EDITORIAL: Saanich should launch independent investigation of spyware scandal

The use of Spector 360 involved the collection of personal information in violation of provincial privacy law

Saanich council should call for an independent body to investigate the spyware scandal.

The use of Spector 360 involved the collection of personal information in violation of provincial privacy law as determined by B.C. Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham.

There are some who still debate the seriousness of that fact. Some councillors and District officials balked after Denham relayed the “near-complete lack of awareness and understanding of the privacy provisions” in the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act she observed from the staff members she interviewed.

Under Denham’s mandate, she was able to offer recommendations or orders as a result of her investigation. She chose the former option, believing the District would act quickly to address her concerns. It seems the municipality and elected officials support doing just that, but only when it comes to implementing Denham’s tightly restricted administrative recommendations. What Denham was unable to answer, what was left hanging after her report – and what council displayed an unwillingness to clearly address in the public arena on Monday night – was whether there was malicious intent when Spector 360 was installed on the computer of Mayor Richard Atwell, the Chief Administrative Officer and 11 others. Instead, council picked apart Atwell’s complex set of motions and chose instead to ask for an internal staff report on the murky period between Nov. 19 and Jan. 20, when spyware was deemed a reasonable fix to IT security shortcomings. Now, senior staff – with the exception of interim CAO Andy Laidlaw – will be reporting back to council in-camera on their own highly questionable decision made after a single meeting with no minutes for reference. Council said it will then decide how to proceed.

A motion for an independent investigation didn’t make it onto the floor on Monday. Atwell said he thought it was doomed to fail, based on the opposition to his other motions. But he or another councillor should have put it forward, if only to demonstrate the lack of support for such a move.

It’s proper to give staff a chance to explain themselves in most cases, but independent review is necessary when those implicated are investigating themselves. What was needed Monday night was resolve. What council demonstrated was its fractured dysfunction.