This week marks a bleak anniversary for the justice system.
It was 18 months ago, on March 28, 2008, that an independent special prosecutor was appointed in an investigation into land deals in Chilliwack.
The special prosecutor was needed because a police investigation was looking at whether John Les - then the solicitor general - had "improperly benefited" from any deals that helped developers when he was Chilliwack mayor from 1987 to 1999.
Regular Crown prosecutors are public sector employees. If a case touches the government, a special prosecutor is appointed to provide the police with legal advice, decide if charges are warranted and then handle any resulting prosecutions.
Under the system, introduced by the Socred government in 1991, the deputy attorney general appoints a special prosecutor from a standing list prepared the ministry and the Law Society of B.C. (If you get nothing else from this column, you are now one of an small group who knows about special prosecutors.)
It's a good approach. In this case, it's not working.
Not for the public. Les ran in the May election while the charges were still being investigated. Voters had to decide whether to vote for, or against him, without any information about the investigation. (He was elected with 45 per cent of the vote.)
Now he's chairing the legislative finance committee touring the province to seek input for the February budget, while under investigation by a special prosecutor.
And the process certainly isn't working for Les.
He has spent 18 months under investigation, with a cloud hanging over his head. Les stepped down as solicitor general when the special prosecutor was appointed. That's a serious blow.
No matter how convinced you are of your innocence, that kind of wait has to be horrible. The uncertainty and concern would always be there, like a nagging toothache, flaring up in quiet moments.
It is simply unfair.
After the special prosecutor was appointed, the Agricultural Land Commission started a separate investigation into a 1997 land deal involving Les. The previous owner of a Chilliwack property had twice failed to win ALC approval to create a two-acre lot for a retirement home. He planned to sell the rest to his family.
The ALC said no; an additional home would take space needed to maintain a viable farm property.
In 1997, a company co-owned by Les - still the mayor - bought the property and subdivided it and two adjacent properties into six lots, without going to the ALC.
The process for those approvals is under ALC review.
The special prosecutor might be involved in entirely different matters.
But it's likely still a complex investigation. The events are at least a decade old. There are documents to review and interviews with people struggling to remember what they did a long time ago. New bits of information would send investigators back for repeat interviews with the people.
And care and diligence are needed. The special prosecutor must ultimately make an important decision about charges.
But the investigation began in June 2007. That's more than two years ago. The special prosecutor was appointed 18 months ago.
The process is taking too long. A review of the documents and interviews gathered by the police over almost a year might take two months. Another two months could be spent resolving questions raised by the evidence. And another two months could be used to review the law and tidy loose.
Then the special prosecutor decides. A jury might reasonably hear the evidence and consider a guilty verdict, or not. The case moves forward, or a weight is lifted from Les.
The delays could be a problem of resources or expertise. Perhaps there are not enough police officers or lawyers to keep the case on track.
If that is the problem, special prosecutor Robin McFee - a good choice, given the nature of the case - should say so.
The crawling pace toward answers doesn't serve the public interest and is terribly unfair to Les.
Footnote: Which leads to the B.C. Rail corruption trial. It has been almost seven years since the search of legislature offices; almost six years since three men were charged. The trial has not yet begun and a hearing on dismissing the charges because of the delay will be held in the first week of December.