obmgnorth saanich
Monitoring Software

By David Broadland

In May 2015, the Saanich District in British Columbia, Canada, was rocked by a scandal involving the installation of employee monitoring software on several computers, including that of the newly-elected mayor, Richard Atwell. This controversial act raised numerous questions about privacy, accountability, and the erosion of democratic principles. This article aims to delve deeper into the matter, exploring the revelations brought forth by a whistle-blower and the subsequent investigation by BC Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham.

Unanswered Questions Linger

The release of Elizabeth Denham’s report on the installation of employee monitoring software within the Saanich District left many citizens frustrated and unsatisfied. While Denham’s investigation shed light on the illegal actions of District employees, it failed to provide definitive answers to some fundamental questions. Did Saanich managers conspire to spy on Mayor Atwell? Who ordered the spying? And perhaps most importantly, who will take responsibility for ensuring the truth comes to light?

Content Background

Saanich Council’s Controversial Decision

In an attempt to address public concerns, Saanich Council decided to assign further investigation of the matter to Interim CAO Andy Laidlaw. However, this decision only added to the skepticism surrounding the case. With Laidlaw already assuming a defensive position on behalf of his staff, doubts arose about the transparency and impartiality of the investigation. The Council’s choice to hold closed-door meetings further fueled public frustration, leaving little hope for a thorough examination of the events.

Evidence Points to Surveillance

Elizabeth Denham’s report provided crucial insights into the events surrounding the installation of the monitoring software. While Saanich Council and staff attempted to downplay the allegations, Denham’s findings revealed troubling information consistent with Mayor Atwell’s claims of being spied upon. The report highlighted the potential erosion of democratic principles, as covertly gathering information from elected officials raises concerns about the balance of power and the need for accountability.

The WhistleBlower’s Revelations

A breakthrough in the case came with the emergence of a document authored by an anonymous whistle-blower, referred to as “WB.” This document outlined a conversation that took place on November 20, 2014, between WB, Assistant IT Manager John Proc, and another individual. WB’s recollection painted a different picture from the official reports, suggesting targeted surveillance rather than a general security measure. According to WB’s account, Proc explicitly mentioned being “nervous about the new mayor” and installing the software on directors’ computers to create the appearance of non-targeted monitoring.

Veiled Motives Unveiled

WB’s document sheds light on the motives behind the installation of the monitoring software. The evidence suggests that the initiative aimed to monitor Mayor Atwell covertly, possibly due to concerns about his IT expertise and the potential exposure of sensitive information. This revelation raises serious questions about the integrity of Saanich staff and the principles of democratic governance. The notion that elected officials should be subject to secret surveillance undermines public trust and the core tenets of a democratic society.

Lack of Transparency

The lack of transparency surrounding the monitoring software installation further compounds the controversy. Saanich Council and staff failed to keep proper records or notify Mayor Atwell and other councillors about the monitoring activities. The absence of a Privacy Impact Assessment, as highlighted by Denham in her report, reveals a disregard for accountability and adherence to privacy laws. The community’s trust in the Saanich government has been significantly compromised, necessitating a thorough examination of the actions and decisions made by those in power.

The Impact on Saanich

The aftermath of Denham’s report left a sense of sadness and disappointment among Saanich residents. Shellie MacDonald, a concerned citizen, expressed her sadness over the culture of spying and the lack of teamwork among councillors. The majority of councillors, however, chose to disregard the sentiments of the community, rejecting calls for an apology or even an expression of regret. This further strained the relationship between the government and the people it was meant to serve.

The Quest for Truth and Accountability

As the community grapples with the revelations and unanswered questions surrounding the Saanich monitoring software scandal, the pursuit of truth and accountability remains paramount. The need for a comprehensive investigation, free from biases and conducted with transparency, is crucial to restoring public trust. The actions taken by Saanich Council and staff have raised serious concerns about privacy rights, democratic principles, and the ethical conduct of those entrusted with public office. Only through a thorough examination of the facts and a commitment to transparency can the Saanich District move forward and regain the confidence of its citizens.