Sunday, March 30, 2008

Les resignation raises more questions for Liberals

The resignation of John Les and the revelation that he's been under police investigation since last June could add to the Liberals' headaches.
Les did the right thing, resigning as soon as he learned that the RCMP is looking into possible wrongdoing when he was mayor of Chilliwack in the late 1990s.
And, it's critical to note, just because the RCMP is investigating doesn't mean Les did anything wrong
But after dealing with the Dobell affair, and with the BC Rail corruption scandal still hanging over their heads, this is not good news for the Liberals.
And 48 hours after the surprise announcement at 5:30 p.m. on Friday - a favourite time to release bad news - the government still hasn't answered some important questions.
Worse, that task will likely fall to Attorney General Wally Oppal, whose mediocre performance in such situations keeps government communications types braced for a train wreck.
The first questions will be about why Les was able to keep his job as the province's top law enforcement officials for the last nine months.
The man responsible for policing - including, at least nominally, the RCMP - was under investigation by the force.
Les says he didn't know about the investigation until Friday, so he couldn't resign. Premier Gordon Campbell said Saturday he wasn't told about it, so he couldn't ask Les to resign.
So who did know? Specifically, did Oppal know? And was it the right decision by the assistant deputy attorney general to keep the investigation secret? That's who gets to make that decision.
The special prosecutor system was introduced by the Socred government in 1991. It was intended to reduce the risk of real or apparent political interference in police investigations that involved government.
If government lawyers were placed in charge of reviewing the evidence and deciding on charges in such cases, then they might fear career repercussions or feel other pressures.
So if a case involves a politician or government, the assistant deputy attorney general has the option of handing responsibility to an outside lawyer.
The ministry and the Law Society of B.C. collaborate on a standing list of lawyers to handle the assignments; the assistant deputy attorney general appoints one from the list.
It's a good framework.
But this case, along with the BC Rail investigation, raises questions about how well it's working.
The biggest problem in the Les case is the secrecy. If it was appropriate that he resign once the investigation was made public, why was it not appropriate that he resign when it began?
The government's Criminal Justice Branch says its "general practice" is to keep the appointment of a special prosecutor secret unless the public finds out about it somehow.
But the report that led to the creation of the process didn't call for that level of secrecy.
It suggested that the appointment of a special prosecutor be withheld from the public only when the information's release might undermine the investigation. That's not the approach the government is apparently taking.
The other questions will be about whether Oppal knew about the investigation and the special prosecutor.
The original recommendations suggested the attorney general could be kept aware of the progress of significant cases. Did Oppal know about this one? Did he consider whether the premier should be told, or Les should step down?
And would the public ever have found about the investigation at all if a CBC reporter hadn't forced the government's hand?
The Liberals will likely revert to the same kind of stonewalling they've used, with some success, in dealing with the Dobell case and the BC Rail scandal.
And they will point out, quite rightly, that everyone needs to remember that Les is innocent at this point. He says he's confident he'll be cleared.
But another cloud is hanging over the government.
Footnote: The original policy called for "senior criminal lawyers in private practice" to be appointed special prosecutors. But in the B.C. Rail case and now in this one, the ministry has picked lawyers who, while highly regarded, are not known for criminal work. Given the massive problems in the B.C. Rail case, this raises questions about why the change was made.


Anonymous said...

Great article Paul. I hope that the questions will gain some traction as there needs to some explanation as to how the Sol Gen can continue to hold his position for 9 months during the investigation.

What have the RCMP been doing for 9months? Perhaps where there is smoke, there may be fire.

I also agree with your astute analysis of the lack of a criminal law background for the Special Prosecutor. If I was John Les, I would be concerned.

Here is a prediction. John Les will hire George Macintosh as his lawyer.

Has the media researched whether any search warrants have been executed on bank accounts relating to this investigation? It is in the public interest that we should know.

Gary E said...

This whole thing smacks of a setup to me Paul. The timing of the news in more ways than one. The Premier coming out with the self-rightiousness in stating he didn't know and that's how it should be. In the real world control freaks have to know everything.

I hope tomorrow when the opposition starts questioning this matter that they syick to the secrecy of the appointment. That matter is NOT BEFORE THE COURTS.

Anonymous said...

The cynical crackpot conspiracy kooks among us might be thinking...

Say you were the leader of a government that was facing an election in about one years time... and say one of your weakest ministers was going to run for re-election - he is going to win his seat, but you really don't want him playing in your sandbox... and say you had heard the faintest whiff of a rumour about said mediocre minister... What would a machiavellian micromanaging leader do? Surely not a leak to remove the incompetent minister from the field shortly before a cabinet shuffle... No, surely not.

Dear Leader has said that no MLAs knew of the investigation and Oppal has said he first heard about the investigation on the Friday March 28 evening news.

Anonymous said...

Gordo knew, Wally O knew. They did what they usually do...lie!
Gordo has lied since he came to power, this is no different. Time for these carpetbaggers to go.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Did I hear on BCTV last night (March 31) that Les's brother was questioned by the RCMP?

Budd Campbell said...

As I said on Bill Tieleman's< blog, I am happy that John Les is no longer the Solicitor General and I hope he never comes back to the portfolio. His irresponsible attitudes towards photo radar at Patullo Bridge and the overcrowding and double bunking in BC provincial jails show he's incapable to making sound public policy decisions.

Maybe it's time to hire a committee of lawyers to rewrite the Special Prosecutor section with the experiences of the last fifteen years in mind. One instance that such a panel should be examine in some detail, and publish their findins, is former Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh's handling of the disclosure that then Premier Glen Clark was under criminal investigation.

DL said...

I amost fainted today when I heard Ding Dong got the Sg job in the interim, Gordon sure is scraping hte bottom of the barrel for talent or is prpared to do without a solicitor General for awhile

Anonymous said...

I would like to see some statistical analysis of the Special Prosecutors conviction rates compared to the regular Crown Attorneys. I’m just thinkin’...