What’s really behind the Guardian’s Refusal to Publish my E-gaming Guest Opinion?

Wayne Thibadeau

Wayne Thibodeau, Regional Editor of the Guardian

 

PLEASE NOTE:  This article was updated with some significant new information at 4pm (June 9, 2018), pertaining to a Guardian editorial on e-gaming published on January 19, 2017 – one day after the Public Accounts Meeting at which the Auditor General revealed that Robert Ghiz and Neil Stewart had ordered the destruction of email accounts containing e-gaming records.  I have highlighted the new information in red.

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On Wednesday (June 6, 2018), I shared a link to my Guest Opinion, “No justice with destruction of e-gaming records”  on my Facebook page, with a short note saying that this article had been published in the Eastern Graphic that same day.  I also mentioned that I had formally requested that the Regional President (David MacKenzie) of Saltwire (which owns the Guardian and Journal-Pioneer) look into a decision made the previous week by the Regional Editor of the Guardian, Wayne Thibodeau, not to publish this same Guest Opinion in the Guardian and Journal-Pioneer, and that I hadn’t yet heard back from Mr. MacKenzie regarding that request.

Later that same day, I received a phone call from Mr. Thibodeau. He mentioned that Mr. MacKenzie had seen my Facebook post and had asked him to give me a call to, as he put it, “have a conversation.”  Mr. Thibodeau told me straight up that he was sticking with his initial decision not to publish my e-gaming opinion piece – an article I had written mainly to inform Islanders about my more substantial e-gaming report: “Did Robert Ghiz and Neil Stewart commit a crime?: An investigative report on the destruction of e-gaming records.”

Mr. Thibodeau told me his reason for deciding not to publish my article was that he believed it may be “libelous.”  As he put it, he “…did not feel comfortable with some of the language that was in the letter,” adding “…there are sentences in that [my Guest Opinion] that can’t be proven in a court of law.”  He bluntly stated:

“Mr. Ghiz and Mr. Stewart may decide to sue you, and that’s between you and them to figure out, but I can’t put this organization in that position because we would be equally liable for providing a platform for that.”

Based on a number of other things Mr. Thibodeau was saying about my Guest Opinion – an article written in a style I would obviously not have submitted to Island newspapers without having first published the documented findings (and links to the primary sources for claims made in my report) to back up the statements in my Guest Opinion – it suddenly dawned on me that Mr. Thibodeau wouldn’t be saying what he was saying if he had actually read my report, so I  asked him candidly:

Kevin:  “Did you read my report?”

Mr. Thibodeau: “I did not.”

Me:  “Well see, you shouldn’t be talking to me until you read my report, quite frankly.”

Mr. Thibodeau: “I don’t have the time to sit back and read that report. And furthermore, it doesn’t matter if I do, because again, this is what you believe to be true, that’s not important to me.”

To be honest, I was surprised that Mr. Thibodeau would have made the initial decision to toss my Guest Opinion in the garbage without reading the report upon which it was based.  But I was really shocked to hear that he would call me to have a conversation as a follow-up to my formal request to the Regional President of Saltwire for a thoughtful reconsideration of his initial decision not to publish my article without first reading my report. That, to me, seemed both unprofessional and totally dismissive of the extensive work I did, and I let him know it:

Me:  “To not even read my report and make a decision to toss that [my Guest Opinion] in the garbage is quite frankly irresponsible.  As the Regional Editor of the Island’s largest newspaper, I’m shocked that you would tell me that.”

Despite not knowing anything about my report and the research contained therein, Mr. Thibodeau continued to make comments on my Guest Opinion article saying things that were inaccurate and dismissive, including an accusation (which he made several times) that I was saying Robert Ghiz and Neil Stewart had committed a crime without any proof, to which I interjected in protest (several times) to explain that I had nowhere made such a claim, either in my Guest Opinion or in my report, pointing out as well that if he had read my report he’d know that I explicitly stated at the outset that I’m not saying that either Ghiz or Stewart committed a crime, only that the findings from my year-long investigation into the destruction of e-gaming records uncovered what I believe to be a sufficient amount of new information and contextual understanding of the accepted facts to warrant the laying of one criminal charge of “Attempting to Commit Mischief to Data,” contrary to s. 430(5)(a) of the Criminal Code, against each person.

Mr. Thibodeau did say later in the conversation that he might take a look at my report out of curiosity, but he also made it clear that no matter what I had written, it would not change his decision to not publish my Guest Opinion. As he put it:

“I have a particular interest in this file and at some point I will take a look at your report, but it will not change the opinion, we are not running this Guest Opinion.”

I can’t say it was a very pleasant or satisfying conversation.  It left me wondering whether there might be something to the widespread belief routinely expressed by so many Islanders that there’s a well-entrenched political bias at the Guardian in favour of the Liberal Party.

