06/21/2019 15:40 EDT | Updated 06/21/2019 15:43 EDT

Senator Accuses Senate Ethics Watchdog Of Being 'Unethical'

Conservative Sen. Elizabeth Marshall claims her emails were accessed without her knowledge.

SenVu screengrab

OTTAWA — The Senate ethics watchdog has little to say after a Conservative senator accused him of being “unethical,” allegedly accessing her emails without her consent.

Sen. Elizabeth Marshall first raised her alarm during a speech in the Senate chamber Monday when she confirmed the Senate Ethics Officer reached out to her in March with a request for documents to help with an inquiry related to a former senator.

“I was asked to provide notes and correspondence during my term as government whip in the Senate,” she said. “I searched my records, including files, emails and journals, and provided copies of all relevant information which I found.”

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The Conservative senator said she got a tip the Senate Ethics Officer had “recently attempted to access and search” her emails without her knowledge. Marshall said she took steps to confirm it before reading her claim into the Senate record.

“It is totally unacceptable that anyone should attempt to access the emails of any senator without that senator’s knowledge or consent,” she said. “I’m not the subject of the inquiry and I have nothing to hide,” Marshall, a former auditor general of Newfoundland and Labrador, added

A statement posted on the Senate Ethics Officer’s website this week defended the watchdog’s authority to access senators’ records relevant to an active inquiry.

It cited a section of the Senate’s ethics and conflict of interest code that reads: “In carrying out an inquiry, the Senate Ethics Officer has the power to send for persons, papers, and records.”

The watchdog suggested that gives it the power to “compel the production of documents, including emails.”

... he might be a Senate Ethics Officer, but the manner in which he is carrying it out is unethical.Sen. Elizabeth Marshall

But that didn’t fly with Marshall. She called the lack of any formal notice about potential email access into her account “absolutely disgraceful.”

“I don’t think I should have had to learn about this out in the hallways through the grapevine,” she said in the chamber Wednesday. “I think that the way the Senate Ethics Officer is carrying out his investigation — he might be a Senate Ethics Officer, but the manner in which he is carrying it out is unethical.”

Pierre Legault, a lawyer and veteran civil servant, was nominated to the Senate Ethics Officer position by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in December 2017. He filled the role after the former watchdog, Lyse Ricard, resigned.

Legault was appointed to a seven-year term and works on a part-time basis.

HuffPost Canada asked Legault’s office to respond to Marshall’s claim that the Senate ethics watchdog is being “unethical.” The Senate Ethics Office wrote in an email that a statement had been issued and there would be “no further comments on the matter.”

Senate Ethics Office
File photo of Senate Ethics Officer Pierre Legault.

Concerns were shared across party lines with Conservative Sen. Leo Housakos and Senate Liberal Percy Downe both expressing their concerns about privacy.

“I was not aware of this policy, either, and it may be something we want to look at as to what the rules and restrictions are,” Downe said in the chamber Wednesday. Downe was chief of staff to former prime minister Jean Chrétien before he was appointed to the Senate in 2003.

The Senate Ethics Officer did not produce a single inquiry report in 2018. Legault’s first report, investigating “racist” letters posted on Sen. Lynn Beyak’s Senate webpage, was published in March.

There are currently two inquiry reports that are outstanding. The first is an investigation into allegations, first reported by HuffPost, of workplace harassment and sexual abuse against disgraced former senator Don Meredith. The inquiry, launched in late 2017, was briefly suspended for four months at the request of the police. It resumed in April 2018.

The second inquiry is focused on whether Conservative Sen. Victor Oh broke Senate rules when he failed to disclose an all-expense paid trip to China paid for by provincial Chinese governments, Chinese business groups, and Chinese airlines.