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Ex-B.C. Liberal exec Laura Miller ‘gratified’ after gas plant acquittal

Christy Clark's 2017 election campaign director admonished by judge for key role in 'dishonest' Ont. scheme, despite not guilty verdict

Former B.C. Liberal executive director Laura Miller arrives at court in Toronto on Friday, Jan. 19 to hear the verdict in the criminal trial of an Ontario document deletion case, related to her time as top aide to ex-Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty. She was found not guilty of attempted mischief.

Bernard Weil / Toronto Star

Former B.C. Liberal executive director Laura Miller arrives at court in Toronto on Friday, Jan. 19 to hear the verdict in the criminal trial of an Ontario document deletion case, related to her time as top aide to ex-Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty. She was found not guilty of attempted mischief.

The lawyer for Laura Miller — the B.C. Liberals’ former executive director and their 2017 election campaign head — says she's "gratified to be able to move on with her life" after being acquitted Friday in a criminal mischief trial in Ontario.

A judge acquitted the 39-year-old for her role in Canada’s highest-profile current political scandal: the Ontario Premier’s office “wiping” hard drives of politically damaging documents in 2013 related to the Ontario Liberals’ $1-billion gas plant cancellation.

In late 2015, Miller stepped aside from her B.C. Liberal job for four months to deal with her Ontario criminal charges; the B.C. party later welcomed her back and put her in charge of their campaign.

“She's happy that Justice (Timothy) Lipson appreciated that she in fact wasn't guilty of any of the offenses that she was originally charged with,” her lawyer Scott Hutchison told reporters Friday, “and she's gratified to be able to move on with her life.

“She and her family have found this to be an incredibly difficult time and they're glad to have that behind them.”

Before joining B.C.’s political fray, Miller was at the time of the Ontario deletions deputy chief of staff to then-Premier Dalton McGuinty; her boss, chief of staff David Livingston, was found guilty Friday of attempted mischief and the Crown is seeking a jail sentence.

The trial heard how the Ontario Liberal caucus paid Miller’s common-law partner, Peter Faist, $11,017.50 to permanently erase more than 600,000 files from 20 hard drives days before McGuinty’s replacement by current Premier Kathleen Wynne.

Former Ont. Premier Dalton McGuinty deputy chief Laura Miller, defendant in gas plants deleted documents trial leaves the courthouse in Toronto on Nov. 9, 2017. She was found not guilty on Jan. 19, 2018.

Vince Talotta/Toronto Star

Former Ont. Premier Dalton McGuinty deputy chief Laura Miller, defendant in gas plants deleted documents trial leaves the courthouse in Toronto on Nov. 9, 2017. She was found not guilty on Jan. 19, 2018.

In his 108-page judgment — which took Lipson roughly four hours to read in court Friday — he ruled that although “the court could draw a reasonable inference that Ms. Miller was a party to the offences committed by Mr. Livingston,” he found her not guilty because he was “left in reasonable doubt as to her guilt.”

But he didn’t hold back from admonishing Miller at length for her role in the hard drive wiping scheme. The judge wrote that she’d headlined emails about the plan “of using Mr. Faist to erase data” as “Pete’s Project.”

“Like Mr. Livingston, Ms. Miller had reason to prevent potentially sensitive, confidential and, at times, embarrassing communications being made public,” Justice Lipson ruled, “ … Ms. Miller was the person who enlisted Mr. Faist to wipe the hard drives.

“She assisted Mr. Livingston in selecting the names of (Premier’s office) staff whose computers were to be wiped.”

Miller, as 2017 B.C. Liberal election campaign director, garnered media attention over her tweets during the hustings: She attacked NDP leader John Horgan on Twitter for what she called “mansplaining” during a televised debate, helping spark a "Hulk Horgan" attack slogan as polls showed slipping support for Clark amongst women.

And a week later, Miller falsely accused retired social worker Linda Higgins of being an NDP operative after a video of her confronting Liberal leader Christy Clark at a campaign stop went viral.

Judge Lipson called the Ontario file-scrubbing plan “to eliminate sensitive and confidential work-related data, in my view, amounted to a ‘scorched earth’ strategy, where information that could be potentially useful to adversaries, both within and outside of the Liberal Party, would be destroyed," lambasting what he called the "dishonest character of the acts" in the midst of a "grim political backdrop."

"No issues were more challenging or dangerous to the minority Liberal government than those related to the gas plant controversy," Lipson wrote. "The evidence is clear that the political priorities of the defendants during this turbulent period were twofold: crisis management and damage control."

As last fall's trial neared, Miller remained the B.C. Liberals’ executive director until June, when she tweeted her departure: “After 3 years+ with (the B.C. Liberals) and 2 historic elections, I am moving on professionally and geographically at the end of the month.”

An online fundraiser for her legal fees remains open and has so far amassed nearly $81,000 as of Jan. 22.

Screen capture of Laura Miller's legal defense crowdfunding campaign online.

Courtesy Fundrazr

Screen capture of Laura Miller's legal defense crowdfunding campaign online.

Miller's resume on LinkedIn describes her as "relentlessly optimistic,” and details her rise in Ontario Liberal politics from 2002 until becoming the party's chief operating officer in 2010, then Premier's Deputy Chief of Staff in 2012. By February 2013, she'd gone west to become the B.C. Liberals' production manager and, later that year, executive director, holding that position until December 2015, then leaving and returning in March 2016 until the end of June 2017 in the same job.

Another parallel to B.C. politics that surfaced during the trial and its verdict was both provincial governments' abuse of “triple deleting” to ensure that documents were permanently scrubbed not just from computers' and inboxes' deleted folders, but also backup servers.

In B.C., the illegal practice led to criminal charges, a B.C. Liberal rebuke from the information and privacy commissioner, and new government data-protection rules.

In Lipson’s ruling, he quoted an email Miller and other staffers received from Livingstone, asking them to "double delete" files to ensure they could not be subject to Freedom of Information (FOI) or other requests. Another high-level staffer replied, "So no more triple delete?"

Miller, in an email cited as evidence in Lipson's judgment, wrote to Livingston on Nov. 9, 2012: "'FOI This' and then refers to an Opposition member as 'an asshole.' Mr. Livingston responds 'LOL! This one will never get the Double Delete.'"

—With files from Rob Ferguson/Toronto Star.

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