So what are the Crown prosecutors and RCMP hiding in the legislature raid case?
That’s the big question that emerged this week from the corruption trial of former ministerial aides Dave Basi and Bob Virk. The two are charged with accepting benefits in return for leaking confidential information about the B.C. Rail sale to one of the bidders.
The trial really hasn’t begun. Defence lawyers have been arguing for weeks in B.C. Supreme Court that the Crown has failed in its legal obligation to share the information its investigation uncovered.
Without that information, their clients can’t defend themselves, they say.
And now B.C. Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Bennett has agreed, delivering an extraordinary ruling granting the defence all its requests and delivering a stinging slap for both the RCMP and the special prosecutor named to handle the case.
In our system, the Crown and police are required to share all relevant evidence with the defence. The object is justice, not winning a conviction by withholding evidence that might cast doubt on guilt.
Bennett was brutally direct in finding that the RCMP and Crown had failed to do their legal duty.
That wasn’t entirely surprising, especially after evidence last month that an RCMP officer had written “Not for disclosure” on the notes he had made of his interview with then Liberal party president Kelly Reichert.
But her 37-page ruling that ordered disclosure was scathing.
It included the directive that that “every police officer or civilian who touched or spoke about this investigation” review every piece of paper in their possession to see if they have documents that should be disclosed.
“I regret that I must make the following order in such broad and sweeping terms,” she wrote. “However, given the substantial failure to respect the disclosure rights of the accused, this order is the only way I believe I can ensure that no miscarriage of justice will occur.”
And Bennett raised specific questions.
Like what happened to the investigation into the activities of Gary Collins, then finance minister and Basi’s boss.
Collins was under suspicion in December 2003, just before the raid, she notes. The RCMP even set up surveillance when he met with representatives from one bidder for B.C. Rail in a restaurant.
“There is nothing that I have seen in writing that indicates who made the decision to stop pursuing Minister Collins as a suspect and when that decision was made,” Bennett wrote.
Bennett also ordered prosecutors to reveal what kind of deal they made with lobbyist Erik Bornmann to secure his testimony. He is expected to testify that he bribed Basi in return for inside information on the B.C. Rail.
The Crown has said there is no documentation on the immunity deal, despite a policy that requires such agreement to be set out in writing.
Bennett said that’s not acceptable. “There have been too many wrongful convictions based on informant information which was obtained in dubious circumstances,” she noted.
The case is obviously of enormous public interest. The charge of corruption around the sale of B.C. Rail, RCMP claims of a link to drugs, the subsequent allegations of Liberal political dirty tricks all raise significant concerns.
That makes the failure of police and prosecutors to fulfill their obligations even more alarming.
It’s a big mess. Three-and-a-half years years after the legislature raids, the mystery is just as deep and even more questions are left unanswered.
The RCMP’s credibility has been dealt another high-profile blow and the Crown prosecutor is on the defensive. Allegations of B.C. Liberal dirty tricks, funded by taxpayers, are left unanswered.
And the real trial hasn’t even started yet. Unless the Crown and police start performing, it might never start. The defence lawyers are likely to argue that the delays and the prosecutor’s failures have made it impossible for their clients to get a fair trial.
Based on her order this week, Bennett might be inclined to accept the argument.
Footnote: Allegations at the trial — like reports of a political dirty-trick operation being run by Basi with the knowledge of the premier’s office — have already embarrassed the Liberals. The potential for further damaging revelations increased sharply with Bennett’s order.