Thursday, April 26, 2007

Early days of Basi-Virk trial bring tough questions for Liberals

The corruption trial of ministerial aides Dave Basi and Bobby Virk is only days old, and the bombshells are already shaking B.C. politics.
Basi and Virk are charged with taking bribes in connection with the sale of B.C. Rail. The evidence is expected to include testimony from Erik Bornman, a lobbyist, who will say he paid the bribes. Bornman hasn't been charged, one of the issues the defence lawyers are questioning. All this flows from the legislature raids more than three years ago.
Three years is a long time to wait for answers. Not just on the question of guilt or innocence, important as that is. But about what sparked the investigation, why policed raided a who's who of federal Liberal party wheels, how the government responded to the concerns, how the B.C. Rail deal was affected and just what happened.
So far, none of those questions have been answered. But defence lawyers, using wiretap material and other documents, have already raised a raft of damaging charges against the Campbell Liberals and the RCMP.
They're trying to make the case that the wiretap evidence was wrongly obtained and shouldn't be allowed. They're also suggesting that the RCMP failed to investigate the politicians properly and that Basi and Virk were simply doing their bosses' bidding. To establish that, the lawyers argue, they need access to a lot more government records.
Along the way the lawyers have been offering examples from the evidence to support their arguments. The examples seem chosen to make life difficult for Premier Gordon Campbell and the Liberals.
The lawyers said the evidence showed that Basi performed political dirty tricks for the government, with the knowledge and support of the premier's office.
Basi paid a man $100 to heckle fish farm protesters at a Victoria supermarket. He lined up callers when politicians were on radio talk shows, people who would use fake names and lob softball questions at the premier and other Liberals. He recruited callers to attack opponents - even long retired former premier Bill Vander Zalm.
All with knowledge of the senior people in the premier's office - including, according to one e-mail, Campbell.
It's no secret parties sometimes try and stack call-ins. But the notion of this being government strategy, managed at taxpayers' expense, is offensive.
And the idea that the Liberals might be paying people to disrupt legitimate demonstrations is just ugly. Secret agents of a political party shouldn't harass citizens trying to make a point.
The lawyers dropped more bombs. They said politicians had been wrongly excluded from the investigation. One of the lead RCMP officers on the case was the brother-in- law of the B.C. Liberal party president and didn't immediately disclose the conflict, the lawyers claimed.
These are all just allegations. But they raised some serious concerns about the way the Liberal party and the government operate.
And the New Democrats were quick to jump on the issue in question period. The questions have varied. But basically, the NDP has been asking about the allegations of dirty tricks. So have reporters.
Campbell isn't talking. He says he won't answer any questions about allegations or evidence at the trial until the case is resolved. He's taking the position out of respect for the courts, he says.
You can make the argument. There's no worry about influencing a jury; B.C. Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Bennett is hearing the case. But the premier could say he doesn't want to risk even the appearance that he's trying to influence the court.
But there's a stronger case for some answers, too.
The New Democrats have managed to narrow the questions to remove references to the trial, asking Campbell simply to confirm that no one in his office is currently involved in such political tricks.
The questions are serious, raising the issue of the ethical standards - the sense of decency and respect - we expect from those in public life.
Footnote: The New Democrats also continued to raise questions about potential conflicts in the roles occupied by former top bureaucrat Ken Dobell, who is being paid both as an advisor to the premier and a lobbyist for the City of Vancouver attempting to get money from the province. Attorney General Wally Oppal has struggled in dealing with what look legitimate concerns.

5 comments:

Michael Thompson said...

Paul,

What about the allegations that the Finance Minister, Gary Collins was under investigation?

What about the fact that the Special Prosecutor did not advise the government about the activities of Messrs Kieran, Bornmann and Elmhirst?

Do all lobbyist charge clients $300,000?

I always felt that admitting to bribery should bring some consequences.

Anonymous said...

And we all figured the ADSCam was a bad affair, while here in little old Lotus Land some strange things are going on and ouir government refused to say anyhting. One hopes next time the election is called folks will remember what is happeing now or has happend in the last few years

Gazetteer said...

Mr. Thompson--

Agreed.

And here's another thing....

It seems to me that if the alleged bribe makers had also been charged, it would be a whole heckuva lot harder to bury things under the Premier/cabinet/government triple-decker cone of silence.

.

Anonymous said...

We all know defense lawyers speak nothing but the truth in their statements of defense. After all a defense lawyers job, unlike the RCMP, is to get to the truth. The RCMP are just morally void puppets of the government. I’m certain this defense team has the public’s best interest in mind by finding out the truth. His job defending his client is just secondary at this point.

It’s also very sad to see call in shows being stacked by a political party. It’s amazing it took 70 years for the first political party to stack phone lines. I’m surprised it’s never been done before. The Liberals will now be forever cemented in the history books as the first and only political party to ever stack phone lines.

Anonymous said...

We all know defense lawyers speak nothing but the truth in their statements of defense. After all a defense lawyers job, unlike the RCMP, is to get to the truth. The RCMP are just morally void puppets of the government. I’m certain this defense team has the public’s best interest in mind by finding out the truth. Their job defending their client is just secondary at this point.

It’s also very sad to see call in shows being stacked by a political party. It’s amazing it took 70 years for the first political party to stack phone lines. I’m surprised it’s never been done before. The Liberals will now be forever cemented in the history books as the first and only political party to ever stack phone lines.