The Ontario gas plant records deletion saga – a records management case study


The records deletion controversy in Ontario is of relevance to archivists and records managers elsewhere in the world because of the stark contrast it poses between on the one hand a very strong and complete records management governance framework:

  •  Ontario has a relatively recent piece of Archives legislation (the Archives and Recordkeeping Act 2006)
  •  Ontario has a comprehensive set of records retention schedules, all signed by the Archivist of Ontario and backed up by the Archives and Recordkeeping Act
  • one of those retention rules states that ministerial correspondence (correspondence arising from the portfolio responsibilities of a minster) should be preserved permanently

…and on the other hand:

  • the lack of any  planning as to how this retention rule on ministerial correspondence could be applied in a situation where the correspondence accumulated in the individual e-mail accounts of political staff working in ministerial offices
  • the ability of political staff to delete e-mails (whether trivial or important) from their e-mail accounts should they wish to do so
  • the operation by the Ontarian government of a routine policy of deleting entire e-mail accounts when staff leave

This tension between recordkeeping policy and e-mail practice is not unique to the government of Ontario, it is a universal problem, facing all administrations.

The US National Archives (NARA) took the step in August 2013 of issuing advice to US federal agencies that the e-mail accounts of important officials should be preserved permanently if the agency cannot find any other reliable way of capturing the significant correspondence of those individuals.   This advice is contained in bulletin 2013 -02, and has gone under the name of the ‘Capstone’ approach.

It will be interesting to see whether or not other National Archives around the world follow NARA’s lead and  intervene in the way that the e-mail accounts of important officials are managed.

The slidepack embedded in this post is a collection of all the episodes of the Ontario gas plant records deletion saga comic strip that I have published on this blog (together with a few extra slides that I have added in the middle and at the end).

The slidepack goes under a creative commons licence, so feel free to use it for non-commercial purposes.  My intention is that it serves as a case study. Accompanying the slidepack are:

  • a records guru podcast that I recorded with Jon Garde in which we discuss the saga
  • a blogpost in which I give a recordkeeping perspective on the saga


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