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Tories call for probe on whether government emails on Ornge were deleted

06/27/2013 04:54 EDT | Updated 08/27/2013 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - The Progressive Conservatives are calling for an independent investigation into whether government emails about Ontario's troubled air ambulance service were deleted.

Tory Frank Klees says he believes government staff may have deleted emails about Ornge, as they did with two cancelled gas plants.

He says he filed a freedom-of-information request with the Ministry of Health asking for all emails relating to Ornge over a year.

But he said he only got 16 emails and it's hard to accept that's all there were.

He's asked Information and Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian to investigate whether other emails were deleted or why they were withheld.

The Liberals say they've provided 1.5 million pages of Ornge documents in response to requests under freedom-of-information laws and a legislative committee that's looking into the troubled organization.

They've sent more than 100 boxes of material to the all-party committee as recently as this spring, said Sheamus Murphy, a spokesman for Health Minister Deb Matthews.

"What I do know is that included in the 1.5 million pages of disclosure provided in response to the committee and FOI requests, there were thousands of pages of emails from minister's office staff," Murphy said in an email.

Ornge, which is under a criminal investigation, has been under fire for more than a year over financial irregularities. It was dealt another blow May 31, when one of its helicopters crashed, killing two pilots and two paramedics.

Klees said there's an exodus of trained helicopter pilots — three in the last week — that's affecting the safety of the air ambulance system.

"I can tell you that over the last number of weeks I have had numerous calls from paramedics and pilots who are extremely frustrated that there seems to be no concern about truly looking into the reasons and the cause for this crash," he said.

"And apart from the crash itself, there are numerous circumstances that have been brought to the attention of management at Ornge that are being ignored, so much so that people are leaving."

The Transportation Safety Board is investigating the helicopter crash, which happened shortly after takeoff in Moosonee.

But a spokesman for Ornge said they currently have 79 helicopter pilots on staff — one short of the desired complement.

Six of the pilots are in their final phases of training and should be flying in mid-July, James MacDonald said in an email.

He says there have been 11 resignations of helicopter pilots in the last 17 months and Ornge is recruiting six more pilots, which would bring their complement to 85.

Addressing helicopter pilot challenges is priority for the organization, he said.

"These positions are highly specialized and recruitment can be time consuming when a pilot leaves the organization," he said in an email.

"Despite a competitive international market for helicopter pilots, we have been successful in our recruitment efforts."

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