Tuesday, January 06, 2009

BC Rail scandal a symbol of failure

Imagine a place where police raid the legislature offices of political aides in a corruption probe involving a billion-dollar sale of a public asset.
The police talk about the destructive reach of organized crime and seize thousands of documents. The investigation involves a number of political power brokers.
Then imagine that five years later, the public still has few answers. No trial; no inquiry.
Silence from the government, which refuses to answer questions because the matter was "before the courts."
And endless delays that left the public in the dark, the three men charged in limbo and the government under a cloud.
Most people would assume, at best, that the country's system was broken.
At worst, they would fear that corruption was rife in a political and legal environment unable or unwilling to deal with it.
Welcome to B.C.
It's was a little more than five years ago that RCMP officers and Victoria police swooped in on the legislature offices of Dave Basi, a political assistant to then finance minister Gary Collins, and Bob Virk, who did the same work for transportation minister Judith Reid. (Collins and Reid have since left politics.)
They hauled away boxes of evidence. Officers also collected documents from lobbyists and operatives with ties to the federal and provincial Liberal parties.
Gordon Campbell, after completing his Hawaiian holiday, returned to say he knew nothing, but the government would co-operate fully with the investigation.
That hasn't really happened. The government has chosen to argue that a number of documents sought by the defence lawyers should be kept secret.
It's exercising its option to claim the documents are privileged, either as legal advice or cabinet material. If the government had chosen to, it could have released all the relevant material. Instead, legal wrangles have delayed the trial.
And the questions have mounted, as the only information - almost all unsubstantiated - has trickled out during various pretrial legal hearings, generally over the prosecution's failure to disclose evidence.
It's known that the RCMP alleged lobbyist Eric Bornman paid Basi about $24,000 over the course of a year for information and steering clients his way. The two knew each other well; both were active in the federal Liberal party. Police also alleged Basi and his cousin Virk went with their spouses to Denver in 2002 and watched an NFL game. They sat with Gary Rennick, a top exec with OmniTRAX, then a bidder for BC Rail. Lobbyist Brian Kieran, a partner with Bornman in Pilothouse Public Affairs, paid for the trip, police claimed.
Both men are expected to be witnesses; neither was charged. Basi and Virk face fraud and breach of trust charges.
And it's known that enough went wrong that the government was forced to cancel the sale of a B.C. Rail spur line after the process was started in case the process was corrupted. That cost taxpayers more than $1 million. (Legal costs are likely 10 times that amount already.)
But nothing has been proven. The public has no answers about what information, if any, changed hands. Defence lawyers have suggested they will show the two men were simply acting on behalf of their political masters and have done nothing wring.
The raids took place Dec. 28, 2003, midway through the Liberals' first term. There were no answers by the 2005 election.
And there will be no answers before the 2009 election. The special prosecutor is going to the Supreme Court of Canada to challenge a B.C. Court of Appeal ruling that defence lawyers have a right to know the identity of a secret informant.
Meanwhile, of course, Basi and Virk and Aneal Basi, another government employee charged, are under a cloud with no chance to clear their names.
Imagine a place where corruption in the corridors of government had been alleged five years earlier, charges had been laid and there were still no answers. Welcome to B.C.
Footnote: The odds are increasing that the case will be tossed out due to unreasonable delays, although the defence camp has said that it wanted to be vindicated in a trial. If charges are dismissed due to delay would leave a public inquiry as the only way to answer the corruption questions. (For a great guide to the case, see billtieleman.blogspot.com.)


BC Liberals Suck said...

A couple of things.

"The special prosecutor is going to the Supreme Court of Canada to challenge a B.C. Court of Appeal ruling that defense lawyers have a right to know the identity of a secret informant."

It isn't just that, the BC government's lawyer is trying to breach the well established jurisprudence of the right of the accused to have the defendants and their own lawyers be present and hear the testimony of a witness (and to cross-examine the witness), whose evidence may incriminate the defendants and could possibly lead to their conviction. There is no way the SCC will find in favour of the BC government's application (and criteria for appeals are very, very narrow, has to be an error in law) as this would set back the civil, human and Charter rights of legal representation in Canada for everyone.

Also, other than a public inquiry, which I have no faith in under the present government (people would be too afraid to tell the truth), the defendants will quite likely bring everything out at the multi-million dollar lawsuit they will probably file against parties involved, since they've quite possibly been made the scapegoats for a whole lot of people.

All of this is speculation and of course no allegations are proven about anyone. But even if the Crown throws this case out upon application by the Defense (for delay of justice), that won't be the last of it... these men have had their lives, careers, reputations & families ripped apart for 5 years. Would you sit back and allow them to get away with that?

Just think of about ALL of the OTHER STUFF these guys probably know about provincial & federal Liberal tricks & treats. The mind boggles.

This is what happens when lawyers try to run the show, it all gets buggered up (because they aren't as brilliant as they like to think they are, or as untouchable) and they don't know how to deal, when things don't go their way. I'm sure it will all make a great book someday.

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Anonymous said...

Silence from the government, which refuses to answer questions because the matter was "before the courts."

Is this political cover or does it have some basis in Law? thanks

Anonymous said...

You would think that being under such a cloud this government would have suffererd some kind of consequences - eg. in popularity ratings. But guess what. The people of BC appear to be very accepting of it and will likely elect more of the same. I guess by that time Gordon Campbeel could argue he'll have been given a mandate to deliver more of the same. I don't like it, but it's lonesome over here.

Anonymous said...

Yes, we don't really have a justice system and we do not hold our most open government accountable. OUR PRESS mainly ignores the story and the biggest Radio Station hardly acknowledges the trial. Hold the government feet to the fire and then ask if they are cosy and comfortable enough.

Anonymous said...

The delays of this case belong entirely to the RCMP and the Special Prosecutor. It really is shameful behaviour.

As we enter year 6, who knows what will happen.