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UCP video of NDP staffer is more than creepy, it is unethical

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There's no question the thought of United Conservative Party operatives skulking around inside an important provincial government office building making videos of people coming and going is unsavoury, not to mention downright creepy.

But is this ethical? Is it even legal? Is it appropriate behaviour for a political party that obviously remains confident it will form the next government of Alberta?

For those of you who think I must be exaggerating what happened, we know all this for the simple reason that on the evening of March 4, the UCP published the video it made, replete with sarcastic comments, on social media.

The action in the slow-motion black-and-white video takes place in the confusingly named Federal Building, the historic block near the Alberta Legislature taken over in 1983 by the provincial government. Nowadays it houses MLA offices. Most parts of the building are not open to the public. People who work there have a reasonable expectation of privacy, in the legal sense of that phrase.

The hallway video shows Jeremy Nolais, a senior political advisor to Premier Rachel Notley, leaving an office. A janitor's cart sits in the background.

Moments later, former UCP Caucus member Prab Gill can be watched leaving through the same door.

Mr. Gill is the Independent MLA for Calgary-Greenway who asked the RCMP to investigate allegations that voter fraud took place during the 2017 UCP leadership race, a political contest already marred by serious allegations one candidate was illegally funded to run a "Kamikaze Mission" to bring down former Wildrose Leader Brian Jean and ensure the victory of Jason Kenney. The Office of the Elections Commissioner has levied a $15,000 fine on a manager of that campaign for "obstruction of an investigation."

"Wonder why Premier Notley's senior advisor Jeremy Nolais was busy meeting with Independent MLA Prab Gill in the latter's office this afternoon," says the tweet by Mr. Kenney's official UCP Opposition leader's account. It continues: "Is the NDP Caucus about to gain a new MLA? Not sure if aligning with the NDP is a good move in Calgary, though..."

I can't tell you who took the video, or how, but it seems reasonable to assume it was done by a member of Mr. Kenney's political staff.

It appears to have been doctored and slowed down to make it look as if it came from a security camera, presumably to imply the people recorded were up to something bad. From the location of the camera, however, it seems more likely the recording was made with a smartphone.

Political parties in Canada, unfortunately, long ago gave themselves an exemption from privacy legislation, so this is not the legal violation of privacy law it would be if you or I were to make a similar recording an office where we worked -- assuming, of course, we don't work for a political party.

But surely this is a violation of an MLA's privilege. The office of Alberta Legislative Speaker Bob Wanner is said to be investigating.

The recording is also, obviously, a violation of the reasonable expectation of privacy any person working in a private place should have.

Since Mr. Gill has played a role in an investigation being carried out by the RCMP, it is reasonable to wonder if making video recordings of him in such circumstances amounts to an attempt to intimidate, or to serve as a warning to others. A reasonable person could well conclude a subtext to the publication of this video was directed at other MLAs: Be careful who you are seen with! We are watching!

Section 264 (2) (c) of the Criminal Code of Canada partly defines harassment as "watching the dwelling-house, or place where the other person, or anyone known to them, resides, works, carries on business or happens to be."

Is this an example of what Mr. Kenney calls "a respectful, policy based debate"?

If Mr. Kenney were a minister of the government, it would be reasonable to demand his resignation for allowing such behaviour on his watch.

Do you really want people who think this kind of thing is appropriate in charge of government records containing your private information?

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Image: Unite Alberta/Flickr

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