09/19/2011 03:48 EDT | Updated 11/19/2011 05:12 EST

P.E.I. privacy czar considering investigation on Liberal release of emails

CHARLOTTETOWN - Prince Edward Island's privacy commissioner is considering an investigation after the Liberal party released emails from a former government employee that were sent to a cabinet minister.

Maria MacDonald said Monday she became concerned after reading media reports last week that the governing Liberals had released two emails sent by Svetlana Tenetko to Innovation Minister Allan Campbell.

"I am considering whether to launch an investigation and part of my consideration is the effect on the applicants," MacDonald said in an interview.

The Liberals distributed the emails to the media in a news release last Thursday after Tenetko alleged that senior P.E.I. immigration officials were bribed in order to fast-track applications under the province's immigration nominee program. The federal Immigration Department has referred those allegations to the RCMP, who are reviewing them.

In one of the emails, Tenetko said she would go to federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenny and the Globe and Mail if she did not get another job with the government.

"I would welcome an interview to further discuss job opportunity and hope to hear from you soon at your earliest convenience," she wrote in an email dated Dec. 7, 2010.

"If I get negative answer, I will go to Ottawa to Minister Kenney and the Globe and Mail."

The Liberals also revealed in their news release how long Tenetko and two other former employees of the immigration nominee program worked for the government. The party also referred to an ongoing political discrimination claim filed by Cora Plourd, one of the former employees.

MacDonald said after an initial examination of provincial privacy law, she couldn't find any obvious exemptions that would allow for the release of that information. But she added that because the Liberal party is not a public agency, it is not covered by the privacy law.

Still, she said it's possible for her office or the police to launch their own investigations to determine who released the information.

The Liberals say the allegations of bribery are unfounded and are orchestrated by the provincial Conservatives to blindside them in the midst of the election campaign. The Tories have denied those accusations, saying the employees showed courage to come forward.

Spencer Campbell, the Liberal campaign spokesman who sent the news release, said he would co-operate with any investigation if one were launched. But he said he doesn't know who gave Tenetko's emails to the party.

He added that he believes Tenetko does not have a reasonable expectation to have her privacy protected.

"What we're dealing with here really is whether or not in this case Svetlana Tenetko would have a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to those emails," he said.

"From our perspective, if an individual submits an email to the minister of the Crown in which she threatens the minister if she does not get a job, and then follows that up with a statement that defames or calls corrupt a number of public servants here within the province, there would be no reasonable expectation of privacy."

Campbell, who is also a lawyer, said he represents the government against Plourd in the case and has access to her discrimination claim. He said a portion of that file was used in drafting the news release, which said Plourd's claim "contains a number of unproven and unsubstantiated allegations, but no allegations of fraud or bribery."

"With respect to that one provision ... one requires some knowledge of the file, that is true," he said.

"However, we don't feel there is any violation of the legislation when that type of information is provided."

A spokesman for Premier Robert Ghiz said the Liberal leader and Allan Campbell, the innovation minister, were both unavailable for comment. But Geoff Townsend said Campbell doesn't know how the emails ended up with the Liberals.

"The premier's office has spoken to Minister Campbell and he has absolutely no knowledge of where these emails came from," Townsend said.

Tenetko's phone has been disconnected and she didn't respond to emails for comment.

Plourd said she intends to speak to the privacy commissioner.

The immigration nominee program was a federal-provincial initiative in which the province nominated people for immigration to Canada in exchange for an investment of $200,000 into a local business.

Immigrants were to pay a $25,000 good-faith deposit that would be returned after living in the province for one year. The program was suspended in 2008 by the federal government.

The election is set for Oct. 3.

At dissolution, there were 24 Liberals, two Conservatives and one vacant seat in the legislature.

— By Michael Tutton in Halifax