Tory MP fires student after allegation of theft from O'Toole campaign
Published Tuesday, June 23, 2020 10:23AM EDT Last Updated Tuesday, June 23, 2020 5:36PM EDT
OTTAWA -- A Conservative MP from Calgary has fired a summer student working in his office following allegations that someone stole campaign data from party leadership contender Erin O'Toole.
Greg McLean -- one of dozens of MPs who have endorsed O'Toole -- made the announcement in a terse statement circulated Tuesday.
"Upon learning of a breach of trust involving a summer student in my office, I immediately took action and the individual was terminated," McLean said.
"This matter is entirely regrettable."
McLean's office confirmed Tuesday the firing was in connection with allegations by the O'Toole campaign that first surfaced publicly late Friday night: that rival Peter MacKay's campaign hacked into a trove of confidential campaign information and broke the law.
The MacKay campaign has denied the allegations and said Tuesday the fact that an MP's summer student was involved raises new questions about whether O'Toole's campaign is improperly using House of Commons resources on his leadership bid.
O'Toole had previously been scrutinized for using his parliamentary email address to facilitate campaign endorsements, as has one of his supporters, Sen. Leo Housakos.
"Given Mr. McLean's statement today, this is looking more like a story of the O'Toole campaign's negligence rather than the sinister attack on their internal information they are trying to allege," MacKay campaign spokesman Jordan Paquet said in an email.
"The only leaks seem to be from inside the O'Toole campaign so, as we've said before, they might be better off talking to their volunteers and staff rather than using police resources for their campaign's benefit."
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
The RCMP and the Toronto Police have acknowledged receipt of a complaint from the O'Toole team.
"An investigation into mischief in relation to data is ongoing and we are working with colleagues from the RCMP," Toronto police Const. Michelle Flannery said in an email Tuesday.
A copy of the June 19 letter sent by the O'Toole campaign to police was obtained by The Canadian Press.
The letter was partially redacted, with the covered-up portions including the detail that the original source of the alleged hack was traced to a student working in an MP's office.
After McLean issued his statement Tuesday, the O'Toole campaign confirmed a student had been involved but had no comment on McLean's decision to let a person go.
McLean first learned of the allegations Thursday night, his office said Tuesday, and began the process of ending the student's employment the next day.
The O'Toole campaign alleges the student got access to the log-in data for the O'Toole campaign's Zoom account, the digital conferencing platform in widespread use due to the physical distancing requirements of COVID-19.
The student allegedly downloaded campaign information, passed some of that along to the MacKay campaign and then shared the log-in information itself with that team.
Though O'Toole's campaign redacted the identity of the student in their complaint, they did name one of the senior MacKay people they allege was on the receiving end of the information: Alberta organizer Jamie Lall.
After news broke of the allegations, Lall posted a message on Twitter saying not a word of it was true. He did not return a request for comment on Tuesday. The MacKay campaign says he remains a volunteer.
O'Toole's campaign would not say on the record why they named Lall but not the student.
MacKay could also face sanctions from the Conservative Party should the allegations be verified.
Each candidate must pay a $100,000 compliance deposit to enter the race, and the party reserves the right to subtract fines if they take any actions deemed in conflict with the leadership race rules.
A spokesman for the party said they had no comment, given the matter was reportedly in the hands of the police.
The O'Toole campaign said while it had provided a summary of the issue to the leadership organizing committee, the issue is far more serious than an internal party matter.
"In the era of campaigning during COVID-19, our campaign office exists online. Our boardroom is Zoom. So many of our internal meetings, strategy sessions, etc., take place in that boardroom" said Melanie Paradis, a spokesperson for the campaign.
"This is the 2020 equivalent of breaking into the campaign office and bugging the boardroom."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 23, 2020.