A federal watchdog found Sébastien Togneri had “interfered” with access to information requests while working in prime minister Stephen Harper’s government. Today Togneri is working on a BC Liberal campaign in the Kootenays.
Vince Gogolek, executive director of B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Privacy Association advocacy group noticed on Twitter that Togneri has a role in the BC Liberal campaign.
“I was a little surprised,” Gogolek said. “He was in trouble in Ottawa because of his, shall we say, overenthusiastic reaction to access to information requests... What he did was subject to a commissioner’s report.”
Former federal information commissioner Suzanne Legault found in a pair of reports that Togneri had interfered with several access to information requests going back to 2009 while an advisor to the minister of public works. She also named two other staff members who had interfered in one request each.
“These staffers inserted themselves in various ways into a process that was designed to be carried out in an objective manner by public servants,” Legault wrote in a 2014 report. “Consequently, the rights conferred under the Act were compromised.”
Togneri’s actions included attempting to block the release of records to a Canadian Press reporter who had requested them under the federal access to information act.
“Specifically, the involvement of Mr. Togneri in the processing of five requests and his directions to members of the ATIP Directorate concerning these requests constituted interference with requesters’ right of access under the Act,” she wrote in her 2014 report.
Legault, who has since retired, is on record saying there was evidence a possible offence was committed and that she was frustrated she could not herself refer cases to the Attorney General of Canada for investigation.
Togneri resigned his federal post in 2010 and former public works minister Rona Ambrose referred the matter to the RCMP. The police decided not to lay charges, saying a criminal investigation was “unwarranted.”
The Tyee has previously reported that Togneri worked as an executive assistant to Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett around the end of 2015, but left to work in Morocco for the International Republican Institute, a non-profit chaired by former Republican presidential nominee John McCain.
According to Togneri’s LinkedIn page, he left the provincial government after a year in February 2016. He also previously worked for nearly two years for the Wildrose opposition party in Alberta.
During the current B.C. election, Togneri is working on Doug Clovechok’s BC Liberal campaign in Columbia River-Revelstoke. Attempts to contact him via Clovechok’s office were unsuccessful.
“Sébastien was hired more than two years ago at this point to work for the provincial government,” said Shane Mills, a BC Liberal spokesperson.
Togneri left the province to work in Morocco, returned to the provincial government, then took a leave to work on the campaign, Mills said. “We were happy to welcome him back.”
As for the interference in federal information requests, Mills said, “He was ultimately cleared of that.”
Since then Togneri has done a lot of good work, including promoting democracy internationally and supporting the right of women to vote, Mills said. “Sébastien has continued to work hard.”
A spokesperson for the BC NDP, Jen Holmwood, said Togneri likely feels at home with the provincial Liberals, a party with its own poor record on transparency.
“It is troubling to see another disgraced Harper staffer show up on the BC Liberal campaign, but frankly not terribly surprising,” she said via email.
“Given the Christy Clark Liberals’ record on transparency — including triple-deleting emails and abusing the access to information system — he probably fits in comfortably,” she said.
FIPA’s Gogolek noted the BC Liberal campaign director is Laura Miller, who is herself facing charges in Ontario related to the mass deletion of email records.
“It seems to be part of a pattern,” Gogolek said. Interfering with access to information or even facing related criminal charges “doesn’t seem to be any kind of barrier to employment with the current government,” he said.
After the provincial government’s issues with triple deleting records and coming up empty on many information requests, “I would think you’d want to do everything you can to show you are changing your stripes,” he said.
Still, governments are entitled to hire whomever they want, Gogolek said. “I’m sure they have a number of good qualities and they have their reasons.”