The personal information of an Edmonton-area social worker was mishandled by the police and courts and leaked to a man incarcerated for harassing her, True North has learned.
The social worker asked that True North not reveal her identity, or the identity of her harasser, as she still fears for her safety. True North ultimately agreed to this condition after viewing supporting documentation and independently verifying her account.
The woman, in her mid-30s, had been employed by the Government of Alberta Children’s Services for seven years when she began working with a new client, an adult male. In the summer of 2013, the woman made a work-related decision that her client did not like, and from there, everything went downhill.
The man began publishing a series of Youtube videos about the social worker, describing her in death-invoking scenarios.
“He threatened to blow up my office, he said he had access to weapons and explosives,” she recounted.
“I was going on a vacation with my family, he knew that I was going on vacation, and so he had wished or hoped that my family and I would die in a plane crash and be punished by God.”
The man wrote long, rambling social media posts, blog entries, and text messages saying that the social worker should face death and execution, and left her threatening voicemail messages.
“The guillotine – I didn’t even really know what that was before all of this, but he wanted me to have my head cut off by guillotine… he just really wanted me dead, in pretty violent ways. He wanted me to be punished, like physically punished.”
As the police stalled on taking any action, the woman started taking different routes between her home and workplace, established safety plans at her workplace and her childrens’ daycare and school, and enrolled in self-defense training.
On a Saturday morning in March 2014, the woman received a phone call from a police officer: the man harassing her was being charged for criminal harassment and uttering threats.
For the next three and a half months, the man was imprisoned at the Edmonton Remand Centre.
While in jail, rumours began circulating that the man was in jail for rape. To disprove these rumours, the man showed his jail mates his disclosure package. In doing so, he discovered that these papers displayed the full name, date of birth, home address, personal phone number, and driver’s license information of the very woman he was in jail for harassing.
None of the information had been redacted.
“Someone screwed up big time,” said True North fellow Leo Knight, former police officer and private investigator of 40 years. “That should have never happened.”
The woman then received an email from a friend of her former client, who told her that part of the man’s disclosure package had gotten lost within the correctional facility. The friend stated that the document containing all of the woman’s personal information was likely circulating among the inmates, and the woman was now at risk for identity theft and credit card fraud.
The woman spoke to a police officer who advised her that the man should be charged for violating a no-contact order.
But that didn’t happen. In fact, Chief Crown Prosecutor Michelle Doyle stated in an email to the social worker’s manager that the man’s actions of indirectly contacting his victim while incarcerated and admitting he had files he shouldn’t have “place him in a positive light.”
“I expect that most persons in [the woman’s] position would rather be told about the situation than not be told,” wrote Michelle Doyle. “It may well be that [the man] felt this could place him in a positive light with the court. Frankly, it does place him in a positive light.”
“He has threatened to cut my head off. He wasn’t looking to do me any favours,” countered the woman. “If he wanted to do the right thing he could have handed that piece of paper, or whatever he had, he could have handed it to a guard and said, ‘I’m not supposed to have this.’”
“I felt like this was something that he used as a means of more intimidation. It was terrifying.”
Another police officer remarked to her that this case was “kind of like domestic violence, but not really.”
The woman contested the remark: “This individual I was dealing with, this was in a professional capacity. This wasn’t my boyfriend, this wasn’t my husband, this wasn’t my friend or my family member or my neighbour. This was a client.”
The woman is now disillusioned with the police and courts, and notes that she was never provided the opportunity to write a victim impact statement. “Victims of crime really don’t have a lot of protection.”
Around the same time the man was being released from the Edmonton Remand Centre, the Government of Alberta approved the woman’s request to have her moving expenses covered.
The woman and her husband sold their house and moved within one month. “Our house sold incredibly fast, since it was beautiful, and then we found another place and took a place we could get into really fast.”
Following the man’s release from jail, he published multiple Facebook Live video streams about the woman. But for the last two years, the man has ceased making videos and social media posts about his victim.
The woman hasn’t worked since 2014 due to post-traumatic stress disorder and is now on long-term disability, even though social work has always been her dream job.
In early 2019, the woman asked her MLA’s office whether the Edmonton police or the Crown Prosecutor’s office had ever reported the privacy breach she endured to the Office of Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta (OIPC).
She was told that nobody had ever reported the breach.
“I find it concerning, as the victim of a privacy breach, that it is my burden to report the privacy breach of a public body who disclosed my personal information to an assailant without my consent,” the woman wrote in a February 2019 complaint to the OIPC. “If the public body is not responsible for reporting the privacy breach, I’m left wondering, how often are privacy breaches occurring and going unreported by public bodies?”
In September 2020, the OIPC responded that while they acknowledge the harms the woman faced, they do not have jurisdiction over her complaint and could not address her unanswered questions or investigate her concerns any further.
The woman has since submitted an application to the OIPC requesting they hold an inquiry.
“It’s bad enough experiencing threats and harassment, and experiencing a privacy breach in that process, it makes a bad situation so much worse. I think this needs to be looked at, so that it does not happen to anyone else.”
“I feel really strongly about that.”