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Ombudsman will investigate Tories' FIPPA request on Melnick email

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Christine Melnick

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Manitoba’s Ombudsman will investigate how the province missed a key document in response to a Tory freedom of information request that would have embarrassed the NDP government.

Acting provincial Ombudsman Mel Holley confirmed this afternoon that he will undertake the probe after Progressive Conservative Leader announced that he would earlier today.

The PCs want to know why a request they made in May 2012 under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) failed to turn up an incriminating email that would have showed former immigration and multiculturalism minister Christine Melnick lied to legislators.

The bureaucracy failed to turn over the key email when the Tories requested it, but found it a few weeks later when the provincial Ombudsman made a similar request for correspondence in conducting a related investigation.

Melnick had said that an assistant deputy minister in her department, Ben Rempel, acted on his own when he invited members of the immigrant community to a highly charged debate involving immigrant services delivery at the legislature. The Tories issued its FIPPA request to see if that was true.

Meanwhile, the provincial Ombudsman, responding to a public complaint, began to investigate Rempel’s involvement to see if he had acted inappropriately as a civil servant in issuing the emailed invite to contacts in the immigrant community for what was a partisan political debate. When the Ombudsman also asked for government correspondence in the matter — mere weeks after the Tories made their initial request — the incriminating email linking Melnick to the invite turned up.

However, the public only became aware of the email after the Tories repeated their FIPPA request earlier this year and the province finally turned it over.

On Thursday, Pallister said if the Tories had received the incriminating correspondence immediately there would have been no need for the Ombudsman to investigate the matter, as the minister’s involvement would have become known almost immediately.

The government has said the incriminating email was missed inadvertently when the Tories first asked for it.

"Justice was delayed because information was denied," Pallister said Thursday.

Pallister said the PCs will also move a motion this afternoon to strike a special committee of the legislative assembly to investigate the conduct of the Melnick and Premier Greg Selinger in the matter.

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