Yukon Party interim leader Stacey Hassard in Whitehorse in 2017. Hassard alleged on Nov. 6 that the Liberal political staff are interfering with the access to information process. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Yukon Party alleges Liberals involved in ATIPP requests and shouldn’t be

YP gave the media documents showing email exchanges it says are proof of political interference

The Yukon Party is crying foul at the Liberals, alleging that senior staffers were privy to information requests when they should not have been.

A heated exchanged played out on the floor of the House on Nov. 6, with Yukon Party interim leader Stacey Hassard alleging that the Liberal political staff are interfering with the access to information process.

“The e‑mails show that direction and approval are given from the political office on how the government is supposed to interpret the ATIPP Act,” Hassard said during question period. “Further, direction and approval are given by the political office on how the government is to process ATIPP requests.”

Documents supplied to the press by the Yukon Party show internal email exchanges that David Morrison, the Liberal’s chief of staff, Janet Moodie, principal secretary, and Jim Connell, deputy minister, are cc’d on concerning an ATIPP request seeking letters sent to Premier Sandy Silver since early December 2016 as well as other matters.

The Liberals insist no wrongdoing has occurred — that it’s an example of a “simple workflow conversation …”

Diane McLeod-McKay, privacy and information commissioner, told the News that it doesn’t sound like any personal information was exchanged in this situation, meaning no violation of the act.

“Now, there aren’t any rules in the ATIPP Act expressly prohibiting any kind of information from being shared anywhere, between public bodies, unless it’s personal information. Personal information has a whole own set of rules that must be complied with all the time,” McLeod-McKay said.

The email correspondence begins in February 2017 and ends in the third week of March of that year.

Joanne Curial, listed as the Manager, Information & Systems with the Executive Council Office in an email that month, wrote: “ECO and Cabinet have received 10 new ATIPP requests. I have compiled them into the attached document for your review.”

The attached document includes a list of ATIPP requests. It does not include any names of the applicants, but does say what was requested.

The email was sent to Connell, Morrison and Moodie, among others.

“There is nothing inappropriate with this recorded interaction,” Silver said in a written statement received by the News around 5 p.m. on Nov. 6. “This simple workflow conversation in no way breaches the Access to Information and Privacy Act. This is yet another example of the inaccuracies brought to the House by the Yukon Party.”

Speaking with reporters after question period, Hassard disagreed. He called political officials being involved in ATIPP requests a “no-fly zone.”

“I mean, we were to avoid it at all costs and we did,” he said. “It’s just strange that the premier either feels that it’s OK that his senior staff are providing information or direction in regards to ATIPPs, or that he clearly has no understand of what is going on in his office, which is even more disturbing.

“There are definite cases of where the two most senior staff in the premier’s own office have delved into areas where they certainly shouldn’t have,” Hassard said.

The government has admitted, he continued, to playing a part in information requests in two instances in the House.

Those instances occurred in the spring on May 3, 2017 and Mar. 6, 2018, with Silver saying his government is either busy answering requests “and the like from the opposition” or acknowledging their existence, respectively.

Silver told reporters during a scrum that there’s been no policy change from the former government to his, taking the time to speak about a new access to information and privacy law that was tabled last month.

“The changes that have occurred, when it comes to ATIPP, is we are moving towards increasing our transparency by opening up that act again and clawing back the changes that the last government made.

“Yukon Party, it continues to chase ambulances and try to throw things at the wall to see what sticks,” he said.

McLeod-McKay added that decision-making processes surrounding access to information should ideally be “contained” within a public body — the ECO, for example — but, as previously mentioned, there is nothing preventing a public body from sharing that information, so long as there aren’t details that can identify someone.

Where she is concerned is whether an applicant’s right of access is impeded in some way like delays, she said.

In terms of the current act, there are very few offences, with a “very high threshold to make them out. It has to be a willful offence. There aren’t good consequences in this legislation, which I constantly keep saying that the whole purposes of offence provisions is deterrence,” McLeod-McKay said.

In another email, this time dated Mar. 1, 2017, Jessica Schultz, listed as the director of Finance, Administration & Systems, flags ATIPP requests to aforementioned officials, among others.

“Hi everyone,” she wrote. “Please see attached updated chart to track the ATIPP requests. We will review at the meeting tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. in the ECO-Epp Meeting Room.”

Two weeks later, Curial alerts Moodie and Morrison to presumably Connell’s “interpretation” of the act and the “proposed process for responding to ATIPP requests for Ministerial records.”

Attached to that email, is a “proposed message” from Connell, who says that “cabinet office is not a public body under ATIPP.”

“Records of Cabinet and Cabinet committees are managed by the Cabinet Secretary and as such are in the custody and control of the Executive Council Office. Personal records such as MLA/constituency and caucus records are not government records and are not subject to the ATIPP Act.”

When requesting records from a minister’s office, he notes, send collection requests to the “minister’s EA and cc the Chief of Staff and Principal Secretary.”

On Mar. 22, 2017, Connell cc’d both Moodie and Pamela Muir, formerly an assistant deputy minister, the subject line reading “… Request for Clarification Received.”

“Janet,” he wrote. “See e-mail stream below, we are seeking a legal opinion on this request. In the meantime, we feel that we should put together a cost estimate, let’s chat when you have chance, regards Jim.”

In a written statement sent on Nov. 6, cabinet spokesperson, Janine Workman, said the exchange shows how ATIPP requests for ministerial documents are managed.

“It also identifies which Cabinet and Cabinet Office records are managed through ECO,” she said. “In response to the email, a cabinet staff person agreed to the outlined process and clarified that ATIPP requests for cabinet records should be directed though ECO.”

Another email, dated Jan. 11, 2018, shows another ATIPP request was received and has Connell and Moodie cc’d on it.

“Can Communications Branch please provide me with this information by January 22?” Curial says. “I am happy to discuss this if necessary.”

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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