Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Ontario Privacy Watchdog Wants Penalties for Deleting Government Documents

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Ontario Privacy Watchdog Wants Penalties for Deleting Government Documents

Article excerpt

Make deleting government docs an offence:Cavoukian

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TORONTO - There's little to stop a government from trying to cover up an unpopular decision by destroying documents in the same way emails were deleted on the Liberals' decision to cancel two gas plants, Ontario's privacy watchdog warned Tuesday.

The problem, said Privacy Commission Ann Cavoukian, is there are no real penalties for bureaucrats or elected officials who deliberately destroy government records in violation of the Privacy Act.

"I strongly believe that (the government should be) providing strong enforcement powers and penalties for non compliance with the privacy provisions of the act," Cavoukian said as she released her annual report.

"In the absence of any penalty or consequence, there's no deterrent."

Cavoukian called for new penalties to prevent another case like the gas plants scandal, which now has the Ontario Provincial Police investigating the wiping of computer hard drives in the premier's office as part of an alleged coverup.

"You have to say 'we went through this and never again will we tolerate this kind of activity on the part of bureaucrats or the government,'" she said.

"I just think we have to drive that home so government doesn't think they can do whatever they want quietly behind closed doors."

The government should determine the appropriate penalty for anyone who destroys records, and educate staff "from top right through to the bottom" about what Cavoukian called their "duty to document" the activities of government.

"We have to ensure that this is implemented throughout the entire government, that you have a duty, an obligation to document and record what takes place," she said.

"I want the duty to document to become a new mantra in a way for the government."

Court documents released last Friday showed former premier Dalton McGuinty told police investigating the gas plants that communications in his office were "overwhelmingly verbal in nature" and he kept few records of issues discussed. …

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