Around 9 p.m. on Monday night, a group known as McGillLeaks sent all McGill undergraduate students an email using the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Vice-President (VP) Internal’s email account. The email contained a message to the McGill community, incorporating McGillLeaks’ stated purpose, and an attached link to various confidential files “pertaining to McGill’s corporate fundraising efforts” obtained by anonymous sources.
Less than an hour later, SSMU VP Internal Michael Szpejda and SSMU President Josh Redel sent another email to all members of SSMU, apologizing for the previous email sent from the account. According to Redel, Szpejda’s account is the only one registered with [email protected], which has the ability to send out listservs to all McGill undergraduates.
“It is our sincere apology that the last email was sent out from the SSMU mass email account hosted by MailChimp,” Szpejda’s email reads. “It was done so without the knowledge or permission of the SSMU VP Internal. We are currently investigating the situation, and have taken steps to prevent further such action.”
Redel told the Tribune that the email was likely sent by someone who had access to the VP Internal’s email password.
“Realistically, for someone to be able to hack that account would require a relatively great skill that I don’t think someone of this project would have casually,” he said. “So, unless they had connections to larger hacking networks, I don’t think that they hacked it; I just think that they somehow had the password. We are taking measures to make sure they can’t get back in.”
Redel also said that both he and Szpejda were in a SSMU Council Steering Committee meeting in the boardroom of the SSMU office when McGillLeaks sent the email. When asked whether or not he could have left his email logged in and open in his office during the meeting, Szpejda indicated that he did not think that he had. Redel, standing with Szpejda, then said that although Szpejda was not in his office at the time the email was sent, the SSMU executive email accounts automatically log out after a short while.
Both Szpejda and Redel have said that so far, they do not have an explanation as to how this could have happened.
“We’ve sent out an apology email,” Szpejda said. “We’re looking into it, and we’ve also contacted McGill it about it. We’ll be following up with it.”
Based on initial investigations by the SSMU executive team that occurred within the hour after the email was sent out, Redel did confirm that it appeared as though the email had been scheduled to go out in advance.
In the anonymous email, McGillLeaks mentioned how McGill had taken legal action against the organization last March.
“In March 2012, we released to the public about one third of the documents in our possession,” McGillLeaks’ email read. “McGill University took legal action that delayed our release of the other documents. These focus on McGill’s fundraising activities in the oil and gas, mining and financial sectors.”
The remaining two-thirds of the documents to which the email refers were released in a link with their Apr. 8 email.
“We have verified the authenticity of the documents, and their content has not been altered in any way, except to redact certain personal information, especially information that the University has collected on the children of fundraising targets,” the email continues.
McGillLeaks also relaunched their website the same night as they sent the email. The website had been taken down after the legal action by McGill.
Vice-Principal External Relations, Olivier Marcil, told the Tribune that the administration had begun to take action to prevent further dissemination of the documents on Tuesday.
“Confidential documents belonging to the University and containing personal information were stolen and published on the Internet without our consent,” he said. “It’s the second time that McGill has had to deal with this type of incident. The police are investigating and we are doing our best to limit dissemination of the documents in question.”
Chris Bangs, founder of McGilliLeaked—a website distinct from McGillLeaks that publishes documents obtained from McGill through Access to Information (ATI) requests—confirmed that he has no affiliation with McGillLeaks, and that every document released on his website was obtained and distributed legally.
“[The name of the McGilliLeaked website] was chosen intentionally as a play on the controversy when McGillLeaks came out last year,” Bangs said. “It has no connection to it. I stand by everything that was published on [McGilliLeaked]. It was all received through ATI requests or the archives. There’s no real connection beyond the fact that they publish documents related to McGill.”
McGillLeaks could not be reached for comment.
—Additional reporting by Carolina Millán Ronchetti