouwer, a records management consultant to both government and industry, said he hopes the province’s interdepartmental committee is making sure the retention and disposition regulations under the Government Organization Act are being scrupulously followed at this critical juncture.
For accountability and historic reasons, Klumpenhouwer said it’s important for Albertans to have a full record of the last months of the Tory’s four-decade dynasty including drafts of legislation, policy briefs and internal correspondence and emails.
“The exception for transitory records can be misused,” he said. “It may seem broad, but it’s really meant for small, insignificant things like that post-it-note to remind you of your tee time at the golf course.” [Emphasis added]