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McGuinty’s chief of staff ‘learned’ how to double delete e-mails amid gas-plant backlash: court docs

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

Former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty's chief of staff got instructions on how to double delete e-mails in the summer of 2012, a period when the government was under mounting pressure to release documents related to the controversial cancellation of two gas-fired power plants, court documents show.

"I don't really have a strong desire to be email monitor for the Premier's Office," David Livingston, the chief of staff, says in an e-mail tabled as part of an exhibit at a criminal trial. But he says he has "learned a couple of things" after talking to David Nicholl, Ontario's corporate chief information officer: "if e-mails are 'double deleted' (meaning deleted from an INBOX and DELETE file) then they are gone and cannot be retrieved;" and if an e-mail that is to be double deleted has been forwarded, it will also have to be deleted from the "sent" file.

"Having said all of this, nothing is more confidential than talking rather than writing!" Mr. Livingston says in the e-mail dated Aug. 9, 2012, which was distributed to several staff members in the premier's office, according to the exhibit. "Just reading this, so no more triple delete?" one staffer asks. "Apparently not!" came the reply from another staffer.

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Mr. Livingston and former deputy chief of staff Laura 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 cancellation of the two power plants before the 2011 provincial election. Each has pleaded not guilty.

The charges stem from police accusations that Mr. Livingston hired a non-government IT expert, Ms. Miller's spouse, Peter Faist, to "wipe clean" computer hard drives in the Premier's Office just days before Mr. McGuinty stepped down in February, 2013.

The trial at Toronto's Old City Hall has heard from two witnesses about meetings they had with Mr. Livingston in August, 2012, when a legislative committee was demanding the release of gas-plant documents from the minority Liberal government. Peter Wallace, secretary of cabinet at the time, testified on Monday about a "tense conversation" he had with Mr. Livingston during a meeting that month, in which he told him he was "acutely worried" that the premier's office had not complied with a legally binding order to hand over documents in connection with the power plants.

Mr. Nicholl also testified last week that he met with Mr. Livingston in August of 2012, when the chief of staff asked about the process for deleting e-mails and expressed concern about e-mail accounts that were still open after some employees had left the premier's office.

Mr. Nicholl played a key role in helping Mr. Livingston get special access to computer hard drives in the premier's office during the transition from the McGuinty government to Premier Kathleen Wynne in early 2013, the trial was told.

While Mr. Wallace, now city manager of Toronto, approved the special access for Mr. Livingston, he testified that he did so after Mr. Nicholl told him seven people in the premier's office already had special access. Mr. Wallace said he was not aware at the time that the access given to Mr. Livingston was much more extensive, and said it is inconceivable that he would have approved it had he known that the chief of staff would use it to access government records held by other staff members.

On Jan. 31, 2013, the day Mr. Livingston got the special access, he sounded pleased, the e-mail exhibits show. "We have broken through," he said in response to an e-mail from Ms. Miller, asking "Any luck w the admin code?" Mr. Livingston adds in his e-mail that he will be talking to Mr. Nicholl that afternoon about how to "actually get the codes and move forward."

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An e-mail from Ms. Miller to Mr. Livingston titled Pete's Project and dated Jan. 24, says the process of wiping computers takes "3-4 hrs per desk."

The trial continues on Friday.

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About the Author

Karen Howlett is a national reporter based in Toronto. She returned to the newsroom in 2013 after covering Ontario politics at The Globe’s Queen’s Park bureau for seven years. Prior to that, she worked in the paper’s Vancouver bureau and in The Report on Business, where she covered a variety of beats, including financial services and securities regulation. More

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