By Keith Capstick
When last year’s vice-president education, Jesse Root, deleted the entirety of his Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) email, he broke provincial privacy law.
According to Avner Levin, the chair of the law and business department at the Ted Rogers School of Management (TRSM), Root violated the province’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) and the regulations that define not-for-profit organizations.
“There is a provision in FIPPA that came into force … in 2014. It explicitly says that you cannot tamper [with] or delete emails, records, et cetera,” Levin said. “And I think the penalty is $5,000.”
Levin, director of TRSM’s privacy and cyber crime institute and recent author of a book entitled The Law of Employee Use of Technology, also suggested that it’s the current government’s responsibility to take legal action against Root.
“The bottom line is if they don’t take action then this person is going to walk away from their own action of deleting the emails and there aren’t going to be any repercussions,” Levin said.
RSU president Andrea Bartlett said that she will be seeking legal advisement immediately, but wouldn’t confirm imminent legal action.
“I’m just going to have to take the records that I have and confirm those with a legal team and we’re going to have to take whatever action is necessary to make sure that no other student leader is put in such a compromising position,” Bartlett said.
Root didn’t provide an up-to-date comment on the criminal nature of his actions but had this to say in defense of his actions in a previous email conversation with The Eyeopener.
“Yes I did [delete the emails] … as you know Cormac [McGee, the current VP education] spent a significant amount of time and energy organizing against the work of the RSU,” Root said in an email. “And specifically me as the VP education through his involvement in Rise for Ryerson and I did not want to jeopardize the work of the campaign on campus by giving him information about how we organized the campaign. I did however pass information about the Freeze the Fees campaign onto organizers on campus.”
The RSU is a not-for-profit organization, and Levin said that such entities have a specific obligation to uphold records as a board executive under FIPPA.
“At the heart of the matter, I think, is continuity of the board. When you are on a board, and you are an executive, and you are an officer of a company you cannot engage in those kind of activities because you have several duties that you owe to the organization,” said Levin. “Those are legal duties of boards for not-for-profits.”
Bartlett also said that she believes Root made an effort to delete the back-up files of the emails as well, prompting her to consider teaming up with the school and moving the RSU’s IT provider to Computing and Communications Services Ryerson (CCS).
“Jesse was smarter than I thought because he deleted everything on the back end, that’s what we were told,” said Bartlett. “Right now we’re in the process of switching things over to CCS and then Ryerson will be in charge of everything within the RSU.”
With files from Farnia Fekri.
In a previous version of this story, The Eyeopener said that Jesse Root works at the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario (CFS-O), where serves as the Ontario Graduate Caucus Deputy Chairperson. Root does not work at the CFS-O. The Eyeopener regrets this error.