The legal but morally questionable shredding of a copy of an investigative report from the Speaker of the House by Premier John Horgan’s Chief of Staff Geoff Meggs highlights lawless elements of the B.C. Legislature.
That’s the position of criminologist Mike Larsen, president of the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, a vocal advocate for government transparency.
“There are insufficient laws governing the B.C. Legislature and this is symptomatic of that,” said Larsen.
On Tuesday it was revealed within a Police Act investigation report of former Legislature sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz that Meggs shredded a copy of a report from Speaker Darryl Plecas that outlined alleged misconduct by Lenz and then Clerk of the House Craig James.
Meggs has faced criticism from opposition members of the BC Liberal party. BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson called the shredding “obstruction of justice” during question period Wednesday. And Todd Stone, MLA for Kamloops-South Thompson, took to Twitter Thursday calling for Meggs’ resignation.
Larsen told Glacier Media Thursday that to the best of his knowledge no laws were broken and “it’s hard to see any serious repercussions coming from it other than moral repercussions.”
Both the Ministry of Citizens’ Services, which oversees freedom of information laws and document retention schedules, and the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, an independent adjudicator of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPPA), confirmed to Glacier Media that laws do not cover corporate matters of the Legislature in the way they cover public bodies.
The Ministry of Citizens’ Services stated there are no records schedules that apply to a case of the Speaker of the House exchanging documents with the premier’s office. Because the Legislature is considered non-government business, the Information Management Act does not apply and so related documents do not need to be retained.
Meggs, a former journalist, shredded a copy of Plecas’ report, which had already been sent to police, according to Plecas. Horgan had no involvement in or knowledge of the allegations, according to Police Act investigator Doug LePard. The report was the impetus for an ongoing RCMP investigation into James and Lenz. Two special prosecutors were announced last November, when James and Lenz were suspended and escorted from the parliament buildings. There have been findings of misconduct on both their parts.
Larsen said while the report shredded by Meggs was not the only copy of the document, “the more times a record like this gets shredded … the harder it becomes to know what is being done, and that is to excavate the issue” – in this case, corruption in the Legislature.
“In that sense preserving a paper trail is import to ensuring government accountability.”
Larsen added the shredding incident speaks to what is already well known in government circles: that there is little oversight of the Legislature.
The lack of duty to document is a legacy of successive governments, he said.
FIPA has called on the Horgan government to overhaul FOI rules and implement “duty to document” legislation. It remains an outstanding promise of the NDP from the 2017 election.
Notably, Minister of Citizens’ Services Jinny Sims, who administers FOIPPA, is under a police investigation for unstated reasons. However, it’s been alleged by her former constituency assistant Kate Gillie that she was trying to facilitate entry into Canada of Pakistani nationals who were on a security watch list, in exchange for money. Sims allegedly used non-official communication methods to try to thwart FOIPPA law.
Larsen said FOIPPA needs to be modernized to extend to new mobile messaging techniques.
“Both of these scandals or issues point to the fact we have deficient rules on duty to document,” said Larsen.
As for the BC Liberal outcry, Larsen said they too had opportunities to modernize the laws. Stone himself oversaw the Ministry of Transportation, which “triple deleted” records on murdered Indigenous women. And the commissioner previously strongly rebuked the BC Liberals for failing to enforce FOIPPA.
“I’m getting a little tired of various government parties of acting surprised when this happens. They’re in the position to change the laws surrounding FOI,” said Larsen.