RCMP are investigating after a private conversation was allegedly recorded secretly inside Lantzville district hall last year.
Ronald Campbell, the district’s chief administrative officer, and Frank Limshue, the district’s former community planner, were recorded speaking inside Campbell’s office without either individual knowing about it, according to District of Lantzville government sources.
Campbell said RCMP are investigating and Limshue said he’s aware of the recordings.
In four separate recordings that were uploaded to the audio file sharing website Soundcloud and e-mailed to the News Bulletin, Campbell and Limshue can be heard talking about the official community plan review select committee, which was established in order to help draft the district’s official community plan but is no longer active.
An e-mail containing links to the four recordings was also sent in October 2017 to the committee’s members, including Ian Savage and Jamie Wilson– who are both now current councillors for the district – as well as former councillors Denise Haime, Dot Neary and Dave Scott.
Campbell confirmed with the News Bulletin that an investigation into the matter has been underway for some time, but declined to comment further on the situation.
“There is an investigation with the RCMP currently. I am unable to speak about it at all,” Campbell said, adding that he expects the investigation to conclude within a few months.
The District of Lantzville did not disclose any records in response to five freedom of information requests filed by the News Bulletin. For one of the requests, the district said no records existed; for the other four, the records were refused because they relate “to an open police file.”
Cpl. Tammy Douglas, media spokesperson for the RCMP Island District division, said in an e-mailed statement that the police do not confirm whether investigations are ongoing or not.
“Generally, the RCMP does not confirm whether investigations are ongoing unless charges have been laid, information/witnesses are being sought in order to advance an investigation or there is a need to issue a warning or information as it relates to public safety,” Douglas said.
A spokesperson from the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for B.C., also known as OIPC, said they “do not have any files” on the matter.
Limshue, who no longer works for the district, told the News Bulletin he is well aware of the audio recordings, but declined to comment further.
Lantzville Mayor Mark Swain said he couldn’t comment on the matter.
However, former Lantzville councillor Bob Colclough told the News Bulletin an investigation has been underway since staff and council became aware of the recordings, but couldn’t recall exactly when the investigation began. He said any updates on the investigation would have been reported to councillors in-camera, adding that while he cannot disclose whether councillors received any updates on the investigation, he feels the investigation has taken far too long.
“I am very frustrated about that. It’s a serious situation that needs to be sorted out and needs to be dealt with,” Colclough said.
Asked whether he was concerned that there could be more recordings that have not yet been made public, Colclough said “absolutely.”
Micheal Vonn, lawyer and policy director with British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, said if residents in Lantzville are concerned, they have every right to be.
“It’s perfectly understandable how deeply unsettling this would be for people,” she said. “It is why we have such a clear provision in relation to the interception of people’s communication in this way.”
According to the Criminal Code of Canada, anyone who “wilfully intercepts a private communication” is committing an indictable offence and can face up to five years behind bars. Vonn said there are exceptions and grey areas within the law, but using a recording device to secretly record private conservations between individuals without their knowledge is illegal.
“Quite frankly, this is an easy one,” she said. “You’re not allowed to do that.”
Although Lantzville’s district hall might be a public venue, Vonn said people have a reasonable expectation that their private conservations with others aren’t going to be secretly recorded by someone else. She said there is a big difference between someone overhearing a private conversation and someone going out of their way to covertly record a private conversation.
“If you’re in restaurant and you’re having a conservation with somebody, your server might overhear snatches of what you have to say,” she said. “That is very different than having a recording device in your Waldorf salad.”
Residents also have every right to believe that they are not being secretly recorded, especially when they’re inside a municipal staff member’s office, according to Vonn, who said while people might feel shocked by the revelation that secret recordings were made, there is no reason to believe it is happening on a large scale.
“I think we are at a place where we should be shocked, but we should not believe, necessarily, that we are in an environ where this thing is common,” she said. “There is no indication of that.”
Other privacy concerns have arisen at the District of Lantzville over the past year.
In July, district staff issued a warning to residents about their personal information being potentially compromised after then-councillor John Coulson informed them he had lost a memory stick containing four years worth of in-camera meeting minutes and potentially other sensitive information related to the municipality. Although Coulson later found the missing memory stick, OIPC ended up launching an investigation into the incident.
Lantzville councillors, earlier this year, also voted against a motion that called for an investigation to determine the identity of the individual or individuals behind an anonymous Twitter account with the user name @GordShumway1 after the account posted a confidential letter to the District of Lantzville from a developer. The letter contained information about a planned development within the district and two current members of Lantzville council.
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