Why is Canada’s Federal Cabinet Haemorrhaging Secret Documents?
ell, it’s happened again – another Conservative government minister loses a secret document plunging the besieged cabinet into yet another document management crisis.
And my question here, echoed on blogs and in news columns every which way you look: why is this happening again?
Ministers, like any senior management, need to carry sensitive documents about with them from time to time. Indeed, they are legally responsible for such documents; it’s one of their core responsibilities as Ministers of the Crown. And they’re not unique in having this responsibility. Even a lowly consultant working in the Ministry of Justice (not the same portfolio as was the subject of this story – which was Environment) is responsible for ensuring the documents and any software materials I may have in my possession are secure and accounted for. In many respects, maintaining security on software is harder than hardcopy documentation because one is vulnerable to copies being made potentially without one’s knowledge. I would say that were I to simply lose a document or leave software files vulnerable to duplication on a public network that I should be held to account for such oversight. Although there is, particularly in my case, a certain motive to protect soft and hardcopy files merely by virtue of personal professionalism; holding someone individually accountable for materials which contain sensitive information is the final means by which the Government of Canada can offer its citizens some assurance such information is being handled responsibly.
So if federal employees are rightly held to such a standard, why should the Minister be any different?
We hear today through various media outlets that Environment Minister (and Minister Responsible for Atomic Energy of Canada, Ltd. [AECL]) Lisa Raitt was not the one who left the documents in question in the CTV news room. Apparently, it was a 26-year-old political aide (believed to be Jasmine Macdonald), who has since resigned herself. But these documents sat at the CTV bureau for a full week before the broadcaster itself finally called the Minister’s office to say they had them. I simply can’t – in my most sunny, optimistic and forgiving mood – imagine why the AECL Minister would leave sensitive documents about the Chalk River nuclear reactor at CTV for a full week without wondering where they went? After all, they are supposed to have systems to monitor these documents at all times. Did those systems work? Or, in the more likely case they did, why did the Minister’s staff not advise her they were missing (assuming they didn’t)?
Yes, it’s hard (really, really hard) to not consider the worst-case scenario here and, if the Minister is to keep her job, don’t we, the electorate, deserve some kind of explanation beyond “I offered my resignation,”.
I think the CBC is being far too forgiving – treating Canadian secrets as somehow undeserving of serious attention. You’d think Canada didn’t have any real secrets – despite the fact we’re talking about nuclear secrets here. Indeed, there are some folks who would consider that kind of information somewhat valuable, even if the CBC or the Conservative Party of Canada don’t.