A former British Columbia government employee accused of making false statements to mislead the provincial privacy commissioner has pleaded guilty in a Victoria court. George Gretes’ lawyer told the court his client wants to apologize to his former employer and the people of B.C.
The maximum penalty is a $5,000 fine, but provincial court Judge Lisa Mrozinski said Gretes showed obvious remorse for his decision to lie under oath and gave him one year to pay $2,500 in restitution.
Gretes faced two charges of wilfully making false statements to mislead, or attempt to mislead under the provincial Freedom of Information Act. He pleaded guilty to a single count in court on Thursday.
Mark Jette, the special prosecutor appointed in the case, told the judge that Gretes should be sentenced to the maximum fine to denounce his actions and deter others.
Gretes came to the attention of the RCMP after B.C.’s former information and privacy commissioner released a highly critical report about the provincial government’s procedures around freedom-of-information requests.
Elizabeth Denham concluded in her report that it was likely that Gretes, a former assistant to Transportation Minister Todd Stone, triple deleted government emails and then lied about it under oath.
Chris Considine, Gretes’ lawyer, said outside the court his client has done a great deal to mitigate his actions, including paying $8,900 the provincial government put up for his legal fees.
He noted that the judge said during sentencing that triple-deleting email wasn’t something that was improper or barred by the government at the time.
He was “just basically a very inexperienced young man who was trying to help somebody else,” Considine said.
Gretes was charged in March, months after Denham’s report said Premier Christy Clark’s government routinely frustrated freedom-of-information requests by triple-deleting emails, wiping them from the system.
Denham’s investigation was spurred by Tim Duncan, a former provincial government employee, who went to the commissioner with allegations that records he needed for a freedom of information request were eliminated from the system.
Duncan claimed Gretes deleted records on his computer that were needed for a request about the Highway of Tears investigation into missing and murdered women.
Gretes was suspended from his job in May last year and Stone said his resignation was accepted when the privacy commissioner’s report was released in October.
Denham’s report said the government’s practices threatened the integrity of the access to information process in B.C. She recommended that legislation be created that enforced a duty to document key government decisions and she called for installation of technology that prevents employees from permanently deleting emails.
The government has banned the practice of triple-deleting. It also accepted a recommendation for oversight by a public servant and agreed to the new position of chief records officer.