Lost in transition?

In June, Public Eye readers found out controversial former provincial Liberal campaign coordinator Barinder Sall had been promoting Kash Heed in the media back when the future Vancouver-Fraserview MLA was still the West Vancouver police department's chief constable. But we may never know if such a relationship existed when Mr. Heed was a Vancouver police department superintendent because the force deletes its members email accounts when they retire - a policy now being criticized by civil liberty and freedom of information advocates, with one of them labelling it as a form of "organizational Alzheimer's."

Mr. Sall was charged in May under the Criminal Code and the Election Act following a RCMP investigation into possible offences involving the ex-solicitor general's 2009 campaign office.

Mr. Heed has denied any wrongdoing and not been charged. He has also continued to not respond to questions about his relationship with Mr. Sall.

But 66 pages of records released by the West Vancouver police department in response to a freedom of information request filed by Public Eye show Mr. Sall encouraging a radio host to have Heed on his talk show and developing a story idea that could put the then chief constable's name in a newspaper.

We also submitted a similar request to the Vancouver police department, asking for any records sent between the two men between June 2006 and August 2007.

The response: "we write to advise that (Heed's) email account, along with emails saved in that account's inbox, was (sic) deleted at the time of his retirement, as per standard Department practice. We are therefore unable to offer any further reasonable assistance with respect to your request."

In an email, the police department's information and privacy unit explained messages of a "non-transitory nature" are transferred out of those accounts and saved for "at least a year" in separate folders - especially if they relate to an "operational or administrative matter."

So it's a possible, if there were any records sent between Messrs. Heed and Sall, they could have been filed in one of those folders - which the unit didn't check.

A department spokesperson didn't respond to questions about who gets to decide what emails are of a transitory nature - records of temporary usefulness that can be destroyed when they are no longer needed.

Although the unit has insisted the department has met its obligations under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

But, according to BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association policy and communications director Vincent Gogolek, the department's document disposal policy doesn't compare well with the one used by the provincial government - where administrative and operational executive records are retained for a minimum of ten years.

Mr. Gogolek also said the only records that should be classified transitory and destroyed are "something like don't forget to pick up your dry cleaning."

And, in any case, there's no need to do so when electronic storage space is "enormous and cheap as it is...Put his stuff on a (memory) stick, put it in his closed personnel file and there it is."

"What they're doing is they're lobotomizing themselves. They're giving themselves organizational Alzheimer's - because they are going to be unable to reach back and get those memories."

In an interview with Public Eye, British Columbia Civil Liberties Association president Rob Holmes stated, "It is simply not right that this kind of accessible information should be tossed out simply because somebody is exiting or moving on."

"There may be information in police member emails that would be very helpful one way or another, whether to the Crown or the defense in court cases, or to police complaint or internal discipline investigations. Thoughtless destruction of them is a bad thing," he continued.

"I would strongly encourage them to look to organizations that have thought through what protocols for document retention and destruction make sense and serve the public interest."

The six charges against Mr. Sall relate to the publication and financing of controversial anti-New Democrat, Chinese-language pamphlets distributed in Vancouver-Fraserview during that campaign. Those pamphlets had no sponsorship information on them, a violation of the Election Act.

At the same time those charges were laid, special prosecutor Terrence Robertson cleared Mr. Heed because "there was no evidence of actual knowledge on his part and no evidence that reasonable diligence would have made him aware of any of the offences that have been charged against other people involved in the campaign."

But a day later, on May 4, Mr. Robertson stepped aside after disclosing his law firm had contributed $1,000 to Mr. Heed's bid for public office.

His successor, Peter Wilson, is now conducting a "fresh independent" charge assessment.

The following is a complete copy of the Vancouver Police Department's response to our freedom of information request.

Vancouver Police Department response to records request

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