Monday, January 07, 2008

Basi-Virk trial faces more delays, troubles

More troubling developments in the Basi-Virk government corruption case.
It's been more than four years since the raid on the legislature and the RCMP's warnings about the reach of organized crime.
Things have dragged terribly. Now, the special prosecutor appointed by the Attorney General's Ministry has taken his battle to have a witness testify in secret to the B.C. Court of Appeal. The trial date was set for March; that's now unlikely.
To recap. The RCMP searched the legislature in connection with allegations of corruption in the $1-billion sale of B.C. Rail. Dave Basi, key aide to former finance minister Gary Collins, and Bob Virk, aide to then transport minister Judith Reid, were charged. A lobbyist for one of the bidders will apparently say he supplied the bribes. He wasn't charged.
Progress has been slow, mostly because of failures by the prosecutor and RCMP. In our system, the Crown has to disclose the evidence it has collected to the defence. The process is supposed to be about justice, not winning convictions.
The prosecutor and police have failed to meet their disclosure obligations, drawing repeated rebukes from Justice Elizabeth Bennett,
The latest twist is the prosecutors' application to have a police informant provide evidence in secret.
Not only the public and reporters would be kept in the dark; the Crown wanted defence lawyers barred from hearing the evidence. It's an aggressive legal move, based on a three-month-old Supreme Court of Canada decision.
Last month Bennett rejected the prosecutors' application and ruled the defence lawyers should be present.
But now special prosecutor Bill Berardino is challenging her decision in the B.C. Court of Appeal. Figure a long delay as a result.
It's a tricky issue. Perhaps the testimony is important and can only be obtained in secret. Berardino would have an obligation, you could argue, to fight to ensure it is heard. If he didn't, he could face criticism for not pursuing the case diligently
But the appeal raises fairness issues. Prosecutors can spend endless amounts of public money on hearings and appeals; defendants are mortgaging their futures to pay their legal bills. For the prosecutors, delays have few consequences; for defendants they mean more months or years with unproven criminal charges hanging over them.
Another big issue is about to break. Premier Gordon Campbell promised complete co-operation with the investigation. But now the government is arguing some documents should be kept secret, even though they are relevant.
The government is citing lawyer-client privilege. Anyone has a right to keep conversations with their lawyer secret. That's considered one of the protections needed to allow people the right to a proper defence.
But anyone can also exercise the right to waive solicitor-client privilege - to say that they have nothing to hide and consider the first priority getting at the truth. (The Liberals, in opposition, urged the former government not to use solicitor-client privilege as a justification for withholding information.)
The Campbell government's effort to withhold evidence is a big mistake.
The other interesting development comes courtesy of Bill Tieleman, columnist for 24 Hours, a Vancouver free newspaper (and a New Democrat). Tieleman, who has done a first-rate job covering the trial, did a freedom of information request for the notes of a government public affairs staffer who had been monitoring the trial daily.
There's nothing wrong with that. Given the nature of the case, the government has reason to want to know what's going on.
But Attorney General Wally Oppal originally offered some quite goofy reasons for the premier's office watch on the trial when the news broke. The staffer was there to help the media and the public, he suggested. The FOI response shows that was not true.
This is all getting awfully messy. And much muckier days are ahead.
Footnote: The wrangling over disclosure and other issues has generally not made much news. Expect that to change this year as the trial grows closer and the legal issues - like the Crown's desire to have witnesses testify in secret - become more significant.


Anonymous said...

so if the Crown causes enough delays then the case will get dismissed as being unfair to the defendants?

what many observers have been expecting.

And what are the odds that there would ever be a public inquiry?? zilch, nada, never.

Anonymous said...

An appeal of the Supreme Court Judges decision, what is going on here?

It seems as though the SP is trying to protect someone very important considering the appeal will continue to to delay this thing for months.

I wonder what the Campbell government thinks about a 2009 election trial?

The actions of the Special Prosecutor are clearly leading to that possibility.

Anonymous said...

Just a passing thought for you Paul. This is a pretty good article, taking into consideration the MSM has, in the past, and currently, not doing their job as it pertains to this case. A case that is much more important to the Citizens of this Province then any other,past or present. As you note, B. Tieleman is the only reporter doing his job. My passing thought, why did you bother to comment in brackets (he is NDP) what difference would it make if he supported the "funny" smokers, or the hippo fraternity or, Bless him, the Liebrals? Joey

Anonymous said...

Absolutely spot on with Anon above. The MSM has done nothing to highlight the case.

paul said...

Thanks for the comment. I included Tieleman's political affiliation because it seemed relevant in this case. His involvement as a campaigner and communications director for Glen Clark during his first months as premier was significant enough to note provide reaers with perspective. I did, of course, also say that his work on this story was first rate.
Paul Willcocks

Anonymous said...

Yes Paul, Bill is doing a terrific job, but it would certainly be beneficial to all Citizens of B.C. if his reporting was reprinted by the MSM, as they obviously do not consider it important enough to have their own reports attending these court dates. and also Paul, I am very sure, your readers appreciate your comments, and would certainly appreciate FULL coverage as it happens. Yes. I do mean it when I say you are probably alone among the MSM that print anything and it is appreciated. It is certainly more accurate and straight forward then anything Spector prints. Joey