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Alleged destruction of public records 'offensive': Watchdog

By Antonella Artuso, Queen's Park Bureau Chief

Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian. (Toronto Sun file photo)

Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian. (Toronto Sun file photo)

Toronto - 

The alleged destruction of public records related to the $1.1-billion gas plants scandal was “offensive” to the taxpayers who footed the bill, Ann Cavoukian says.

“This is not how freedom works,” Ontario’s information and privacy commissioner said Tuesday on the release of her annual report, her last before wrapping up an unprecedented third term as watchdog.

“It was bad enough that the taxpayer dollars had been misused but then to attempt to remove any indicators that would tie to that and destroy any possibility of a record — it just flies in the face of freedom of information. It’s the exact opposite.”

Cavoukian’s special report on gas plant documents revealed that staff in the officer of former premier Dalton McGuinty routinely deleted all e-mails despite a law requiring that government records be kept.

An OPP investigation is underway into allegations that an unauthorized individual was brought into the office to wipe the computer hard drives, even as a legislative committee sought all government records that would explain why planned Oakville and Mississauga gas plants were cancelled.

“All of these questions, I’m sure, will be addressed by the OPP,” Cavoukian said. “I think the most important thing in regard to this is never again … never again will we tolerate this kind of activity on the part of bureaucrats or the government.”

In her annual report, entitled Freedom and Liberty, Cavoukian calls for penalties for insufficient records retention.

The commissioner praised Premier Kathleen Wynne for issuing a directive mandating record keeping training for staff.

Cavoukian is also recommending that all government contracts — those awarded by publicly-funded institutions — be disclosed once the ink is dry.

During the recent election campaign, the PCs revealed that the government was negotiating with a private company to purchase and move bureaucrats into Phase Two of the MaRS project in downtown Toronto.

Cavoukian said contracts like these should be made public once talks are completed, and taxpayers also have the right to know if the government took a look at other, more affordable options for office space.

The privacy of citizens was another key issue for Cavoukian, who said there needs to be a national debate around how government security organizations gather and share private information.

Revelations by Edward Snowden regarding the National Security Agency (NSA) in the United States, and related stories about the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) have exposed a serious threat to privacy, she said.

“It soon became clear that we’ve allowed CSIS to operate in Canada with even fewer checks and balances than the NSA in the U.S.,” she said.


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