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Canada Dalton McGuinty aide provided list of hard drives to be wiped, court hears

Remains of the gas-fired power plant in Mississauga, Ont., which had its construction cancelled prior to the provincial election in 2011.

Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Dalton McGuinty's deputy chief of staff provided her assistant with a list of employees in the premier's office whose computer hard drives were to be wiped clean, a criminal trial has heard.

Alexandra Gair, who was executive assistant to Laura Miller, the deputy chief of staff, testified on Monday that her former boss gave her the list of names in early 2013, during the transition from the McGuinty government to Premier Kathleen Wynne. Ms. Gair said it was her job to escort Peter Faist, a non-government IT expert and spouse of Ms. Miller hired to delete files from the hard drives, around the premier's office and show him which computers were to be wiped.

"I knew the building and where the work stations on the list were located," Ms. Gair said in court at Toronto's Old City Hall.

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Court has heard that chief of staff David Livingston hired Mr. Faist and obtained special access to the desktop computers in the premier's office. Ms. Gair testified that Mr. Livingston's assistant gave her a piece of paper with a username and special password written on it, which Mr. Faist used to log on to the computers and install software he bought to wipe the hard drives.

Ms. Gair, who now works at Canada's Ecofiscal Commission, a private group of economists and policy experts, said she used the username and password herself to help wipe the hard drives.

Ms. Miller's lawyer, Scott Hutchison, asked during cross examination whether anything caused Ms. Gair to think there was any wrongdoing during this exercise. She initially said no, but later clarified her response.

"As an [executive assistant], you do what you're told," she said. "That does not mean I was comfortable," she added, explaining that it was extremely hectic in the premier's office during Mr. McGuinty's final days in government.

Mr. Livingston and Ms. Miller are facing criminal breach of trust and mischief charges in connection with the destruction of e-mails and other government records related to the controversial cancellation of two gas-fired power plants before the 2011 provincial election. Each has pleaded not guilty.

The charges stem from police allegations that Mr. Livingston hired Mr. Faist to "wipe clean" computer hard drives in the Premier's Office just days before Mr. McGuinty left office in February, 2013.

Mr. Faist testified in court last week that Ms. Gair had the names of staffers whose computers were to be wiped written on a yellow sticky note. He told police Ms. Miller instructed him to "wipe off personal data" on 20 computers in the premier's office. Between Feb. 5 and Feb. 7, 2013, he erased 632,000 files, accounting for 13 per cent of all the data on the 20 hard drives, police documents allege.

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In a previously sealed police document from Ontario Court Justice Jonathan Brunet, Ms. Miller appears to play down her role, according to a "cautioned" statement from her (meaning it may be used against her in court) quoted in the document. She told police on Oct. 22, 2015, that it was Dave Gene, also a deputy chief of staff in Mr. McGuinty's office, who made the decision to hire her spouse. However, Mr. Gene told police that all he did was find a way to pay Mr. Faist, according to the production order.

The police document also quotes an e-mail Mr. Livingston sent to Ms. Miller on Feb. 1, 2013, asking Mr. Faist to erase the files on both of their hard drives as well as those of four other senior staffers, including Mr. Gene. Ms. Miller confirmed in an e-mail that the names were on the list as well as a few others that she had added, the document says.

Mr. Faist, who is co-operating with the police investigation, testified in court that he tried earlier to install software to wipe the hard drive on Ms. Miller's computer, but could not get it to work because she did not have the appropriate access, known as administrative rights.

According to allegations in the production order, Mr. Faist made this attempt at 2:41 p.m. on Jan. 24, 2013 – 21 minutes after Ms. Miller responded to a freedom-of-information request in connection with the cancelled gas plants, saying, "I have no records."

In his cautioned statement to police in October, 2015, Mr. Livingston said it was "entirely possible" he would not have consulted Peter Wallace, then the secretary of cabinet, about getting the administrative rights had Mr. Faist been able to delete computer records without it, according to the production order.

Mr. McGuinty is not under investigation and has co-operated with the probe.

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The trial continues on Tuesday.

Ontario's Liberal government is embroiled in a scandal over the closure of two power plants in the Greater Toronto Area. As hearings continue into the costs of the closures, The Globe's online politics editor Chris Hannay explains the history of the scandal. Globe and Mail Update
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