Hey, this information is free
By Bill Phillips
Premier Christy Clark announced last week that provincial staff will stop deleting e-mails.
What’s not clear is whether she simply announced it or sent an e-mail to everyone. Ta-dum.
Joking aside, the issue of provincial staff deleting e-mails so they cannot be divulged to the public through a Freedom of Information request is reprehensible.
Just thinking of all the times we’ve heard “open and transparent” government over the past few years makes me want to gag. Governments, at all levels, are making it more and more difficult for the public to access information that is, well, public.
It speaks of a political culture in which protecting one’s butt and one’s political masters is paramount. Doing the right thing isn’t even an inkling of a thought.
Who, other than political staffers high in government and IT folks even know what triple-deleting an e-mail is, never mind knowing how to do it?
In addition, there is the perception. The obvious, and pretty much only, conclusion the public can draw when it hears about e-mails being routinely deleted is that they contained some damning information. They might not have, and likely didn’t, but routine deleting of e-mails leaves the impression there was something untoward in them.
Clark has demanded an end to the practice. However there are a couple of worrisome aspects of this (other than the practice itself).
Firstly, this was happening in the Premier’s Office … right under the nose of the premier. Is this to Clark what Nigel Wright is to Stephen Harper … damned if you do know what’s going on in your office, damned if you don’t?
Secondly, how will the public be assured the practice has stopped? Sadly, we will have to take the premier’s word and/or the word of those who have been deleting their e-mails. We won’t know for sure until someone files another Freedom of Information request … and then some.
Filing a Freedom of Information request looking for “deleted e-mails” really isn’t going to get anyone any answers.
It will take a concerted effort by someone outside government and/or an investigation by Freedom of Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham to ensure compliance.
It’s extremely discouraging to think that’s what it will take for our government to convince us that, from this day forward, public servants at the highest levels will be acting with integrity and in a scrupulous manner.
Bill Phillips is a freelance columnist living in Prince George. He was the winner of the 2009 Best Editorial award at the British Columbia/Yukon Community Newspaper Association’s Ma Murray awards, in 2007 he won the association’s Best Columnist award. In 2004, he placed third in the Canadian Community Newspaper best columnist category and, in 2003, placed second. He can be reached at email@example.com