04.05.2014 08:35 PM

In Sunday’s Sun: the scandal that isn’t

Remember that old Sixties line? You know, the one from the hippie subculture that became a movie, and even a lyric in a Monkees tune? To wit: “suppose they had a war, and nobody came?” It was a nice thought, then and now.

Well, with some minor tweaking, it’s a line that can be applied to a “scandal” now raging, er, in one-block radius in downtown Toronto. Here goes:

“Suppose they had a scandal, and it really wasn’t one?”

Now, admittedly, at Queen’s Park, some media and some Opposition politicians are in a spit-flecked fury about the alleged deletion of government emails about the decision to move some gas plants in the 2011 Ontario election. You may have read about it in the papers, even in far-flung places like Whitehorse or Witless Bay. (I doubt it, but you never know.)

So, before we get started, three things. One, we use so-called flying quotes around the word “scandal,” up above, to notify you that the “scandal” really isn’t one. At all. Two, we use the word “alleged” about deletion of emails because, well, emails weren’t actually deleted. At all. Three, full disclosure, I proudly helped out former Premier Dalton McGuinty, and I remain friends with all of his former senior staff. And I hope that disclosure gives McGuinty-haters heart arrhythmia.

Scandals, real or imagined, have a way of taking on a life of their own. Even though the voting public aren’t nearly as preoccupied with scandal as the media and politicians are – Exhibit A, the Clinton/Lewinsky “scandal” – selfsame media and politicians are undeterred. They love scandal-mongering more than, you know, talking about boring stuff like “policy.” (There’s those flying quotes again!)

As no less than the most-famous-ever Canadian, Rob Ford, will tell you: voters hear about scandals too much. They’re skeptical. And, until they see a perp being frog-marched to the Longbar Hotel in an orange pantsuit and handcuffs, they don’t care much, either.

But that’s psychology. The reality of this “deleted email scandal” (Flying quotes! Drink!) is this: none were. Don’t believe me? Take your smartphone, and pop it right now in the toilet, where you already keep your old Blackberry. Now, flush.

There! According to the Ontario Provincial Police, you’ve now deleted emails and, er, committed a serious offence, Your Honour!

Well, not quite. As we all know, if you lose your smartphone – or if your PC or Mac blow up, or if (as in the Queen’s Park case) someone wipes a few hard drives to make way for a new employee – your emails aren’t gone, at all. They all still exist on a server in Cupertino, Calif., or Guelph, or somewhere else. They haven’t been deleted. At all, at all.

That’s why the whole Mother of All Scandals now gripping, um, a few dozen folks at Queen’s Park is so bloody ridiculous. The thing the Keystone Kops (a.k.a., the OPP) are investigating isn’t a crime, or even a violation of a ticketing offence. They’re investigating missing emails which aren’t, you know, missing.

Check your toilet, if you don’t believe me. Your device may be long gone, and so too your Miley Cyrus MP3s and some cherished pix of your kitten. But your emails aren’t.

Now, I know that this stunning revelation – to wit, emails exist on servers, not individual computers – is a shock for the geniuses in the OPP and at Queen’s Park. But for the rest of us living in the new millennium, it’s kind of not-news.

So too this “deleted email scandal.” It isn’t news, either. In fact, it is the biggest pile of crap to plop on the Canadian political stage since “Justice” (Drink!) John Gomery turned the sponsorship inquiry into a taxpayer-funded ego circus. And that’s saying something.

Thus, our new song: Suppose they had a “scandal,” and it really wasn’t one?



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    Ridiculosity says:

    “Spit-flecked fury.”

    Absolutely brilliant.

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    Paul Brennan says:

    yes emails exist on servers….why go to all the trouble to clean up the hard drives….

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      Jonathan Giggs says:

      Perhaps for the deletion of files (documents, spreadsheets, etc.) other than e-mails, a possibility not considered in the column.

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        Warren says:

        The OPP said emails. Emails.

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    Curt says:

    two questions.
    Was the premier’s office offline from the rest of the government?
    Was one of the computers a server for the premier’s office?

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    Nic Telamasko says:

    When using an email client, one has the option to either leave a copy of the email on the server or to remove copy from server after retrieval. Depending on how the server(s) were managed, they may no longer exist, even with forensics. In that case, zeroing out the local drives would destroy all copies of emails. On the other hand, there may indeed be redundant backups somewhere or perhaps even police surveillance of communications. In that case, they may only be digging themselves deeper. Tampering with evidence includes destroying or altering documents or things “in contemplation of” an investigation or other proceeding that may occur in the future. The fact they brought in outside “help” seems to suggest this was not a routine operation. Time will tell. If the police are serious, they are not doubt sweating the poor bastards as we speak.

