A White Rock resident is asking for an apology from Mayor Wayne Baldwin – and wondering whether the city plans to schedule privacy training for elected officials and staff – following recommendations from the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for B.C.
In a letter to Erika Johanson sent Feb. 1 – but only made public now – OIPC investigator Justin Hodkinson upheld her complaint that the city had breached her privacy.
The complaint stemmed from Mayor Wayne Baldwin naming Johanson in an interview for a May 2016 Peace Arch News article about his request to block emails from five city residents.
In his analysis of the case, Hodkinson said he found that Johanson’s “privacy complaint against the city is substantiated.”
“The mayor could have confirmed that he had requested that five individuals’ emails be blocked, but he did not need to identify each of them to the PAN reporter,” Hodkinson writes. “I recommend that the city consider providing some privacy training to its elected officials and staff in order to ensure that the city does not confirm or disclose personal information to the media in a manner unauthorized by FIPPA (the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act).”
Johanson told PAN this week that she had been surprised to learn from a reporter that her emails to the city had been blocked.
“I have always been civil in my correspondence with the city,” she said in an email. “I was stunned when I read the subsequent article in PAN wherein the mayor identified me as one of those whose emails had been blocked and accused me along with four other individuals of cyber abuse and political opportunism,” she added .
“My privacy and reputation as a resident of the City of White Rock are important to me, but the mayor has taken that away by his actions. The decision by the OIPC reinforces the fact that I have done nothing to be singled out by the mayor. What I am asking of the mayor is for an equally public apology and a retraction of his accusations.”
Baldwin told PAN Thursday that he only confirmed Johanson’s name had been blocked in response to a reporter’s question whether she was one of the five.
“Would I apologize to her? I guess I would apologize on behalf of the reporter for the PAN,” he said. “OK, I suppose I did confirm it, which was the wrong thing to have done.”
He added that “a combination of things occurred,” which he believes included the identification of residents who were blocked through their complaints, but that he had not volunteered the names.
“It’s kind of a grey area – it’s hard to say where the blame lies.”
He said the city would consider training of the kind suggested by the OIPC to clarify privacy issues and avoid similar problems in future.
However, Baldwin called back at PAN press time to say: “I would most certainly apologize. It was my mistake. I was wrong.”
In May 2016, after receiving emails critical of the city’s response to the Five Corners fire – communications which Baldwin characterized as “cyber abuse” – the mayor instructed the city’s IT manager to block emails from five residents from his email address.
The action became a news story when it was revealed that emails from the five had also been blocked from all council and staff members on the city’s email server.
“We made a mistake and cut them off entirely from emailing us over a weekend,” Baldwin said.
Four of the residents, well-known council critics Dennis Lypka, Garry Wolgemuth, Roderick Louis and Ross Buchanan, were also swift to deny that their emails had constituted cyber abuse. They said they had realized they were blocked when they received failed-delivery notifications from emails sent to the city server.
In the subsequent article noting the residents’ emails had since been unblocked, Baldwin confirmed the names of the residents.