Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell addresses reporters on March 31 after B.C. Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham released a report on the District's use of spyware program Spector 360.

Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell addresses reporters on March 31 after B.C. Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham released a report on the District's use of spyware program Spector 360.

Saanich council OKs privacy commissioner’s spyware recommendations

Public calls for independent, external investigation into Spector 360 spyware use go unheeded

Saanich council is embracing five recommendations made by B.C.’s privacy commissioner that address the municipality’s improper use of spyware on the mayor’s computer, but public calls for an external, independent investigation are going unheeded.

On Monday night, Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell put forward nine motions to address a scathing report released last month by B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham on the District’s use of Spector 360, an employee monitoring software program that recorded keystrokes, screenshots and other sensitive information on 13 municipal computers including workstations used by Atwell and councillors.

“Despite the fact the spyware was installed on my computer without my knowledge, and after only one day in office, which beleaguered by initial progress, we now have the opportunity to reset,” Atwell told the packed council chambers.

Atwell hoped to offer a public apology to anyone who was known to be monitored using Spector 360, and to ask staff to detail how personal information collected using the spyware had been identified and destroyed. The report also set out to establish the duties of a dedicated privacy officer, who could then conduct an audit of the District’s IT systems and its compliance with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) within 60 days.

“To date, I’ve only received minimal support regarding the spyware issue from some of my council colleagues, which has been disheartening,” Atwell said. “We will fully move ahead when we address the unanswered questions that have been left behind from the privacy commissioner’s report.”

Coun. Judy Brownoff, who chaired the portion of the meeting that addressed Atwell’s report, began by reading to the sometimes boisterous crowd a statement on respectful workplaces.

“When someone is speaking, please do not interject and do not applaud or boo during or after someone’s remarks. I also want to remind the public that intimidation, bullying or harassment at these meetings will not be tolerated,” Brownoff said, before an irate audience member interrupted her.

“Don’t insinuate!” the man shouted.

“Do you want to leave the meeting now? No, this is a respectful workplace,” Brownoff shot back.

Soon after, Atwell tabled his report – a set of nine motions designed to address the privacy commissioner’s report – as the last agenda item of the evening.

“It’s now clear from the commissioner’s report that serious mistakes were made following the election last November with the hurried and illegal installation of Spector 360,” Atwell said in his opening statement. “The public must be satisfied if we are to have their confidence going forward. … It’s our elected duty to restore public trust.”

The report sparked a steady line of public speakers who expressed anger, disappointment and sadness at the spyware scandal. Most called for an independent, external investigation to address lingering questions left by the privacy commissioner’s report.

“I’ve never seen a report like this throughout my career,” said Karen Harper, a former Chief Information Officer and senior vice president with the B.C. Pension Corporation. Harper told council she was tasked with overseeing compliance with FIPPA at the Crown corporation before her retirement.

“There’s a significant gap in (the privacy commissioner’s) report. And that gap, which needs addressing, is how did this happen,” Harper told council.

In her report, Elizabeth Denham said the District failed to properly notify employees about the installation and use of Spector 360. Denham also found “the District’s submissions to my office demonstrate a deep lack of understanding about the most basic tenets of the (Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy) Act, such as what constitutes the collection of personal information.”

Haji Charania told council he was shocked by “absolutely unnecessary, wasteful and wrong” use of spyware at the District.

“The first time I heard this, I was surprised. It sounded like an old James Bond movie,” Charania said.

Carmel Thomson, a soft-spoken Saanich resident best known for her stewardship of Maltby Lake, felt compelled to apologize to Atwell herself.

“I’d certainly like to apologize to the mayor, it’s very unfortunate about what’s happened,” Thomson said.

When the public speakers concluded, council approved the five recommendations laid out in Denham’s report. The first two recommendations – removal of Spector 360 and the destruction of all data collected through its use – have already been completed, according to Saanich’s interim CAO Andy Laidlaw. Denham’s further recommendations include an update to District privacy policies and the creation of administrator logs to track when anyone accesses IT systems that store personal information. (Denham could not determine if anyone had accessed information collected by Spector 360 because there were no digital access records.)

The privacy commissioner also recommended the District of Saanich implement a comprehensive privacy management program, and that a privacy officer be hired who can then ensure the municipality complies fully with FIPPA.

“Even though one never likes to have their shortcomings pointed out, I think we’ll turn this around to make our organization even stronger,” said Coun. Susan Brice.

“We need to address those problems,” said Coun. Vic Derman. “I’m more than comfortable taking action as quickly as we can to ensure we’ve done that.”

Derman then moved that Atwell’s report be referred to staff for consideration.

“I think there are some good intents here from the mayor … but there are issues that are quite likely in-camera,” Derman said. Those issues include potentially identifying individual staff members, he said.

Atwell’s report would have directed staff to explain several errors from Jan. 13 and 14 District press releases about the spyware’s installation. Those inconsistencies include District officials’ assertions that “there was no reasonable expectation of privacy by employees” while using workplace computers, that the spyware was installed in response to conclusions from a May 2014 security audit and that the spyware was installed to enhance the security of the IT system. The spyware actually made Saanich’s IT security less secure “by concentrating the personal information of key employees and officers in one location, creating a ‘honeypot’ for external attackers,” Denham wrote in her report.

