VICTORIA - Tim Duncan said he was barely three weeks into his new job at the Transportation Ministry in Victoria when he was ordered to delete emails concerning government meetings about the Highway of Tears investigation into murdered and missing women.
When he hesitated, Duncan said a ministerial assistant in Transportation Minister Todd Stone's office stepped in and deleted about a dozen emails from his government computer.
Duncan's allegations have set off an investigation by B.C.'s Information and Privacy Commissioner and prompted the government to announce Thursday that the ministerial assistant who deleted the emails has been suspended with pay.
"It is my belief that the abuse of the freedom of information process is widespread and most likely systemic within the (Premier Christy) Clark government," said the May 18 letter of complaint sent by Duncan to privacy commissioner Elizabeth Denham.
Denham said in a statement she has contacted Duncan and her office will launch an investigation.
The New Democrats raised the email deletion issue Thursday in the legislature, accusing the government of abusing the freedom of information process. The Opposition also released an email Duncan sent to MLA Maurine Karagianis where he described his political experience.
"I left the cesspool that is the B.C. government in March and have returned to Calgary with no intention of ever going back," said the email.
In a telephone interview from Calgary, Duncan said he was dismayed by what he experienced working for the B.C. government. He said when he raised concerns about possible abuses of the freedom of information process he was demoted to the research department and eventually fired.
Duncan said the episode unfolded last November when the Ministry of Transportation received a request for records relating to meetings held by ministry officials connected to the Highway of Tears files.
The 720-kilometre stretch of Highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert in northern B.C. has become known as the Highway of Tears for the disappearances and unsolved murders of 18 young women.
Duncan said he conducted a search and found more than a dozen documents, but when he called a ministerial assistant, he was told to delete the emails.
"I'm like, 'No, these are exactly what the FOI said we should be keeping,'" he said. "He just took my keyboard away, literally, and said, 'hey, now you don't have to worry about it.'"
Duncan said when he raised his concerns a second time in January about deleting emails after a freedom of information request, a Liberal research director said: "It's like the West Wing. You do whatever it takes to win."
Stone said his office follows freedom of information rules to the letter of the law and he's not aware of any practice of deleting emails that are part of FOI requests.
"As a minister, I expect the staff who work in my office to adhere 100 per cent to the requirements of the applicable legislation, and I expect that to be the case each and every day," he said.
Denham has written previous reports where she's highlighted the government's slow response to freedom of information requests and she's called for more archiving of government email records as opposed to deletions.
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