Privacy commissioner says he won't review secret Elections N.L. report

·3 min read
Newfoundland and Labrador's information and privacy commissioner, Michael Harvey, says he wasn't consulted about the premier's plan to have him examine a report on alleged bullying and harassment at Elections N.L. (Peter Cowan/CBC - image credit)
Newfoundland and Labrador's information and privacy commissioner, Michael Harvey, says he wasn't consulted about the premier's plan to have him examine a report on alleged bullying and harassment at Elections N.L. (Peter Cowan/CBC - image credit)

Newfoundland and Labrador's privacy commissioner says he won't review a secret report that purportedly details alleged bullying and harassment at Elections N.L., despite Premier Andrew Furey's saying he would.

Furey said Tuesday he asked Michael Harvey's office to "scrub the report" before releasing it to the public.

But in a press release sent Thursday, Michael Harvey said he hadn't had time to consider the request before Furey — flanked by Justice Minister John Hogan — was telling reporters about the plans.

"I had not been consulted prior to receiving this request," said Harvey in Thursday's release. "Less than a half hour later ... Executive Council issued a press release indicating that the documents had been sent to my office for 'review and analysis to ensure personal information of complainants is protected.' Also, the premier and attorney general held a media availability regarding this matter."

The report, put together by the province's citizen's representative, alleges workplace bullying and harassment at Elections N.L., by an officer of the House of Assembly, following the 2021 provincial election. The report allegedly includes 10 findings and involves 21 employees.

Jeremy Eaton/CBC
Jeremy Eaton/CBC

Weeks after Independent MHA Paul Lane first spoke about the report, Furey and Hogan finally acknowledged Tuesday it exists and promised to make it public, after Harvey's office had reviewed redactions made by the Justice Department.

"I'm going to let the privacy commissioner scrub the report first to ensure that he's doing his due diligence and we're not violating any privacy issues with respect to the individuals in the report," said Furey.

But Harvey said that's not something he'll do.

"My primary role … is to provide independent review of decisions made by the government and other public bodies," he said.

"While there is some scope for me to provide advice to public bodies in certain contexts, if I provide detailed advice on a decision of a public body — in this case, reviewing proposed redactions — I become part of the decision-making process and thereby undermine my ability to provide independent review. If there was a complaint about this matter, my ability to review it would be compromised."

Speaking at another news conference — this one called Thursday after Harvey released his statement — Hogan said Harvey told them in a letter he wouldn't review the redactions because he's already received a privacy complaint about the report.

"We asked for his assistance, there's certainly sections in the legislation — when you look at it, I believe Section 95 — where he can provide reasonable assistance to parties, and that's what was asked for in this case," said Hogan. "He's conflicted out, he can't provide that reasonable assistance."

Speaker clarifies

Harvey's release comes one day after a press release sent by the Speaker of the House Derek Bennett, who also took issue with Furey's statements to media.

The premier had told reporters he had taken immediate action to send the report to the House Management Commission, chaired by Speaker Derek Bennett.

At the time, Bennett's office said, there hadn't yet been a formal request from cabinet to receive the report. That request did come late Wednesday.

On Thursday afternoon Hogan reiterated what Furey had said the day before.

"The report went to management commission less than 24 hours after it was received by government, and now the management commission will take steps to deal with whatever is in that report," he said. "Whatever allegations were made, whatever complaints were made, that's for management commission to deal with now."

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