Privacy commissioner, college headed to court

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Gary Kean
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Peter McBreairty

CORNER BROOK — The province’s privacy commissioner is taking the College of the North Atlantic to court to have a request made by Peter McBreairty regarding the school’s legal bills reviewed.

The city man says the latest development in his ongoing battle against the College of the North Atlantic represents the leading edge of the implications associated with controversial amendments to the province’s privacy legislation.

McBreairty has been embroiled in a legal battle with the college since 2003, when he was let go as the director of student services at the college’s campus in Qatar. He has maintained he was wrongfully dismissed over false allegations of improperly admitting students to the campus.

Throughout the course of his fight against the public post-secondary institution, McBreairty has filed numerous access to information requests. Among those have been a series of requests for invoices reflecting how much money the College of the North Atlantic has been paying lawyers it has hired to deal with the McBreairty file.

A couple of years ago, McBreairty and the college came to an agreement that he would file those particular requests at intervals so as to make processing his requests a more efficient task. He has received several legal fee invoices and, although most of the details have been redacted, the amounts being paid out by the college were left visible.

McBreairty had been satisfied with that arrangement up until his most recent request for the latest set of invoices. After receiving a letter dated Oct. 16, 2012 that confirmed the college had received his request, McBreairty was sent another letter 10 days later informing him that his request was being refused this time around. The college told him that the legal invoices were “subject to solicitor-client privilege and are protected from disclosure” pursuant to the provincial privacy legislation.

“This is the first time, that I am aware of, that the college has relied on the new (privacy legislation) provisions to deny records which were previously released,” said McBreairty. “It may be precedent-setting across all government departments in that the government has now chosen to hide how much is being spent on lawyers.”

Judge must make determination

Back to his own particular case, McBreairty said the amended legislation prevents the Office of the Privacy Commissioner from directly reviewing the legal invoices to see if they should be provided to McBreairty. In order to have those documents reviewed, the privacy commissioner must ask a court judge to make the determination of whether McBreairty can still access them.

McBreairty asked the Office of the Privacy Commissioner to do just that and it has agreed to go to court. The privacy commissioner filed a notice of appeal in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador last week.

The College of the North Atlantic said it was not a change to privacy legislation that led to the decision to not give McBreairty the documents he wants. Rather, it was because a trial judge was selected six months ago to hear the case between him and the college.

Requests of the nature McBreairty has made regarding legal fees, according to the college, will not be filled by the institution while a trial is pending because of solicitor-client privilege.

 

The college declined to comment on the appeal by the privacy commissioner’s office that is now before the court, saying it is now up to that process to decide if McBreairty is entitled to the legal invoices he is seeking.

After the last set of invoices he was granted access to about six months ago, McBreairty had calculated the college’s fees to hire external lawyers to deal with his case at around $550,000. He said there has been a “significant amount of work” done on his case since then.

His calculations do not account for any work the solicitor the college has on staff may have also done on his file in the last decade. The legal bill is now into the $600,000 range, figures McBreairty.

In 2005, a Public Service Commission management grievance panel voted unanimously in McBreairty’s favour and recommended payment for lost wages and benefits from his contract, as well as travel and legal fees.

“I can assure you that payment would have been a hell of a lot cheaper than the $600,000,” said McBreairty.

Organizations: College of the North Atlantic, Office of the Privacy Commissioner, Supreme Court Public Service Commission

Geographic location: CORNER BROOK, Qatar, Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Resident
    December 04, 2012 - 09:47

    Peter, my hats off to ya. Keep up what your doing, never give up. Don't settle, take it right to the better end.

  • mellie
    December 03, 2012 - 11:09

    when it comes to a waste of taxpayers money keeping things private is a cover up and is a way to hide things. they dont want people to know what is really happenign spending money to hide the truth its our money and we should know where its going.I should not be spent to cover someones ass

  • Danny Jones
    December 03, 2012 - 09:59

    CNA has collected millions of dollars from this project that were supposed to go to the employees. I doubt that Qatar will let them stay after this year. Greed and mismanagement, pure and simple!

  • Joe
    December 03, 2012 - 07:53

    Rather than simply resolving this case in the manner anyone with a single-digit IQ can see should be done, we now see our government or quasi-government people engaging in secrecy, lying, corruption.....the list goes on. Hope I never hear any of these people criticizing Arabs. We need our own "spring" in NL. Someone obviously needs to be replaced. Kudos to you Peter for your fortitude!!

  • Resident
    December 03, 2012 - 07:46

    I would like to say to you Mr. McBreairty you are a very strong person to fight this fight alone ! Not too many people would have the strength to stand up for what they believe in. And that is their own GOOD NAME. They have tried to destroy your good name and you have shown them that you are not going to stand for it. I am certainly very very proud of you! You will finally have your day and in the end I do hope someone is charged in this whole ordeal! I would really like to see you as Mayor of Corner Brook. You are honest and well respected in my books and alot of other people. Hold your head up high my friend because you have done what so many people would be afraid to do. Please run for Mayor !!!

    • Resident
      December 04, 2012 - 10:15

      Yes Peter, please run for Mayor, we need someone like you.

  • doryman
    December 03, 2012 - 06:34

    No one would fight this long and at this personal cost if he didn't truly believe he was truly wronged. Peter supposed let three students in without appropriate education so he was immediately fired. However, the same three students graduated with flying colors so whats the harm really. On the other hand CNA took over 5 million dollars form the State and had to then pay it back. Who was held accountable for that. No one. Oh wait, yes I remember, the President who found the problem and tried to clean it up was fired for her good efforts. What a joke this place is!

  • bile
    December 03, 2012 - 06:24

    The Colleges contract with Qatar is ending in August. There has been no sign of an extension or new contract though they have been "negotiating" for years. The lawsuits are stacking up now as employees rush in to have theirs entered before CNA slips out of Qatar taking their profits with them. The director of the Qatar project left the college a few months ago and just a few days ago the Vice President of the project jumped ship as well. Employees in Qatar are also jumping ship now as fast as they can. There is a new report circulating from the CItizens Representative that says the College has been less than forthright in dealing with bad behaviour by its leaders and that they sought to "deflect responsibility" The College already had to pay back over 5 million that they overcharged the State of Qatar. When is the government going to step in and conduct a full enquiry into this debacle?