Les Leyne: FOI minister accused again of skirting rules

Another round of allegations that Citizens’ Services Minister Jinny Sims bypasses legal communication protocols turned much more serious on Tuesday.

Kate Gillie, a former constituency worker fired by Sims, wrote to various authorities on March 4 with allegations of questionable conduct by the minister.

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Her email to the conflict-of-interest commissioner and to senior staff in Premier John Horgan’s office was obtained by the opposition B.C. Liberals.

Liberal MLA Mike de Jong told the house the allegations include that Sims was trying to facilitate entry into Canada of foreign nationals who were on a security watch, in exchange for money.

Liberal MLA Shirley Bond quoted a passage from Gillie, saying she continually got “strident instructions from both the minister and senior political staff to phone or text only.”

Sims said the allegations were “a load of nonsense” and denied any money was involved in doing constituency work.

Gillie’s email was sent nine weeks ago, and opposition critics pressed Attorney General David Eby on how it has been handled. He appeared unaware of the email and referred instead to a letter Gillie’s lawyer wrote last week that surfaced in the legislature on Monday.

Lawyer Donald Sorochan copied various officials with a letter saying Gillie is concerned about Sims’ office being in deliberate defiance of the laws requiring retention of a full record of public business.

He said Gillie is prepared to swear that Sims instructed her to use non-official communication methods in order to avoid being captured by freedom-of-information law.

Gillie also says that Sims used official email only for routine conversations because: “I have to have something to show them,” meaning people making FOI requests.

Gillie said, via her lawyer: “On more than one occasion, Sims’ ministry staff reprimanded me for communicating with them on their government emails and I was told on more than a few occasions: ‘Now I’m going to have to delete that. We’ve spoken to you about this before.’ ”

She said she was repeatedly told not to admit to the use of a personal email address by Sims, because “we have to protect the minister.”

Gillie ignored the instructions and stuck with official channels because she wanted communications documented.

She said that “I need loyalty” was a constant phrase used by Sims. “However, I believe that loyalty does not require improper conduct.”

She lasted six weeks on the job before Sims fired her in February.

“I was dismissed for being disrespectful of Jinny Sims, which was true, since I had lost all reason to respect her,” Gillie said.

Sims told the house Tuesday that she was only trying to explain that government and constituency communications flow through different channels.

“I was very, very clear that the individual was to follow proper practices, and there was nothing nefarious about them.”

She said she would be remiss if she didn’t explain to new employees that they could not do constituency work through her government email or phone.

Sims had a similar tangle a year ago about following the FOI law, for which she is the minister responsible. When numerous government-business emails were found coming from a personal email account, she initially denied any wrongdoing, saying she was just forwarding material from a personal tablet. She eventually was forced to admit she broke the rules.

“I should not have used my personal email. I’ll be more diligent in the future,” she said at the time. “We are not a government that is trying to hide things.”

But Liberal critic Jas Johal said the new allegations show she has gone to even greater lengths than last time to circumvent the system she is responsible for upholding.

Sims said it’s “a very difficult human resources matter” and she could not get into details.

There was no record as of Tuesday of any definitive response to Gillie from any of the offices she contacted with her complaints.

It should have set off a few alarm bells. The fact it didn’t appear to is likely why Sorochan was retained by Gillie to make the case again.

He wrote that he knows and respects the leadership on both sides of the aisle in the legislature and hopes they will respect democratic principles and respond appropriately.

lleyne@timescolonist.com

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