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Nothing Personal—Canada Says “NO” to Using Private Email for Government Business

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|Mar 22|magazine7 min read

What’s the world of government business without a little controversy? In recent news, Hillary Clinton has found herself in some boiling water for using her own personal email account to conduct business. Specifically, Clinton is being accused of using her account in an attempt to dodge the creation of public records. Though Canada tries to avoid this issue, there have been problems in the past, resulting in some debate over the particular stance on the matter.

Problems in the Past

While Canadian laws are set in place to avoid such a controversy, there have been issues that have managed to slip through the cracks—so to speak.

For example, John Yap, the former multiculturalism minister and MLA for Richmond-Steveston, ran into a problem back in 2013 and even found himself being reprimanded by the privacy commissioner. Yap admitted to investigators that his staff knowingly used personal email accounts during an ethnic outreach scandal to avoid creating public records.

A similar concern erupted back in 2012 during the resignation of Ken Boessenkool, the premier’s chief of staff, in which not one email or paper trail could be found detailing his involvement with a female staff member.

Getting Around the Issue  

Though a 2014 policy has been established in which government employees must use government email accounts to conduct all matters of business, it seems that there are ways to getting around this issue.

For example, ministers rarely have emails captured in FOI requests due to the fact that they have two separate email accounts—government ministerial email accounts and separate legislature email accounts.  While government accounts are public, the latter type of account is not. And even though the policy doesn’t specifically state that using one account over the other is illegal, there is a clause on how any conduct relating to government business is at subject for oversight.

However, Treasury Board Minister Tony Clement doesn’t believe that there is an issue in Canada. He believes that the laws in place are strong enough to promote officials to archive and retain all correspondence that deals with government business.

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