What’s really behind the Guardian’s decision not to publish my Opinion Piece?

Given that I never make public claims – especially serious ones – which I can’t back up with solid evidence, I’m certain there’s nothing “libelous” in my Guest Opinion [also, Paul MacNeil, an experienced Newspaper Publisher – and someone clearly able to identify what is, and what is not, “libelous” – would not have published my Guest Opinion in the Eastern Graphic if it put him at risk of a libel suit.]

No, there is obviously some other reason behind Mr. Thibodeau’s decision to axe my article, but I find it hard to believe it could be as crass a reason as protecting a former Liberal Premier, and current Liberal Deputy Minister, simply because they’re members of the PEI Liberal Party. Having said that, there’s clearly some recent historical evidence of a Liberal-leaning at the Guardian (at least with respect to the Federal Party) that warrants consideration.

The question of whether there’s a Liberal Party political bias within the Guardian became a topic of widespread public discussion among Islanders after the Guardian formally endorsed Justin Trudeau and his federal Liberal Party as the ‘choice for Islanders’ during the last federal election [See: “Guardian’s endorsement of Liberals surprises readers,” October 25, 2015]. Might the Guardian also be in cahoots with the provincial Liberal Party, at least to some degree?

Also, the Liberal Party is likely one of the Guardian’s and Journal-Pioneer’s largest sources of advertising revenue, and with an election coming up before too long, it’s perhaps understandable why so many Islanders might suspect an operating tendency or inclination not to “bite the hand that feeds you,” so to speak.

But to be honest, such a view simply doesn’t make sense considering the fact that Saltwire is a major media corporation (Saltwire publishes 35 daily and weekly newspapers in Atlantic Canada) with a monopoly on daily newspapers within PEI (e.g., all political parties have to advertise with Saltwire if they want to advertise at all).  And the Guardian has actually been very fair with me to date, publishing almost everything I’ve submitted without so much as a suggested editorial change – some of which has been quite critical of Premier Wade MacLauchlan and the provincial Liberal government.

No, I’m more suspicious that there’s some kind of “personal” motive at play involving an attempt by one or more individuals at the Guardian to protect the key person at the centre of this e-gaming and e-mail account destruction issue: Robert Ghiz.  I’ll explain the basis for this suspicion.

I found it curious that Mr. Thibodeau made a point of volunteering that, in his words,

“The Guardian has been front and centre with some of Teresa’s [Wright’s] coverage on this [e-gaming issue]; I would put our coverage up against anyone, we haven’t steered clear of this, but we need to go with the facts that are presented to us at this point in time, and at this point, there is nothing toward criminal charges against Ghiz and Stewart.”

Of course, not having read my report, Mr. Thibodeau’s claim that there is “nothing toward criminal charges….” is no doubt sincere, but I believe mistaken. And he’s also correct that the Guardian was indeed “front and centre” in covering the e-gaming story, but only up to a point, and that “point” was the day (January 18, 2017) when the Auditor General revealed at a Public Accounts Committee meeting that it was Robert Ghiz and Neil Stewart who had ordered the e-mail accounts of senior bureaucrats Melissa MacEachern, Chris LeClair; and Rory Beck destroyed.

That revelation should have been front page news in both the Guardian and Journal-Pioneer – with days of follow-up articles and commentary – but the Guardian has apparently never reported that scandalous fact to this very day!  Why not? Might that explain why Mr. Thibodeau is adamant that no matter what he might read in my report, the decision not to publish my Guest Opinion will stand – because I disclose the fact that it was Robert Ghiz and Neil Stewart who ordered the destruction of those email accounts, and for some reason he doesn’t want that reported in the Guardian?

It’s worth reviewing the Guardian’s dedicated coverage of the “e-mail account deletion” story-line (within the bigger e-gaming issue) to see how that train-of-thought came to an abrupt stop – and has stayed stopped – a little over a year ago.

The Guardian’s “Partial” coverage of the Destruction of Email Accounts Story

My entire investigative into the destruction of e-gaming records was an attempt to ascertain whether there is sufficient evidence to establish “criminal intent” behind the decisions of former Liberal Premier Robert Ghiz and current Deputy Minister of Finance Neil Stewart, to order the destruction of the email accounts (containing e-gaming records) of three senior bureaucrats (Melissa MacEachern; Rory Beck; and Chris LeClair) who were all heavily involved in the e-gaming file, two of whom the Auditor General identified as having apparent conflicts of interest.

One cannot help but notice that – as Mr. Thibodeau stated – the Guardian had indeed keenly followed this particular story-line within the whole e-gaming issue, but that’s true only up to the day the names of the two individuals behind the decisions to destroy email accounts were made available to the Public Accounts Committee by Jane McAdam, PEI’s Auditor General.

