Council had ‘no idea’ of mayor’s spy concerns

Saanich Council releases statement regarding third-party recommended security software that monitors municipal computers

Saanich Council is trying to break free and move forward from the myriad allegations and complaints launched Monday by Mayor Richard Atwell.

Among the multiple statements unleashed by Atwell are implications of police harassment, of police leaking information regarding a Dec. 11 incident and of a spying program within municipal hall that monitored the mayor.

But those allegations of unfair conduct came crashing down within an hour on Tuesday evening as the Saanich Police found nothing criminal about how Saanich Information Technology department uses monitoring software in municipal hall.

“I’m stunned by this statement,” said Atwell, adding he believes it to be a conflict of interest for Saanich Police and will forward it to the B.C. Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner.

Saanich councillors dismissed the suggestion of spyware in a unified statement released to the press. They said the monitoring software in question, which Atwell described as Spector 360, was installed on several municipal computers following a third-party audit of the District of Saanich computer system in May 2014.

“On behalf of council we would have hoped (Atwell) would have said something to us before he said (he was being spied on) to reporters,” Coun. Judy Brownoff told reporters. “We had no idea.”

The third-party data review recommended the installation of security software to protect the the municipal database from external threats and to monitor internal activity that may result from external threats.

“I want to assure the public that our security measures protect Saanich’s database and everything on the system. Our staff are in charge to ensure it’s secure,” Brownoff said.

Brownoff said she’s never had so many in-camera meetings to start an election term and council just wants to move on.

“Council is working on a financial plan, strategic plan, there is citizen and business surveys out there, and we just can’t get to the business at hand, we want to move on with this stuff,” she said.

Atwell had come forward earlier on Tuesday to answer questions following his Monday (Jan. 12) press conference at the Data Tech Business Centre in which he admitted to an extra-marital affair and alleged Saanich municipal staff was using spyware to monitor his computer between Dec. 2 and 11, when he found out about it for the first time.

“Spyware takes screenshots every five seconds, everything can be seen on a screen and is sent to a server called Langley,” said Atwell, who comes from a background as a software engineer. It was installed on Dec. 2, the day after I was made mayor. I wasn’t made aware until Dec. 11. I had no knowledge of this software nor did I give my consent to have it put on.

“If I typed my password, it would be captured by Spector. This has to be figured out.”

Atwell also elaborated on the request he’s filed to review four instances in which the Integrated Road Safety Unit pulled him over, once as a mayoral candidate, twice as mayor-elect and once as mayor.

He added only that as of Tuesday he had been contacted by the head of the IRSU, RCMP Staff Sgt. James Anderson, and was in the process of submitting the details of the traffic stops, saying all four instances were IRSU cars.

Atwell did not drive the same car for all four incidents, as he was pulled over in two separate cars registered in his name.

The mayor also addressed Saanich Police Chief Bob Downie’s Jan. 12 statement that Atwell never came to Downie with his issues of Saanich Police leaking information about the Dec. 11 incident in which Atwell called 911.

“I filed my complaint with B.C.’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner because it’s the proper avenue.”

– This story has been updated with new information from its original post.reporter@saanichnews.com