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Complaints filed after FOI reveals Surrey Police chief used personal email

SPS sends cease-and-desist letter to Keep the RCMP in Surrey after improperly vetted docs shared online
Surrey Police Service spokesperson Ian MacDonald. (Photo: Lauren Collins)

The Surrey Police Service has sent a cease-and-desist letter to the Keep the RCMP in Surrey group, and two of its supporters, after the police chief’s personal email address was posted on Twitter.

On Aug. 17, KTRIS posted on Twitter a screenshot of an email they’d obtained through a freedom of information request that showed Chief Norm Lipinski using a personal email account to forward emails to his work account in the first of January.

Paul Daynes, KTRIS campaign director, said the group posted it to Twitter on the basis that it was information provided to them through an FOI request.

That initial tweet, however, did not block out Lipinski’s personal email.

The KTRIS account was temporarily shut down “because (Twitter) regarded it as being an invasion of privacy,” said Daynes.

SPS spokesperson Ian MacDonald said “putting out people’s personal information, we felt was a contradiction to our rules,” so they reported the tweet. But he noted the FOI documents “weren’t properly vetted,” so the email account wasn’t redacted.

“At that point in time, I think whatever measures needed to be taken were taken,” he noted. “To our surprise, hours later the same poster put up the information again.”

MacDonald said it was the same screenshot but “the only difference was somebody had taken a red marker and partially drew through the chief’s personal account, not to completely obscure it.”

Daynes said the group appealed to Twitter and had their account reinstated shortly after.

However, Daynes said the group reposted the screenshot the next day, adding “we crossed that address out, just to try to keep the peace.”

In an email shared with the Now-Leader, Roper Greyell LLP sent a cease-and-desist letter to KTRIS and two supporters on Aug. 18 stating that they “knowingly and without colour of right, used information obtained from a freedom of information request to: unlawfully use and distribute the personal email address of SPS Chief Constable Norm Lipinski on the social media platforms.”

The letter states they must confirm they have returned all copies that include Lipinski’s personal email and identify any copies they are unable to permanently erase or delete and return to SPS all personal information in their possession. It adds the SPS is in the process of “preparing an amended response to the applicable freedom of information request.”

“In my opinion, they picked on and tried to intimidate and bully two of our supporters, both women, both seniors,” said Daynes, noting the women didn’t post it to Twitter themselves. “I was involved in that myself, and I’m quite proud to have been involved in it as well.”

KTRIS has formally made complaints to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) and the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner (OPCC).

Meantime, MacDonald told the Now-Leader that Lipinski was in his “first substantive week of work” after the Christmas holiday and “early in the process, the chief was diligently trying to put together a team” as the sole employee of the SPS. He added some of those first emails were to Jennifer Hyland, who has since been hired by the SPS as deputy chief constable.

MacDonald said some of those emails could have first been sent during his transition between the Delta Police Department and SPS, and the only way to reach him would have been through his personal email.

Asked why getting an SPS email for Lipinski was not dealt with immediately, MacDonald said, “There would have had to have been a connection with city IT – and I’m not blaming them by any stretch – but you’ve got to get your phone, you’ve got to get your laptop and you’ve got to get your office set up.”

But MacDonald added he “cannot and will not suggest” Lipinski wasn’t set up on the email system.

“In a perfect world, all of his communications to all SPS matters would have remained on an SPS email, but I think reasonable people would look at it and go, given the timing and given the transition, it’s understandable that maybe one or two of his emails in those preliminary first steps and first days before his team was assembled, before he had an assistant that could help him navigate some of that, could end up in a personal email.”

MacDonald added Lipinski had since received some emails to his personal account following the tweets.

“I think the count was low, but there definitely has been some.”

According to a guidance document from the OIPC, “The use of personal email accounts for work purposes can give the perception that public body employees are seeking to evade the freedom of information process.”

It adds that while “nothing in (the Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection Act) directly prohibits public body employees from using personal email accounts, doing so may make it more difficult for their employer to search for records.”

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Lauren Collins

About the Author: Lauren Collins

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media's national team, after my journalism career took me across B.C. since I was 19 years old.
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