When the AG first made her e-gaming report public, the Guardian (along with PC opposition MLAs) focused on her finding that senior bureaucrats within the Ghiz government had their email accounts deleted: “Name names on deleted P.E.I. e-gaming emails, Steven Myers says.”  As that title notes, although the AG had revealed that email accounts containing important e-gaming records had been deleted, she chose not to reveal the names of the people owning those accounts, nor the names of those responsible for deleting them, or ordering them deleted.

Despite repeated questioning in the Legislative Assembly during the remaining weeks of the Fall, 2016 sitting, the Premier and other Liberal MLAs steadfastly refused to provide the names of the senior bureaucrats who had their email accounts deleted, and the Guardian (and CBC) covered that story every step of the way.

Guardian year end interview pictureThen, in the Premier’s year-end interview with the Guardian, Teresa Wright’s transcript of that interview in the Guardian reported what the Premier said about the deletion of e-gaming records disclosed by the Auditor General; namely, that it was undertaken in accordance with “normal procedures”. But that is not what happened with the deletion of the email accounts of those three senior bureaucrats, as both my Report and Guest Opinion makes abundantly clear.

Normal procedure was to “suspend” the accounts for one year, presumably to ensure that all “retainable” records were properly archived prior to that one-year period ending, in keeping with government policies, procedures and laws. Only then would email accounts be deleted and completely removed from the system.

What actually happened with the three deleted email accounts identified by the Auditor General was that (1) Robert Ghiz ordered the destruction of Chris LeClair’s email account just eight (8) days after he was replaced as Chief-of-Staff by Allan Campbell, without any of the records therein being saved and archived; and, (2) the other two email accounts (containing retainable e-gaming records still not archived) were also deleted long before the completion of the one-year “suspension” period, without any records being saved and archived from those accounts [the details and dates are contained in my report].

There was absolutely nothing “normal” about the destruction of those records. Nor was it “accidental,” or a result of inadequate policies and procedures, as is explained in great detail in my report, and goes directly to the issue of “criminal intent” vis-a-vis the Criminal Code provision defining “Mischief to Data.”

You would also think that Mr. Thibodeau would be interested in correcting the misinformation which the Guardian published regarding what the Premier said about those email accounts, after learning the truth from my Guest Opinion (again, claims verified and proven in my Report) – but his decision not to publish my Guest Opinion makes the Premier’s explanation the last word the Guardian has reported on this issue – so, apparently not.

The next event in this email account destruction story-line happened when members of the Public Accounts Committee decided to bring the Auditor General in for questioning in January, 2017. Members – or at least “opposition” MLA members of the committee – asked the AG pointed questions about the deleted email accounts during the meeting held on January 11, 2017; specifically, whose email accounts were deleted. They were told by the AG that they were the accounts of the three individuals mentioned above (Beck, LeClair and McEachern). Again, the Guardian was all over that story and reported all the details the very same day: “Deleted e-gaming emails finally revealed by P.E.I. auditor general.”

The Guardian then published an Editorial on January 19, 2017 titled “Government fumble files on emails,” focussing on the importance of getting to the bottom of the email accounts deletion scandal, saying:

“What would be interesting to know is who deleted them, when and why? Was it done deliberately and if so, who gave the order? Or is this just another example of sloppy government record keeping? The auditor general doesn’t know but is clear on this point. This was not simply a matter of emails removed after these individuals left government. There were important government records contained in these three email accounts that should have been kept and saved as the legislation requires.” (My emphasis)

The really bizarre thing about this Guardian editorial is the fact that the very day before it was published, at the January 18, 2017  meeting of the Public Accounts Committee, the Auditor General had disclosed that it was Neil Stewart and Robert Ghiz who had ordered the destruction of the email accounts of Melissa MacEachern (Stewart); Chris Leclair (Ghiz) and Rory Beck (Ghiz)  [p. 62 of the transcript].

And it is clear that Guardian staff were present – or had access to the transcript – because the Guardian editorial the following day (January 19, 2017) quoted something the Auditor General said verbatim in the closing sentence of the editorial:

After all, as the auditor general said in her report and again at Public Accounts this week: “Management of government records has not been a priority of government.” (my emphasis) [Guardian Editorial, January 19, 2017].

You can find that exact quotation from the Auditor General on P. 56 of the Public Accounts Transcript from the January 18, 2017 meeting, the day before the editorial was published. And just six (6) pages further on in the same transcript – approximately 10 minutes of meeting time – the AG revealed that Ghiz and Stewart had ordered the destruction of the email accounts – clarifying which accounts had been deleted by each of them – in response to questions from PC MLA Stephen Myers (see p.62 of the transcript).

I can find no Guardian mention of this news, then or ever, and I have searched long and hard. Nor was I able to find any mention of Ghiz and Stewart ordering the destruction of the records with the CBC. Might I have overlooked it? Possibly, and I stand to be corrected, but I’m quite confident in saying that the Guardian did not report what should have been a front-page, bombshell news story.  Again, why not?

