A lawyer stepped in Monday to try to curb some of the more dramatic allegations a former employee made against Citizens’ Services Minister Jinny Sims.
But the opposition continued questioning her on the original complaint — that she’s disregarding policy about doing public business on private personal communications channels that aren’t shielded from public view.
The move suggests the government is going to try to weather the tempest that developed this month around Sims, with no independent review of the claims the fired employee made.
Lawyer Joanna Gislason, who represents the NDP caucus, took on several of the charges made by Sims’ former constituency worker, Kate Gillie.
She discounted them as follows:
• That Sims intended to engage in a “cash for access” fund raiser to raise Chinese money.
Gislason said the event referred to was a non-partisan charity fundraiser for a hospital, sponsored by four Chinese-Canadian organizations. “This was not a political fundraiser, a fact which directly contradicts Ms. Gillie’s claim.”
• That a contract for website work was fraudulent because the person Sims’ office hired had no experience.
Gislason said the contract was for outreach and social media, not for work on the website and public invoices confirm as much.
• That Sims got improper campaign contributions in exchange for writing letters in support of visa applications.
Gislason said that is untrue. No evidence has been produced to support the claim and there is no Elections B.C. record of contributions by the named individuals.
• That some Pakistani individuals seeking visas who got letters of support from Sims were on a security watch list.
Although Sims herself referred to the security watch list earlier, Gislason said a review found there is no information to suggest that any of visa applicants were on a watch list.
• That Sims directed or participated in the improper use of non-official communication methods.
Gislason said the minister and her staff are consistent in their reports there was no improper conduct in this regard. The lawyer said Gillie was confused about the appropriate division between government work and constituency office work. Constituency communication is not subject to freedom of information law.
The last item was the one that started the controversy, when Gillie’s lawyer wrote to various officials with complaints that Sims’ office was defying the law regarding retention of communication records.
That lawyer, Donald Sorchan, said his client was prepared to swear that Sims instructed her to use non-official communication methods in order to avoid being captured by freedom-of-information law.
The opposition posed numerous questions to Sims two weeks ago, who was under the gun last year about similar complaints and had to apologize for some lapses.
Sims acknowledged some of the issues, said she had talked to her staff about following procedure, but also insisted she had done nothing wrong.
On Monday, she read parts of the caucus lawyer’s letter to the B.C. Liberals and accused them of spreading unfounded allegations.
“This was an extremely difficult human resources situation in my constituency office with a staff member who only worked for me for six weeks. The opposition keeps grasping for a gotcha moment, but repeating false accusations is irresponsible.”
Liberals also questioned how the government is handling the complaints. Attorney General David Eby originally said the information and privacy commissioner had all the tools necessary to investigate them. But commissioner Michael McEvoy later posted a statement saying he doesn’t have the powers needed, and that shortcomings in the law mean Sims is responsible for investigating herself.
The only investigation to date was done by Premier John Horgan’s chief of staff, Geoff Meggs, who found nothing wrong.
Liberals also produced posts on personal communications platforms — WhatsApp and iMessage — about a “Team Sims” group. They’d requested Sims’ messages earlier and received nothing, but there appears to be traffic.
Sims said she follows the rules and does not use such accounts for government business.
Just So You Know: Liberals had to back down slightly on one aspect of the case Monday. During an earlier argument about the visa support letters, Liberal MLA Jas Johal reminded Sims: “she is an MLA for Surrey-Panorama, not Islamabad North.”
On Monday he said that offended some in the Pakistani community, so he withdrew the remark and apologized.
Les Leyne covers the B.C. Legislature for the Victoria Times Colonist.