Sub-Lt. Jeffrey Paul Delisle is escorted by sheriffs from Nova Scotia provincial court in Halifax on Friday, Feb. 8, 2013. Federal officials lost or possibly destroyed sensitive records about the case of a naval officer convicted of selling secrets to Russia, an investigation by Canada’s information commissioner has found. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Russian spy case documents missing or destroyed, Canada’s info watchdog finds

The commissioner’s probe left key questions unanswered

Federal officials lost or possibly destroyed sensitive records about the case of a naval officer convicted of selling secrets to Russia, an investigation by Canada’s information commissioner has found.

The commissioner’s probe, which involved the country’s top public servant and the prime minister’s national-security adviser, left key questions unanswered because the classified records about the spy case could not be located.

The episode began seven years ago when The Canadian Press filed an Access to Information Act request with the Privy Council Office for briefing notes, emails and reports about the case of Jeffrey Delisle from a three-week period in the spring of 2013.

Delisle, a troubled junior naval officer, had been sentenced to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to passing classified western intelligence to Russia in exchange for cash on a regular basis for more than four years.

The access law, intended to ensure government transparency, allows people who pay a $5 fee to ask for a wide array of federal documents, with some specific exceptions.

The Privy Council Office, the apex of the federal bureaucracy, responded in August 2013 that the records concerning Delisle would be entirely withheld from release because they dealt with matters such as investigations, international relations and detection of subversive or hostile activities.

The Canadian Press complained the following month to the information commissioner, an ombudsman for users of the law who has the power to review documents and decide whether they have been properly withheld.

ALSO READ: Canada files North Pole competing claim with Russia, Denmark

The events that followed were detailed this month in a letter to the news agency from information commissioner Caroline Maynard.

The commissioner’s office asked in 2013 for an uncensored copy of the files to examine and the Privy Council Office said arrangements would be made for an investigator to view the sensitive records on site.

However, it appears more than five years passed before the commissioner’s office followed up.

In July 2019, the deputy director of the Privy Council Office corporate-services branch told one of the commissioner’s investigators the documents had “most likely” been inadvertently destroyed.

Maynard then issued an order to Greta Bossenmaier, the national security and intelligence adviser to the prime minister at the time, to produce the records — a move aimed at determining whether they had indeed been purged.

In late November, the Privy Council Office’s director of Access to Information replied on Bossenmaier’s behalf that the Privy Council Office could neither locate the records nor confirm if they had been destroyed.

The director provided a few more clues: in 2013, an access analyst viewed the records in a secure area of the office’s security and intelligence secretariat. They were then placed in a folder that appears to have been returned to a different cabinet.

“Should the documents be located, PCO will inform your office,” he wrote.

As the PCO had still not confirmed the status of the documents, Maynard asked Privy Council clerk Ian Shugart in a Dec. 30, 2019, letter to provide any existing records by Jan. 20.

“I also urged the clerk to ensure that PCO take the necessary steps to guarantee that all records relevant to ongoing (Access to Information) complaints are properly stored,” says Maynard’s letter to The Canadian Press.

The Privy Council Office’s assistant deputy minister replied to Maynard last month that the records could not be found and called the matter “an isolated incident.”

Since the incident, the PCO “has committed to ensuring a more rigorous approach” is taken with such requests, said Pierre-Alain Bujold, a Privy Council Office spokesman.

The PCO says it now directs officials to make copies of sensitive documents, ensure the request number is prominently displayed, and place the file in a centralized vault for safekeeping and future reference.

Natalie Bartlett, a spokeswoman for Maynard, declined to comment, saying the access law doesn’t allow the office to discuss an investigation unless and until it is published in a report.

In her letter to The Canadian Press, Maynard, who became commissioner in March 2018, apologized for the delay in investigating the complaint.

“Your complaint has brought to the fore both the importance of institutions’ proper identification and preservation of responsive records, as well as the importance of conducting timely investigations.”

Maynard said that upon her appointment she instituted measures to ensure older complaints “continue to be actively pursued and that files do not remain unassigned for lengthy periods of time.”

She added that in this case, without the records, “I cannot effectively assess whether PCO was justified in refusing access, in whole or in part, under the act, nor can I prospectively recommend that information, incapable of being located, be disclosed.”

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Russiaspy

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Masks help stop the spread of COVID-19, says Comox Valley doctor

Local sewing community produces masks for seniors in an apartment

Hospital remains safe place for childbirth, say Comox Valley care providers

North Island Hospital has been asked to share its perinatal COVID-19 response plan

B.C. firefighters only responding to most life-threatening calls during COVID-19 pandemic

The directive comes after province spoke with paramedics, fire services, according to top doctor

VIDEO: Fire departments salute health care staff at hospital in Comox Valley

Trucks large and small drove by facility in procession, with siren and flashers on

‘Better days will return’: Queen Elizabeth delivers message amid COVID-19 pandemic

The Queen said crisis reminds her of her first address during World War II in 1940

Comox Valley grocers going extra mile during coronavirus

We have had numerous requests to post a fluid article directing consumers… Continue reading

Emergency aid portal opens Monday, cash could be in bank accounts by end of week: Trudeau

Emergency benefit will provide $2,000 a month for those who have lost their income due to COVID-19

Education, not enforcement: B.C. bylaw officers keeping a watch on physical distancing

A kind word, it turns out, has usually been all people need to hear

Canadian cadets to mark 103rd anniversary of Vimy Ridge April 9 virtually

Idea of Captain Billie Sheridan in Williams Lake, B.C. who wondered what to do in times of COVID-19

B.C. VIEWS: Pandemic shows need for adequate care home staffing

Seniors in B.C. care homes face challenging times

QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Take this test and find out how well you know Canada’s most popular winter sport

Researchers look at humidity as a weapon in the fight against airborne viruses

Regular hand washing, physical distancing and PPE for health care workers remains best line of defense

Most Read