NEWS BULLETIN file photo

City of Nanaimo ‘100 per cent’ on board with privacy commissioner recommendations

Council satisfied with how private and confidential information will be handled moving forward

The City of Nanaimo says changes have been made to the way private and confidential information is handled since province’s privacy commissioner criticized the municipality.

According to an April 8 report to council, the city has introduced “mandatory” freedom of information and protection of privacy act training seminars, which will take place three times a year, for legislative services staff.

City staff have also updated the “corporate orientation” to include a topic on FIPPA for new employees and designated a staff member to review their privacy and security policies regarding the handling and protection of personal information, the report notes.

The changes come after the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner released a report last summer stating that a number of senior staffers and city councillors “lack a basic understanding of their privacy obligations” under the privacy act.

The report, written by OIPC commissioner Michael McEvoy, was the conclusion of the office’s investigation into leaks of the Integrity Group e-mails and Goldner Report.

In his report, McEvoy ordered the city to immediately take steps toward implementing a privacy management program, designate a staff member responsible for reviewing privacy policies and introduce mandatory ongoing training for staff.

Although the report was on the council’s agenda at the April 8 meeting, it was not discussed around the council table. Nanaimo Coun. Don Bonner said councillors didn’t discuss the report at the meeting because they had previously discussed it in camera. He said councillors are very supportive of OIPC’s recommendations and staff’s efforts to comply with them.

“Most of those recommendations have been implemented and a lot are at a staff level but a lot are at a council level as well,” he said. “In all honesty, they [OIPC and staff] are preaching to the converted because we are 100 per cent behind them.”

RELATED: City of Nanaimo to report next week on privacy commissioner recommendations

Although OIPC’s report addressed three specific breaches, councillors last year also discussed leaks of in-camera information, according to documents obtained by the News Bulletin.

According to e-mails and in-camera meeting minutes, during a meeting on May 28, 2018, Sheila Gurrie, the city clerk and head of legislative services, discussed “recent breaches” of in-camera meetings with city councillors and told them they could hire the RCMP and legal counsel to investigate. Councillors, according to the minutes, requested a list of breaches that were sent to the OIPC.

Council ultimately agreed to “make every effort” to investigate those leaks, the in-camera meeting minutes show.

RELATED: Former city councillor ordered by Supreme Court to delete leaked documents

Former city councillor Gord Fuller, who was ordered by the privacy commissioner and the Supreme Court of B.C. to remove confidential documents from a Facebook page he administered and claims he later did, said council was aware of leaks of in-camera meeting minutes for a very long time.

“With the stuff that was getting out to a local blogger, it had to be in-camera information,” he said, citing articles describing the way councillors voted during in-camera meetings.

Fuller said he didn’t know what ever came of the investigation councillors agreed on because there was “so much going on” at the time. He said OIPC didn’t follow up on other numerous other breaches that occurred.

“The city leaked like a sieve,” he said. “The media seemed to be able to obtain a lot of in-camera information.”

Former mayor Bill McKay said, without going into specific detail, that council was provided with a list of breaches and that there was no shortage of them. He said in-camera information was released that might not necessarily be defined as a breach, and that breaches could have been reported to the privacy commissioner without councillors knowing about it.

“Let’s not forget that council wasn’t fully, or wasn’t aware specifically, of all of the breaches that Gurrie may or may not have reported to OIPC,” he said, adding that the city clerk was diligent about informing the privacy commissioner of private and confidential information that appeared in local media.

RELATED: Nanaimo mayor calls for investigation after confidential e-mail leaked

McKay, whose e-mail detailing his opinion of members of council to Integrity Group facilitator Heather McKenzie was leaked publicly, said he hopes the city’s compliance with OIPC’s recommendations include modifying their existing information technology systems.

“The system should be robust enough that it should be able to tell me who printed that document,” he said, adding that it wasn’t the case when he was mayor.

However, McKay also acknowledged that if an individual is determined enough to leak internal confidential documents, there is only so much the municipality can do.

“That document was retrieved and it was printed and then it was distributed,” McKay said referring to the Integrity Group e-mail. “I don’t know how you would ever stop that.”

Gurrie could not be reached for comment. OIPC declined comment. 
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