Tuesday, December 03, 2013

"My Dear Watson, with today's software recovery apps 'delete' doesn't exist unless you smash, burn and bury a computer in your backyard!"

Five questions about the mysteriously rediscovered Senate emails

Stephen Maher
Monday, December 2, 2013

Emails between Benjamin Perrin, above, a lawyer in the Prime Minister's Office, and Janice Payne, Mike Duffy's lawyer, over the payment of $90,000 to the senator have prompted complaints to the bar societies of Ontario and British Columbia. (Ian Lindsay/Postmedia News/File)

OTTAWA – On May 20, CTV reported that Benjamin Perrin, a lawyer in the Prime Minister’s Office, “helped draft the letter of understanding” that called for Senator Mike Duffy to pay his disputed expenses with $90,000 from then Chief of Staff Nigel Wright.

Perrin, who had left the PMO in April, issued a release the next day, stating that the report was “false.”

“I was not consulted on, and did not participate in, Nigel Wright’s decision to write a personal cheque to reimburse Senator Duffy’s expenses,” Perrin’s statement said.

An RCMP document recently said emails from Perrin had been deleted when he left the PMO last March.

But the revelation Sunday night that the government does, in fact, have Perrin’s emails has led to more questions in an affair that already has more than its fair share.

Question 1: What’s in the emails?

Although Perrin said CTV’s report was false, the Information To Obtain (ITO) released in court by the RCMP suggests Perrin negotiated Wright’s arrangement with Duffy. Perrin exchanged an unknown number of emails with Duffy’s lawyer, Janice Payne.

The RCMP has described the contents of some of those exchanges, because Wright handed over the emails, but there are likely other emails on which Wright was not copied.

The RCMP has also asked Duffy for those emails, but it’s not clear whether he has them or whether they are still with Payne. Since he was Payne’s client, he can presumably demand them, but neither he nor Payne has said whether they intend to hand them over.

Question 2: How did the Prime Minister’s Office manage to lose track of Perrin’s emails?

In September, when RCMP Corporal Greg Horton asked the PMO for Perrin’s emails, he was told they had been deleted.

“Internal practice within the PMO is that a person’s account and emails are removed from the computer server once their employment ends,” Horton wrote.

Last month, after Horton filed his ITO – which led to public speculation about email backups – the RCMP contacted the PMO to ask it to look for the emails again.

On Sunday evening, Isabelle Mondou, an Assistant Secretary to Cabinet, wrote to the RCMP to say that on Friday, officials discovered “that Mr. Perrin’s emails had in fact been retained due to a litigation hold in an unrelated matter.”

Mondou apologized for having “previously failed, even if inadvertently, to accurately inform you and the PMO,” and promised to hand over the emails.

On Twitter, Postmedia columnist Andrew Coyne expressed skepticism about the PMO’s story: “You don’t check? You don’t get that straight? You don’t nail that down? You don’t ask?”

In reply, Jason MacDonald, Director of Communications to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, replied: “We did ask. Repeatedly. PCO (Privy Council Office) said they were gone. Repeatedly. They were wrong. We told them to tell the RCMP. They’ve done that.”

Question 3: Does the government really delete email accounts when employees leave?

The letter from Mondou says that “the operating protocol of the PCO to close and delete email accounts of departing employees of the PCO and the PMO is a matter of course.”

On November 22, in response to a question about the account-deletion policy, PCO spokesman Raymond Rivet provided links to federal policy documents that outline rules for dealing with documents, neither of which mention PCO’s “operating protocol.”

On Monday, Rivet failed to respond to follow up questions asking about that protocol, but Ian E. Wilson, who was Chief Librarian and Archivist of Canada until 2009, said in an interview Monday that it seems unlikely that all PCO and PMO email accounts are routinely deleted.

“I think it has to be more complicated than that, as records created day by day in PMO in discussion and policy are of longterm importance to Canadians,” he said. “I find that wholesale deletion of email accounts – how do I put it? – seriously impact the historical record.”

The Library and Archives Act forbids officials from destroying records “without the written consent of the Librarian and Archivist or of a person to whom the Librarian and Archivist has, in writing, delegated the power to give such consents.”

Wilson said Parliament did not want officials routinely destroying documents.

Neither the Library and Archives nor PCO responded to queries on Monday about how they are complying with the act.

Question 4: Will Canadians ever know what’s in the Perrin emails?

The RCMP does not comment on ongoing investigations, and won’t release them unless they file charges or file them in court as part of a request for a search warrant or production order.

In Question Period on Monday, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair asked the government to table the emails in the House. The government did not do so.

Question 5: Is the RCMP releasing information to put pressure on PMO to release documents?

The most recent Information to Obtain – outlining the RCMP’s case against Wright – was made public before the documents it sought were handed to investigators, a departure from normal procedure, the Ottawa Citizen has reported.

The RCMP says that courthouse procedures have changed. The courthouse says that Horton took a new step to make the documents public, leading to speculation that the RCMP is using the ITO to pressure the PMO to co-operate.

An RCMP official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Monday that’s not correct.

“How should I put it?” the official said. “That makes for good copy, I’ll stop there. Do you think an organization like the RCMP would play those games?”

The official added that the way the RCMP is going about its investigation is being “rigorously” scrutinized. “It is by the book.”

On Monday, Perrin declined comment about the emails to a Postmedia News reporter who visited his office. He now works at the University of British Columbia.

With files from Douglas Quan, Postmedia News.



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