When the Auditor General again met with the Public Accounts Committee on February 15, 2017, Steven Myers requested additional  information concerning the details surrounding the AG’s previous disclosure that Robert Ghiz and Neil Stewart had ordered the deletion of those email accounts, and committee members were provided the dates each order was issued (see p. 122 of the transcript).

Again, I can find no coverage of these incredibly important details by either the Guardian or the CBC. However, just three (3) days later (February 18, 2017), Teresa Wright wrote an extensive article in the Guardian about the Public Accounts Committee seeking to call witnesses, making several references within that story to the deleted email accounts, but nowhere mentioning that it had just recently been disclosed by the Auditor General that it was Robert Ghiz and Neil Stewart who had ordered those accounts deleted, including who ordered which accounts deleted, and the dates those orders were issued.

In fact, you could easily conclude from what she did write about the email accounts that the committee members were still looking for that information; in phrases like “…as questions continue to swirl about the deletion of email accounts,” or especially:

“Ear­lier this week, the com­mit­tee held its sev­enth meet­ing on the e-gam­ing re­port, drilling into the minute de­tails about how the gov­ern­ment emails were deleted, who au­tho­rized what and how re­ten­tion of gov­ern­ment records was be­ing mon­i­tored at the time.” (my emphasis)

 

Yes, indeed they did drill into the minute details of “who authorized what” and they struck oil when the Auditor General told them that it was Robert Ghiz and Neil Stewart.  So, how is it that the Guardian would be aware (and report) that the “question was asked,” and not be aware (and report) that when the question was asked, it was also answered?

I should also point out that this information about Robert Ghiz and Neil Stewart ordering the destruction of email accounts was more recently disclosed in the Legislative Assembly  – but again not reported by the Guardian – when PC MLA Jamie Fox tabled my e-gaming report and directed questions based on my report to the Premier during Question Period, for two consecutive sitting days, despite both Guardian and CBC reporters being present in the Media Gallery during that questioning. Here is a screen capture of CBC reporter Kerry Campbell’s “live” coverage of Jamie Fox’s e-gaming questioning on May 22, 2018 mentioning neither my report nor the disclosure that it was Ghiz and Stewart who ordered email accounts deleted; and here is a PDF of Guardian reporter Ryan Ross’s “live” coverage of the May 22, 2018 afternoon session in the Legislative Assembly  (with no mention of e-gaming whatsoever).

So the really important question that remains unanswered is this: “Why hasn’t the Guardian ever reported that Robert Ghiz and Neil Stewart ordered the destruction of those email accounts and e-gaming records?”  As previously noted, neither were these key revelations, apparently, reported in either the Journal Pioneer or with the CBC.

As an investigative reporter, I hold myself to the highest possible standards regarding what I claim to be true publicly. I’m obviously not infallible, and can make mistakes, but I am careful to never make serious claims that I can’t support with verifiable facts.  So, I will refrain from speculating as to why the Guardian apparently chose not to tell Islanders that Robert Ghiz and Neil Stewart ordered the destruction of email accounts containing sensitive government e-gaming records; nor will I speculate any further on why the Regional Editor of the Guardian has decided not to publish my Guest Opinion, although as I’ve already stated, I don’t believe the reasons he provided me are legitimate, and given his position and experience making those calls regarding what is libelous or not, I also believe he knows that my Guest Opinion is not libellous, despite what he said.

I’m completely open to being corrected by the Guardian (which would require someone providing information from some back issue of the Guardian – that I was not able to find – indicating that the Guardian did indeed report Ghiz or Stewart ordered the deletion of email accounts, or an article that corrects the misinformation from the Premier they published in December, 2016).

Being a private corporation, management at Saltwire can, of course, decide to publish whatever they want, and don’t owe me (or their subscribers, for that matter) any explanation for their editorial choices.  However, given the fact that Saltwire holds a monopoly in the daily newspaper business in PEI, coupled with  the commitments inherent in the Canadian Association of Journalists’ Ethical Guidelines, which I expect Saltwire management and staff adhere to, one would hope that David MacKenzie and Wayne Thibodeau would feel some obligation to explain why they have apparently chosen to keep Islanders in the dark about such critically-important and “newsworthy” information.

I intend to write another  piece for the Guardian in the not-too-distant future which will provide the factual details surrounding the revelation by the Auditor General that it was Robert Ghiz and Neil Stewart who ordered the email accounts of McEachern, Beck and LeClair to be deleted – as well as correct the misinformation the premier provided to the Guardian regarding the factually incorrect claim that the email accounts referenced by the Auditor General were disposed of following “normal” government procedures. I guess we’ll have to wait to see if they’ll publish that one.

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