The investigation into Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource regarding the alleged improper destruction of records in the wake of the 2015 provincial election resulted in troubling findings for the overall management of records.
A joint investigation was launched by the Information and Privacy Commissioner and Public Interest Commissioner on May 13, 2015 during the transition period for the Government of Alberta following the May 5 election. The joint investigation was the first of its kind between the two offices.
A disclosure of wrongdoing was made to the Public Interest Commissioner on May 12 under the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act, and the Information and Privacy Commissioner received letters expressing concern about the destruction of records under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act on May 8 and 13.
Key findings from the investigation include:
- There was no effective departmental control over active ministerial records kept at the Minister’s office and managed by the former Minister’s staff during the transition period. Therefore, the investigation was unable to determine whether any ministerial records were destroyed in contravention of the Records Management Regulation.
- The destruction of 344 boxes of executive records was not in compliance with the rules.
- The security arrangements were not reasonable for the Action Request Tracking System (ARTS), a ministerial correspondence tracking application. Although some technical controls were in place, they were not sufficient to protect against the unauthorized destruction of master copies in ARTS.
- A serious misunderstanding about the application of the FOIP Act to records in ARTS. This raised questions about the responses to past access requests.
- Records schedules were found to be confusing, overlapping and difficult to apply.
- There were no consequences for contravening the Records Management Regulation.
- There was no evidence that records were destroyed with the intent to evade an access request.
- With regard to the specific allegation brought forward to the Public Interest Commissioner, the investigation found no evidence that records in ARTS were destroyed. However, the investigation did reveal confusion due to a misunderstanding about the application of a parliamentary convention.
Among the 16 recommendations made to ESRD:
- Identify gaps, and clarify policies, procedures and responsibilities to ensure records are identified, preserved and appropriately restricted at all time, especially during a period of government transition.
- Identify and address gaps in the monitoring of records management activities in the Minister’s office, including increasing staff members’ awareness of information management rules.
- Establish Service Alberta and the Provincial Archives of Alberta as monitors of departmental implementation with reporting requirements.
- Make all operational records schedules available for the public to view online to help establish openness, transparency and accountability in the management of government records.
- Ensure there are consequences for officials or departments found to have destroyed or handled records in contravention of the Records Management Regulation. Currently, no sanctions for contravening the Regulation exist.
“Robust and accountable records management programs are critical to ensure Albertans can exercise their access to information rights. This investigation found there was confusion about the rules guiding records management, and there were no consequences for not following rules,” said Information and Privacy Commissioner Jill Clayton. “The investigation also brings into question the government’s past responses to access requests for information in the ARTS application. It appears some records had been treated as outside the scope of the FOIP Act.”
“The allegations of wrongdoing were unfounded under the whistleblower legislation, but there seemed to be confusion about rules during the government’s transition,” said Public Interest Commissioner Peter Hourihan. “Ultimately, the opportunity to investigate the allegation provided faith in the legislation that whistleblowers are protected when they bring forward concerns to my office.”
To read the full report, please click here.
Public Interest Commissioner
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Edmonton, AB T5J 5C3
Public Interest Commissioner
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Calgary, AB T2P 3W2