“We haven’t looked at this more wholesomely,” said Coun. Colin Plant, the only councillor to support Atwell’s defeated motion to issue a public apology to anyone monitored using Spector 360 at the District. “While I appreciate Mayor Atwell saying let’s look at the media release, I think it needs to be far broader than that.”

Plant argued for a complete staff report on the installation of Spector 360, which was unanimously approved.

Carrie MacPhee, Saanich’s director of legislative services and acting CAO, said the report should first be discussed in secret because it involves accusations made of District staff, and council can then decide how to proceed.

“My respectful suggestion would to be get all of that information first,” MacPhee told council. “Once council has that report, you would be able to determine how you could like to respond.”

After the meeting, Atwell said council should still take more of an oversight role by being prescriptive about the information they want from staff.

“Council quite often asks for reports. Instead, they sliced and diced this and left it for the CAO to handle,” Atwell said. “Few are interested in having conversation with me, even about my own motions. And I am the first among equals but I am an equal and the respect I was given tonight with my own motion, I think shows the state of Saanich council at the moment.”

Atwell also expressed concern at the “shoddy paper trail” left by staff when they met on Nov. 19 and decided to install monitoring software on computers of the mayor, councillors, the CAO, the Fire Chief and others. There are no minutes nor an agenda from that meeting, Atwell said.

Outside council chambers, Coun. Leif Wergeland said council’s adoption of the privacy commissioner’s recommendations shows the municipality is ready to move forward.

“We’re saying to the public, ‘There were some changes and mistakes that were made in the process that we hope to make right,'” Wergeland said.

It was not immediately known when the in-camera report on the installation and use of spyware at the District would return to council.


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

New programs and services aimed at helping the unhoused find shelter or housing in Victoria, and to take advantage of support services of various kinds, could be funded if a City of Victoria grant application is successful. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria seeks $3M to $4M in grant funds to enhance community services for unhoused population

Various supports, services for unhoused population part of broad-based funding application

A Victoria parks staffer turns compost made from organics collected in the parks. Piles of this steaming, nutrient-rich stuff will be handed out between April 12-18. (Zoë Ducklow/News Staff)
Victoria shovels free home-made compost out to gardeners

Ideal for prepping food gardens, the compost, mulch and wood chips will be at city parks for pick up

Victoria Police Department seized a replica firearm during an early morning call to the 100-block of Gorge Road East on April 11. (VicPD handout)
Victoria police seize replica firearm in early Sunday morning call

Officers called to temporary housing facility in 100-block of Gorge Road East

Road improvements in Sooke are nearing completion . (Dawn Gibson/News Staff)
Sooke road work nears completion

Projects part of $5.7 million in improvements

A few dozen students and parents gathered outside Lansdowne Middle School South Campus Monday morning to protest proposed budget cuts to SD61 music programs. From left to right: Lyra Gaudin, Cleo Bateman, Abby Farish, Brigitte Peters, Enid Gaudin, Des Farish. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)
Students protest proposed cuts to SD61 music programs

Proposed $1.5-million cut would hit elementary and middle school programs

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

A youth was arrested following a car crash on Wallace Street on Saturday, April 10. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Onlookers laugh and jeer as B.C. teen beaten, then forced to strip and walk home

Police arrest older teen, call video shared on social media ‘disturbing’

A lady wears a sticker given out after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count slows after last week’s peak

3,219 new cases since Friday, 18 additional deaths

North Cowichan councillor Tek Manhas did not violate the municipality’s code of conduct by posting a sexist meme on Facebook, council concludes. (File photo)
B.C. municipality to take no action against councillor who posted sexist meme

Tek Manhas’s meme doesn’t violate North Cowichan council’s code of conduct, municipality concludes

A 41-person air task force, including 12 members from 407 Long Range Patrol Squadron at 19 Wing Comox, seized more than $3 million CND worth of cocaine as part of Op Caribbe. Photo by Canadian Armed Forces Operations/Facebook
Vancouver Island team helps make $368 million three-tonne cocaine seizure

12 members from 19 Wing Comox involved in Op Caribbe

Killer whales surface near Sebastion Beach in Lantzville on Sunday, April 11. (Photos courtesy Ella Smiley)
Chainsaw and friends near the beach thrill orca watchers in Lantzville

Jagged-finned orca named Chainsaw and 17 others spent hours off Sebastion Beach this weekend

Nootka Sound RCMP and DFO Conservation and Protection Officers seized this 30 foot vessel, fishing gear and equipment as well as Chinook salmon, salmon roe, rock fish and ling cod after an investigation on Sept. 11. A judge in Campbell River on February hit the owner and his accomplices with significant fines, a ban on holding fishing licences and loss of equpment, including the boat’s motor and trolling motor. RCMP photo
Washington State trio’s fisheries violations the worst veteran officer has seen in 20 years

Judge bans three men from fishing or holding a fishing licence anywhere in Canada

—Image: contributed
Indoor wine tastings still allowed in B.C., not considered a ‘social gathering’

“Tasting is really just part of the retail experience. The analogy I use is you wouldn’t buy a pair of pants without trying them on.”

A sign on a shop window indicates the store is closed in Ottawa, Monday March 23, 2020. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is raising its estimate for the number of businesses that are considering the possibility of closing permanently. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Small business struggling amid COVID-19 pandemic looks for aid in Liberals’ budget

President Dan Kelly said it is crucial to maintain programs to help businesses to the other side of the pandemic

Most Read