Thursday, May 08, 2008

Liberals walk into cover-up charges in deaths

It's rarely mistakes that get governments in trouble. It's the attempts to conceal them.
The Liberals are falling into that trap, fighting to keep important evidence from being heard at inquiries into two terrible deaths.
There's a grim inquest under way in Victoria, one touching on a lot of critical issues. A man broke stabbed to death his wife, young son, her parents and then himself.
The woman, Sunny Parks, had predicted the killings six weeks earlier, when Peter Lee crashed their vehicle into a utility pool in what she saw as an effort to kill or injure her. She had also recounted past abuse to police. She told them he always carried a knife.
But Crown prosecutors decided he should be released on bail. The police officers who had investigated disagreed. They thought Lee was dangerous.
But the prosecutors were unconvinced. Lee was released, with several conditions.
He didn't obey them. He violated orders not to call his wife and to stay away from her and the family home. Lee's bail supervisor warned she was having trouble tracking his movements.
So a bail review was scheduled. Neither Lee nor his lawyer showed. It lasted one minute. The Crown accepted an adjournment and a new hearing was set, for a week later. Lee knew bail might be revoked. And hours before the hearing, he went on a killing spree.
There were two chances for a different outcome. If prosecutors had argued that Lee should have been held in the first place. Or if they had argued that a warrant should be issued when he failed to appear for the second hearing.
There's no clear answer here. Locking up someone who might be innocent shouldn't be done lightly. Lee had no criminal record and owned a business. Jail would be a serious hardship.
A five-person jury is hearing the inquest evidence. The province sent a supervisor of Crown prosecutors to testify. She said the prosecutors did everything right - although police might have been at fault, she said. No policy changes were needed.
That was a little bit puzzling, given the five bodies.
Another Crown prosecutors manager frustrated the inquest by saying she couldn't answer many questions, because she wasn't involved in the actual decisions.
Lawyer Diane Turner, representing the B.C. Task Force on Family Violence at the inquest, described the first supervisor's testimony as "an insult the victims."
The jury and coroner Jeff Dolan decided they needed to hear from the prosecutors who made the decisions.
That seems reasonable. There are serious unanswered questions. Experts have testified the available information indicated Lee was a serious threat.
So why didn't the prosecutors act on that basis? Is their training in family violence adequate? Did a heavy workload influence the decision to let Lee be on the street? Were they worried that the local detention centre was already overcrowded? Did communication with police break down?
Fair questions, which only the prosecutors can answer. The coroner ordered the prosecutors to testify.
Then the provincial government stepped in. Prosecutors wouldn't be allowed to testify.
So even though Premier Gordon Campbell promised the inquest would answer all questions, it's now shut down indefinitely. The government is trying to get the coroner's order that the prosecutors testify overturned in B.C. Supreme Court.
It has linked the case with a similar battle at an inquiry into how Frank Paul was left by police to die in a Vancouver alley. The government is fighting the inquiry's order to hear from prosecutors in that case as well.
The questions are reasonable. Only the prosecutors can answer them.
And prosecutors have often testified at other inquiries. (In fact, Richard Peck, the lawyer the government has hired to argue prosecutors don't have to testify, demanded prosecutors be called when he was a defence lawyer in the Air India case.)
A family is dead. And the government is fighting to withhold evidence.
Footnote: The government is claiming that prosecutors - like judges - never have to account for any action or inaction. But judges are appointed; prosecutors are hired. Judges' decisions can be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada; there's no recourse or review of a prosecutor's decision.
Attorney General Wally Oppal says allowing them to testify would mean prosecutors would constantly have to second-guess their decisions. It's hard to what's so wrong with that; but the reality is that inquiries and inquests like these are extremely rare.
Among the victims are the two prosecutors being barred from testifying. The government's intransigence denies them the chance to talk about the efforts they made to reach the right decision.


Anonymous said...

"Whenever a person says that they are as innocent as lambs in all concerning money, look well after your own money, for they are dead certain to collar it, if they can." (Inspector Bucket, in Bleak House by Charles Dickens). Whenever a premier tells you that he will run the most open and honest government in the history of the province, it's a forshadowing of the deception and fraud he has in his heart.

Gary E said...

And let's not forget the roadblocks that government lawyers are throwing in the path of the BC Rail Corruption Trial. They won't even answer questions in the Legislature if a name comes up that is remotely connected to the Scandal

Whistleblowers BC said...

It's just infuriating and offensive that the Attorney General would shield the Crown prosecutors from appearing before this inquest. They are public servants and employees of the government. They are not protected by "cabinet privilege" and the entire Branch must be accountable to the citizen's of this province, or they whole lot of decision-makers should be fired. If you can't handle the heat, get out of the fire. When you make the kind of foolish and recklish errors that it is alleged they may have ... failed to request detention of man who any half-wit could have seen was a significant threat to his wife's life, you must be accountable for the tragedy that results.

"Attorney General Wally Oppal says allowing them to testify would mean prosecutors would constantly have to second-guess their decisions."

Mr. Oppal's actions in shielding his prosecutors is a slap in the face of every child protection social worker and employee working in MCFD who are scapegoated regularly and pilloried for practice decisions that have life and death implications for clients, that are most often a result of the negligence of the BC government to that Ministry. The Crown's credibility is on the line here. And of the government has liability here, then they better bite the bullet and take their lumps.

Mr. Oppal, you had better take a long hard look in the mirror here, b/c you are in danger of losing more than just your ethics. You are going against everything you were raised to believe in and worked your whole life for as you cover tracks all over the place for the bunch of thugs and dogs you lay down with. You are losing the respect of the province and all who used to hold you in regard. It isn't too late for you to do the right thing and start making decisions that are in the best interests of the public, not your Masters.