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Secret cabinet records lost in Ottawa parking lot for a month

The confidential material from Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s briefing book was stolen from the locked car of a senior government official after a “breach of standard procedure.”

The incident, never made public, occurred soon after 2008 election, when Kenney was appointed to the post.

An immigration official left the secret material unattended in his car on Nov. 28 after parking at a street meter and heading to a meeting.

Someone smashed the rear window and pulled a black nylon bag containing the sensitive briefing binder from the back seat.

The bag contained other department material, including an internal personnel assessment of the official. Also missing were two security passcards.

“There is no doubt that if that book falls into wrong hands, there is possibility of harm to the department,” says one internal email, written soon after the official reported the incident to police.

Documents outlining the breach of cabinet confidentiality were obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

Immigration officials drew up a damage assessment and prepared draft media lines in case word of the lost documents ever became public.

A lot attendant later discovered the bag with the lost documents behind a concrete pillar at a nearby parking arcade.

The attendant inspected the bag Jan. 5 and found the business card of the owner. He turned the find over to a department security official later that day.

The bag, caked with winter salt, had been found in a dark area where there was evidence of drug and alcohol use, including a can of beer.

“The thief assumed that the black nylon bag possibly contained a laptop computer which could have been liquidated,” says a security assessment, speculating on motives.

“After retreating to the area mentioned above to examine the spoils of his deed, his efforts revealed only documents which to the perpetrator were worthless and the complete contents were abandoned on the spot.”

Nothing was missing from the bag, and Peter Raymond, manager of security administration, therefore concluded the “risk of compromise” was “low.”

The senior official responsible for the loss “has been counselled on the appropriate treatment for sensitive docs and warned to take more care,” an internal email says.

Richard Fadden, now head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, was deputy minister at Citizenship and Immigration at the time, and was briefed on the theft, as was the Privy Council Office, the home of the federal cabinet.

“This was a breach of standard procedure and was an error,” says a draft media release.

The briefing-book volume was one of 35 tightly controlled copies, one of which Kenney received Oct. 30 on his appointment as minister.

A spokeswoman declined to comment on the department’s security protocols, or on any actions taken against the employee, citing privacy rules.

Kelli Fraser says Citizenship and Immigration conducts regular security awareness training and holds a “security awareness week” once a year, which includes courses.

“Furthermore, in the 2011-2012 fiscal year, an online course on security awareness will be mandatory for all CIC employees,” she said.

Fraser declined to provide further information about the contents of the briefing binder.

The parking-lot incident is among several in recent years in which confidential federal documents have disappeared:

•  Last November, a thief in Montreal broke into the unattended locked car of Mark Carney, the Bank of Canada governor, and took briefing notes and staff reports. A spokesman said the material contained no market-moving information.

•  In 2009, sensitive documents about Canada’s nuclear industry were left behind in an Ottawa television studio. The briefing material was for then-natural resources minister Lisa Raitt, who accepted the resignation of an aide over the incident.

•  Maxime Bernier resigned as foreign affairs minister in 2008 after leaving sensitive NATO documents at the home of his former girlfriend. They had sat there for more than a month.

•  And earlier in 2008, a sheaf of blueprints for a military counterterrorism unit were found stuffed in a trash bin in downtown Ottawa.