Friday, June 24, 2011

Auditor fights secrecy on Basi-Virk $6-million payment

Add another question to the mess that is the B.C. Rail scandal.
Why did the provincial government, in handing over $6 million to pay Dave Basi and Bob Virk's legal fees, agree to - or ask for - a secrecy clause so sweeping that it's impossible for the province's auditor general to do his job?
Auditor general John Doyle has been forced to go to B.C. Supreme Court in a bid to get the government to hand over documents about the deal.
Doyle says he needs the information to fulfill his obligations to ensure money was spent legally and properly reported. He's seeking "the approvals, expenditures, records and documents supporting the expenditures" made to cover "the provision of public funds to Basi and Virk," according to the petition to the court.
The government has refused to provide the information. It signed a confidentiality agreement with Basi and Virk, so everything has to stay secret, it says. The auditor general and the public can't know anything about how the decision to spend the $6 million was made.
The government would waive privilege and the confidentiality agreement for the purposes of the audit, it said in a statement. But Basi, Virk and their lawyers haven't.
The legal funding violated government policy. Politicians and government employees are promised funding for lawyers if they end up in work-related legal proceedings. But if they are found guilty of wrongdoing, the legal bills become their responsibility. The government had even registered a mortgage on Basi's home to ensure it could collect at least some of the money.
Basi and Virk admitted guilt in a plea bargain after the government promised it would cover their legal fees. But the government paid the $6 million anyway.
And, it turns out, struck a deal that ensured the details would be kept secret.
Why? The government was handing over $6 million. It had every right to say no to secrecy, but didn't.
The perception is, inevitably, that there was something to hide.
Doyle wants to know details of the payment to cover legal fees for Basi and Virk. The public should too.
The $6 million promise, remember, came after the trial had begun. It was a powerful incentive for Basi and Virk to plead guilty to corruption charges. If they didn't, and were found guilty, they risked losing everything - homes, any savings. The smart move was to accept the plea deal, with the multimillion-dollar sweetener.
And the plea bargain ended the trial, which had already proved embarrassing for the Liberal government. Doyle's review would be welcome.
Premier Christy Clark maintains there is no need to seek further answers in the B.C. Rail scandal.
But many questions remain.
Basi and Virk admitted taking bribes from Erik Bornman, a lobbyist and political foot soldier, and Brian Kieran, a lobbyist and former journalist. The men were lobbyists for one of the bidders for B.C. Rail.
But they were never charged.
In statements to obtain search warrants - not tested in court - police swore Bornman told them he started paying bribes to Basi even before the Liberals were elected in 2001. The money was to pay "his political support, his support in referring clients to my business and for assistance on client matters," Bornman told police.
That suggests other well-connected people were paying for preferential "assistance" in other areas. The government seems uninterested in establishing the facts.
A police search found that Bruce Clark, a federal Liberal activist, lobbyist and Christy Clark's brother, had B.C. Rail sale documents "improperly disclosed" by Basi and Virk. Clark was working for the Washington Marine Group, which was interested in buying the B.C. Rail line to the Roberts Bank superport.
But it's never been explained why Basi and Virk shared the material or what Clark did with it. (Christy Clark is now lobbying the federal government to help the same company win a shipbuilding contract.)
The government has consistently ignored important questions raised by the B.C. Rail scandal. The auditor general is standing up for the public interest.
Footnote: Attorney General Barry Penner says it's up to Basi and Virk to decide whether to share the information. But he has refused to order a review of the $6 million deal - including the secrecy clause. The government is reviewing its policies on paying for lawyers.

Google tramples sex workers' rights

Google censorship isn't just in China. The company refuses to allow a group seeking rights for sex workers to advertise, while it sells ads to a group campaigning to make the work illegal.
Read Jody Paterson here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

CLBC's soaring management salaries and service cuts

Jody Paterson reports here that top managers at CLBC have seen compensation jump more than 55 per cent over four years while services to developmentally disabled clients and their families are cut.

And she looks at the folly of those cuts in a column here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Six lessons from a highly predictable riot

It's bizarre that the authorities in Vancouver claim to be surprised by the Stanley Cup riot.
I was on a 9 a.m. ferry from Victoria to Vancouver that day. Within about 30 minutes, it was clear trouble was likely.
The ferry was crowded with young people, mostly male, wearing Canuck's sweaters. They weren't criminals or 'anarchists' (which always suggests a bearded, skinny guy with a round bomb).
They were young fans, ready for a day of drinking and a hockey party. Some of the guys led the passengers in 'Go Canucks go" chants. They had jobs or were in college or university.
One young man in a Luongo jersey told friends he'd been over for Game 5. You had to line up to get into a bar at 2 p.m., he warned them. And you had to keep drinking or you'd lose the table. (Which, he said, was not a problem.)
"Ferry jammed with young people in Canucks' jerseys," I tweeted. "Vancouver police should be biggest cheerers for Canuck win." (Yes, I'm on Twitter.)
I'm no security expert. But it was clear that there would be trouble if the Canucks lost.
My ferry fellow travellers might not set a car on fire or loot a store. But some would watch and cheer, or taunt police, perhaps get in drunken fights if they felt wronged.
People have been drawing an extraordinary range of messages from the riots.
I'd settle for six conclusions.
First, that a proportion of young men are capable of stupid and dangerous behaviour. Destruction and violence please them. The trait must serve some genetic purpose, or it did in the past, but it is a great nuisance today.
It's not a question of intelligence, upbringing, thwarted opportunity or philosophy. Look at Nathan Kotylak, the 17-year-old caught trying to set a police car on fire. His dad is a surgeon. He's a water polo star, set to head off on a university scholarship, a potential Olympian. That's not some loser anarchist wannabe in a hoodie. (And we should also acknowledge that it can be exhilarating to break the usual rules.)
Second, that alcohol remains our most destructive drug. The Canucks' fans on the morning ferry were the usual mix of people, great and not so great, but none of them would do you harm. Many would help if you needed it.
Unless they were drunk. Then, all bets would be off.
And the crowds watching the final game in Vancouver were drunk. People drinking in the street - tens of thousands - were joined by people pouring into the streets after spending six hours drinking in bars.
It was predictable that any incidents would quickly escalate.
Third, that mobs are dangerous. People who would never loot a store or confront police individually can be swept, sheep-like, into stupid and dangerous activities. That conclusion applies just as well to those - generally online - who urged vigilante justice against those involved in the riot. The herd mentality swept them along as well.
Fourth, that we need to at least consider whether our culture - the things our society celebrates - is increasing the risk of such violence and disruption. Hockey did not make people set fire to cars. But it's not unreasonable to wonder if commentators who celebrated violence and actions outside the game's rules legitimized similar acts on the streets. Or whether a steady diet of TV that makes stars of the selfish, stupid, rude and violent influences behaviour.
Fifth, that Vancouver blew it. The police presence was inadequate, several smaller public venues - ideally in open areas - would have been safer, and it's baffling that city staff and police were caught by surprise.
Sixth, that parents should recognize that some of the rioters were people like their own children (or sons, to be more accurate). It's a good chance to point out the perils of drunken gatherings.
We're never going to eliminate stupidity and violence. We can do a lot better than we did this week.
Footnote: Premier Christy Clark ordered a review and promised swift justice and public humiliation for rioters. That led Attorney General Barry Penner to reverse his decision to cut sheriff's hours, a cost-saving measure that had led to even longer delays and more dismissed charges in the courts.