    “Forget the myths the media’s created about the White House. The truth is, these are not very bright guys, and things got out of hand.” – Deep Throat


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      cynical says:

      As a former CIO of a public entity, I can tell you that the option to scrub emails permanently and pervasively was NEVER delegated to the user level, and would NEVER have been permitted by any of my administrative staff. We chose our email system for the integrity of its archival process and the accountability it imposed on our communications.

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    rww says:

    The crime/misdeed is in attempting to destroy evidence. The fact that you may fail because there is another copy somewhere does not make the attempt less of a crime/misdeed.

    *”Crime” not necessarily used in a legal sense above.

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      Warren says:

      Then use another word or get sued.

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      Ian Howard says:

      Conrad Black knows this now.

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    Neil Compton says:

    Warren I hope your not a criminal defence lawyer because if you are and you seriously think the OPP are not aware of messages being kept on servers then god help your clients.
    You mention Gomery. Did the Liberal party ever find that 40 million dollars that’s still missing?

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    no says:

    Golly, so why would the liberals go to so much trouble to try and delete the emails?

    You don’t need an outside IT consultant to clean out your inbox – call government tech support. The fact that the liberals brought in an outsider – secretly – suggests they either (a) were trying to delete emails off the server (which is possible), or (b) didn’t know deleting the emails locally wouldn’t have an effort.

    Its like saying “Yes, Nixon concealed evidence, covered up a crime, etc, but there was a copy of a tape recording elsewhere so therefore it wasn’t possible to delete the evidence so therefore there was no coverup.”

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    Jeff Laidlaw says:

    Hi Mr. KInsella

    I have a couple of questions after reading your article, “The Scandal That Isn’t”.

    While I agree with your statement that the so-called missing e-mails are in some server somewhere, wouldn’t it take widespread and exceptional cooperation to recover them ?

    First, there are the privacy laws, and added in to that mix are very likely international / cross-border issues. I suspect that the OPP would be hard-pressed to request of Google (or whomever) access to the “missing” e-mails without a certain degree of challenge that could result in lengthy court battles reminiscent of the Swiss Banking secrecy laws. I would also anticipate legal challenges from the Ontario bureaucracy and perhaps this is the reason these e-mails remain “missing”.

    If there is in fact no scandal, as you’re suggesting, wouldn’t it behoove the Ontario Government to request access to and provide all relevant information to the OPP; and let’s put this all behind us ?

    After all in an open and transparent government (or at least that’s the theory) and with the incredible costs associated with this debacle, don’t the residents of Ontario deserve to know, for a fact as opposed to third-hand and third party information, the details of the transactions that led to this mess ?

    If there is no “scandal”, then why hasn’t the appropriate information come forward ?; especially as you suggest it is relatively simple to get.

    It’s my opinion that there is a tremendous crisis of faith generally in government, and that the government allowing this seeming cover-up to continue only provides grist for the mill for the opposing parties, and that your assertions in your article do little to further the discovery of the truth. In point of fact it seems that you’re arguing that the “scandal” is little more than a manipulated propoganda campaign and that people should just get on with things; that there is no information that is either being withheld or covered up and that’s why nothing is coming forward. I can think of a number of other possible explanations of why there is a “stalemate” at the moment; and it’s my opinion that there is a heck of a lot that the people of Ontario don’t currently know and may never know about all this.

    Personally, it’s my wish that whatever government comes next in Ontario can do a far better job of being open, honest and direct; though frankly I don’t hold out much hope.

    Jeff Laidlaw

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    Kev says:

    “There! According to the Ontario Provincial Police, you’ve now deleted emails and, er, committed a serious offence, Your Honour!”

    Um, no.

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    Matt says:

    Well, Hudak and MacLeod were served with notice of libel from Wynne I think late Friday or Saturday.

    Today Hudak was on CFRB 1010 and basically told Wynne to piss off.

    So, I guess we’ll see if Wynne has the desire to actually follow through with this or not. U of Toronto political science professor Nelson Wiseman thinks she won’t take it any further.

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      Warren says:

      Nelson Wiseman? Spare me. If she doesn’t press on, she’s done.

