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

Comments are closed

Just Posted

VIDEO: Medea Ebrahimian mourned by friends and family

Memorial held for one the of three found dead at a house fire in Langley Meadows last month

LETTER: Politicians should be held accountable for their decisions

Another letter writer is critical of Langley Township’s handling of the Yorkson community park

Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce to hold series of COVID-related webinars

Tourism updates, Canada Emergency Response Benefit details, and public speaking workshops expected

Langley seniors centre offers food care and tax help but no recreation

The seniors facility has announced a partial reopening with limited services

17-year-old Langley resident Dylan Patterson earns free Chevy Malibu

Integra Tire owner Peter Foreman held an essay contest to determine a fitting recipient for the car

VIDEO: Musqueam Chief captures captivating footage of bald eagle catching meal

‘This is why we have chosen to live here since time immemorial,’ Chief Wayne Sparrow’s nephew says

Semi and BMW collide on South Surrey highway

At least one person to hospital, both vehicles sustained significant damage

Police ramp up efforts to get impaired drivers off B.C. roads this summer

July is dedicated to the Summer CounterAttack Impaired Driving Campaign

Migrant workers stage multi-city action for full status amid COVID-19 risks

‘COVID-19 has exacerbated an existing crisis’

Okanagan school drops ‘Rebels’ sports team name, citing links with U.S. Civil War

Name and formerly-used images “fly in the face” of the district’s human rights policy, says board chair

PHOTOS: B.C.’s top doc picks up personalized Fluevog shoes, tours mural exhibition

Murals of Gratitude exhibit includes at least one portrait of Henry alongside paintings of health-care workers

In troubled times: Independence Day in a land of confusion

Buffeted by invisible forces and just plain worn out, the United States of America celebrates its 244th birthday

Stop enforcing sex work laws during COVID-19, advocates say

There are provisions in Canada’s prostitution laws that make workers immune from prosecution, but not from arrest

Liberal party finished 2019 having spent $43 million, raised $42 million

All political parties had until midnight June 30 to submit their financial reports for last year

Most Read