Fired staffer accuses B.C. minister Jinny Sims of defying FOI rules
Published Tuesday, May 14, 2019 3:29PM PDT
Last Updated Tuesday, May 14, 2019 6:37PM PDT
The NDP cabinet minister responsible for upholding B.C.'s freedom of information rules has been accused of breaking them by a fired former staffer.
Minister of Citizens' Services Jinny Sims allegedly instructed her constituency staff to communicate with her via unconventional channels such as iMessage, WhatsApp and personal email while doing government business, according to a letter that was released this week by the Opposition BC Liberals.
The letter was drafted by a lawyer on behalf of Kate Gillie, who worked as a constituency assistant for Sims for about six weeks earlier this year, and sent to B.C.'s Information and Privacy Commissioner, Attorney General David Eby, the Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists for B.C. and Critic for the Solicitor General.
It claims the minister told Gillie "to only communicate using these methods in order to avoid her communication from being captured by Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act law."
The letter also alleges Gillie was reprimanded on several occasions when she would communicate with Sims’ ministry staff using their government emails. "Now I’m going to have to delete that. We’ve spoken to you about this before," they told her, according to the letter.
Sims denies allegations
Asked about the allegations on Monday, Sims said she has two different phones that she uses for ministry matters and constituency matters, and that staff are instructed to keep them separate.
“I absolutely am clear with my staff that government business is to be communicated on my government phone and they are not to use my government email to send constituency stuff,” Sims told reporters.
"This is an HR matter. I cannot get into the details because of privacy reasons."
During Question Period, Sims said she does use WhatsApp to communicate with her mother and other family matters.
Just last year, Sims admitted to and apologized for using her personal email to conduct government business. She said since that time, there has been ongoing training for staff to ensure they know what the policies are.
The letter from Gillie's lawyer states the former constituency assistant isn't seeking financial compensation, but is trying to bring to light what she believes was a lack of record keeping.
Gillie became increasingly concerned about the issue while working at the office from Jan. 8 to Feb. 22, and made an effort to communicate whenever possible using FOI-captured communication methods to ensure there was a way of documenting the conversations, according to the letter.
It claims she was eventually fired for being “disrespectful” and told she couldn’t be trusted.
Opposition says FOI requests turn up 'no records'
BC Liberal House Leader Mary Polak said the allegations are concerning, and if true would mean the minister is purposely trying to thwart the Freedom of Information process.
"If it’s a government record, it ought to be disclosed," said Polak. "The reason that someone, a minister, might choose to use (use unconventional channels) is because it’s much harder for Opposition or anyone else to find out that those messages are there to request."
Polak said the BC Liberals have made multiple FOI requests over the past two years, only to be told there are "no records."
So far, it is unclear whether any of the offices that received the letter will take any action.
"I hope to see the premier and attorney general review all the pleas for help I sent during and after my employment with Jinny Sims, and call for an investigation on all that I witnessed," Gillie said in a statement to CTV News.
During Question Period, both Premier John Horgan and Eby said they have not seen the letter, but given the serious allegations, they said they will take a look at it right away.