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P.E.I. government pledges external review as questions loom over missing e-mails

Economic Growth Minister Matthew MacKay speaks to media on Tuesday, after announcing in the legislature his department would seek an "external review" of its practices regarding retention of electronic records.
Economic Growth Minister Matthew MacKay speaks to media on Tuesday, after announcing in the legislature his department would seek an "external review" of its practices regarding retention of electronic records.
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. —

The province has pledged to have an external review conducted after a report by the information and privacy commissioner found the Department of Economic Development failed to disclose that internal email records had been destroyed.

The report also found that the province had failed to follow legal requirements related to the retention of records.

During question period on Tuesday, economic growth, tourism and culture minister Matthew MacKay was asked about the report by his Progressive Conservative colleague Sidney MacEwen.

The report was in response to a Freedom of Information request related to government officials involved in the province’s failed e-gaming initiative from 2010-2012.

Sidney MacEwen
Sidney MacEwen

 

“Minister, we were part of a caucus that pushed hard for answers on the e-gaming file. What do you plan to do with the latest findings of the privacy commissioner?” MacEwen asked MacKay.

MacKay responded that his department will be contracting an external investigator to look into the findings of the report.

“We’ll be asking the external investigators to review two things: an extensive review on the missing records referred to in the commissioner’s report, as well as a review of our current practices and infrastructure related to electronic records and security for those records,” MacKay said.

In an interview with media, MacKay said he did not yet know who will be contracted to conduct the review.

"We want to make sure that whoever comes in to do the review has no association with government at all," MacKay said.

The report, one of the last to be completed by outgoing privacy commissioner Karen Rose, examined five separated Freedom of Information requests submitted by Paul Maines, president of a company that has pursued a lawsuit against the province related to the e-gaming initiative, and Kevin Arsenault, a blogger and former PC leadership candidate.

Some of the FOI requests related to internal emails from Brad Mix, a former employee of Tourism P.E.I., from the years 2011 and 2012. Mix is a named defendant of the lawsuit filed by Maines’ company.

Capital Markets Technologies Inc. (CMT) president Paul Maines leaves the P.E.I. Supreme Court in this file photo.
Capital Markets Technologies Inc. (CMT) president Paul Maines leaves the P.E.I. Supreme Court in this file photo.

 

In a July 2019 letter to Arsenault, a representative of the Department of Economic Growth, Tourism and Culture said Mix had claimed his emails from the 2011 and 2012 period were missing.

The letter did not explain why the records were missing but said Mix suggested the records may have been wiped out in a “mobile phone upgrade” in 2015.

Both Arsenault and Maines have alleged the records were intentionally destroyed.

The privacy commissioner report concluded there was insufficient evidence that the records were intentionally destroyed. However, the report found MacKay’s department violated the

Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act by not promptly informing Maines and Arsenault that the records were missing. The report also found that the destruction of the email records was a violation of the Archives and Records Act.

“I am inclined to agree with Applicant One’s observation that the probability is small that the named employee’s emails would accidentally go missing for precisely the period of time during which the e-gaming file was open,” Rose wrote in the report.

“However, I am unable to conclude that the named employee, or anyone else, deleted the named employee’s emails in order to avoid public access to their emails.”

Rose also wrote she was “at a loss to explain the motivation” behind MacKay’s department withholding information about the records from Maines and Arsenault.

“Public bodies prioritize their duty to respond openly, accurately and completely. Why the EGTC chose to keep the fact of missing emails from the Applicants remains a mystery, even after multiple submissions to the Commissioner by the (Department) in these reviews,” Rose wrote
 

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