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        Ian Howard says:

        By the time she gets a judgement one or both will be done and gone.

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    the salamander says:

    .. without a copy of the technical ‘Scope of Work’ .. from an RFQ .. or the email and server and routing specs, redundancies etc.. one would think there’s a lot of speculation re ‘erasures of emails’ going on.

    All that aside.. lots o folks I know use CC and BCC to deliver in-house emails to secondary or tertiary addresses as well, for a wide range of reasons.

    Even further aside.. we are now in the era of government, and politics, where truth is situational. Attempts are being made to ensure ‘truth’ is so elastic, that both sides or every side to a twisted tale can claim to be telling it.

    As an interested reader and artist.. I can certainly identify many many political persons who prefer that their internal communications as they act supposedly on behalf of the citizenry, never are accessible to the citizenry.

    Some politicians actually pretend they now function without any need for written communication.
    Yet some claim those politicians are simply using private email and bypassing the legal strictures of government email.

    How are we doing in Canada right now? As far as finding out who utilized CMIS for electoral fraud? Certainly there’s losts of computer hardware, routing, logins and one assumes, requests for access.
    Certainly the Conservative Party of Canada and the Harper Government seem unconcerned.
    Maybe in Ontario, we’ll see less glacial progress, with less obstruction and secrecy?
    What’s odd is how little we hear about the real issues.. and more about erasing communications
    Anything to avoid the Actual Truth

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    Pat Bell says:

    What I don’t understand is:

    The Privacy Commissionaire stated: “To conclude, there are absolutely no grounds to believe that any offense occurred, much less one in which Mr. Livingston was involved.”

    If all emails are archived remotely. why haven’t the police looked there?

    Didn’t the handover of thousands of documents from Bentley have enough information?

    If this is a fishing exercise, that implies that either the police are incompetent, making work for themselves, or worse, have become politicized?

    Why is this happening? What is going on?

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      Warren says:

      They negotiating their next budget with the NDP or the PCs. Same as RCMP did in 2005-2006.

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    A. Schultz says:

    Okay, u sold me:

    Police State

    I was a youth in East Germany, a police state if ever there was one. The Stasi were the de facto powers that be. They kept vast files on citizens. Surveillance, bugs, wiretaps, networks of informants. Wives were pressured to inform on husbands and children on mothers. In my case, being somewhat uncontainable, I suffered through the near dismantling of our family’s flat which caused me fail important exams. Whispering campaigns were spread to my friends. It turned out my in-hindsight-over-friendly girlfriend was an informant too, sent to corral me. Those were dark times. To say I was happy to get to the West, first America and then Canada is the understatement of my life.

    It is with concern then that I observe similar machinations in the political realm here. The police seem to have opened a dubious can of worms regarding gas and emails that is reminiscent of their opening a similar can involving income trusts – it is widely accepted among political observers that the Mounties’ announcement of that scandal had a considerable effect on the Liberals chances. Could it be this, like that, is another fishing exercise requiring said worms?

    The police of Canada must be credited with fighting Fascism during the War, Communism during the Cold War, and now radical terrorists – all totalitarian ideologies. If, the police have moved off side from their non-partisan and apolitical sphere (so as to concentrate entirely on the rule of law), might I provocatively suggest they are using police state tactics? While expediency is tempting (ask Putin!), in the end, history is never kind to those that do. Police resources are too precious to spend on the admittedly messy but necessary horse race of partisan politics. As the geopolitical situation deteriorates – Putin, CCP, organized crime, terrorists – everyone in Canada must up their game. Shall we not then, in the interest of peace, order and good government call off the Alsatians?

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    bagadonitz says:

    I don’t agree with your sentiment but I just want you to know that I did read about it in Witless Bay yesterday.

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      Warren says:

      Ha! But what about Whitehorse?

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    Matt says:

    So, this morning Wynne refused to release the contents of the notice of libel sent to Hudak, MacLeod and the Ontario PC Party this past weekend to the public.

    Is this unusual considering she released her letter threatening legal action against Hudak, MacLeod and the Ontario PC Party to the public 7 to 10 days ago?

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      Warren says:

      No. It’s a court document. You shouldn’t ever re-publish a libel about yourself. If Hudak really thought he had no problem, he’d release the notice. But he won’t, because that amounts to republication.

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        Matt says:

        Update – Just watching CTV Toronto and they have a copy of the notice of libel, so, someone has released it to the media. Don’t know if all media got it or just CTV.

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