Steve Kent seems to have transgressed the rules outlined in the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (ATIPPA), which he championed in the House of Assembly.
As chief administrative officer (CAO) of the City of Mount Pearl, Kent seemed to be involved in a privacy breach on Friday when he contacted The Telegram about a questionable situation going on with a City of Mount Pearl truck.
For the past several weeks, The Telegram has been investigating allegations that a truck was fraudulently inspected and certified, despite the fact that its diesel particulate filter (DPF) system wasn’t installed.
In an email to The Telegram, Kent acknowledged that something sketchy happened.
“One of the city’s vehicles with a diesel particulate filter was recently inspected. A diesel particulate filter (or DPF system) is a device designed to remove diesel particulate matter (or soot) from the exhaust gas of a diesel engine,” Kent wrote.
“The DPF system passed a third-party inspection, but was not operating. This is against the intent of the Service NL regulation governing vehicle inspection. (The legislative requirement to include DPF systems in vehicle inspections came into effect earlier this year.)”
A source indicates two City of Mount Pearl employees were suspended as a result of an internal investigation into the situation. Kent said the DPF system is being repaired on the vehicle, and Mount Pearl takes environmental regulations seriously.
But there was an added wrinkle to Kent’s email — he said he was aware this reporter had filed an access to information request looking for information about the situation.
“Confidentially, as the head of the public body, I am aware that work is being done to finish compiling information you have requested,” Kent wrote.
This is a violation of the rules, which say all access to information requests are to be anonymous. The head of a public body is never supposed to know who made a request, and the ATIPPA co-ordinator who receives an access to information request is supposed to anonymize all documents, to keep the identity of the requester confidential.
Before he was Mount Pearl’s CAO, Kent was a member of the House of Assembly, and he was the minister responsible for access to information policy in 2015, when the ATIPPA law was passed.
“The act will give delegated authority for handling a request solely to the ATIPP co-ordinator,” Kent said in the House of Assembly in 2015, when he introduced the new law. “It will also anonymize the identity and type of applicant, which will protect their privacy throughout the request process.”
When The Telegram called Kent to ask him about the privacy breach, he said he wasn’t aware of the stipulation.
“My understanding is that the head of the public body, like, would be aware of who the applicant is,” Kent said.
“So I apologize. Like, I’ll make sure that doesn’t happen again, but my intention this morning in contacting you was honourable. Like, I was trying to be helpful.”
Mayor Dave Aker said that as far as he knows, this sort of thing happens all the time.
“I can’t speak to whether it’s a privacy breach or not. I just know that it’s common practice for that to happen — not just in Mount Pearl, but in other places as well,” Aker said.
“When responses go out, quite often heads of the public body are quite often given a copy of the response.”
Aker said that if Kent were involved in a privacy breach, he’d be disciplined.
“Oh absolutely, yes, of course,” he said. “With any employee and a privacy breach, disciplinary action will be taken and council will lead that process in the case of high-level management involved.”
Aker said the city might try to get a refund from the inspection station that returned the truck with the DPF mechanism still disabled.