One of the crime scenes

Thursday, March 01, 2007

What, a Week
it has Been for
BC Rail Trial


What a week we've had with the Basi, Virk and Basi affair this past week. To begin with on Monday, when we all expected some pre-trial conferences or filings to occur, no one could seem to find out if anything would happen or later if anything had happened.


Some people inquired with the office of the Attorney General, which frankly wasn't very effective. It took two days for staff there to get back to me and even then they didn't really answer the question(s) I had asked. After sending a message asking about the supposedly scheduled hearing for Monday, early Monday morning, I finally received on Tuesday afternoon this informative message about something else entirely.

There is a pre-trial conference set for 9:00 a.m. on March 7, 2007.


Tuesday and Wednesday though all kinds of things started happening regarding the case. BC Mary received some information purportedly coming from documents filed with the BC Supreme Court on Monday. Mary held that information to herself for awhile, having serious reservations about the provenance of the "documents." Shortly though media outlets from the local Canned West/GlowBall empire rags to the esteemed "grey lady of Hogtown" the Globe and Mail and various radio and TeeVee outlets started blasting various allegations concerning the Ferret Collins, Bruce Clark, Spidey Bornman(n) and others. In the Vancouver Sun we had the revelation that the RCMP had "spied" on the Finance Minister Ferret as he met over dinner with representatives of Omnitrax, the losing bidder to CN for BC Rail (the Railroad that wasn't for sale.)

The RCMP conducted a "massive" surveillance operation to spy on a meeting involving former finance minister Gary Collins as part of the investigation that led to the 2003 raid on the B.C. Legislature, according to court documents filed Monday.

For more of this article see:

RCMP spied on B.C. finance minister, papers show


I must admit that if the police were investigating yours truly, they would probably not refer to it as "spying." But then I'm neither a Finance Minister nor a ferret.


Then from the center of the universe our Gyro Award winning writer Gary Mason chimed in and added to the din. On Tuesday Gary weighed in with Legislature case becomes a swirl of accusations where in the part not hidden behind the Globe and Mail paywall he said:

The defence in the fraud and bribery trial connected with the sensational raid on the B.C. Legislature more than three years ago is demanding the Crown turn over potentially hundreds of more documents.

Last year Gary waited until after Christmas to write his Gyro winning spinning. This year he may be trying to lock up the prize on February 28 when this very balanced and non-partisan article was buried in the middle of the front section of the G & M.

Tales of RCMP antics may well shatter Crown's case

GARY MASON
28/02/07

The case against the principals in a government corruption trial is looking flimsier by the day.And the conduct of our national police force is once again being called into question. In fact, the actions of the RCMP have laid the groundwork for a future stay-of-proceedings application by defence lawyers representing three former political aides charged with various counts of bribery and influence peddling in connection with the sale of BC Rail.

For teasers from all of Gary's scribblings just go here.



Speaking of the documents filed in court that were being cited from sea to sea to sea, Robin Matthews decided to obtain a copy. Mary has a posting from him of how he spent most of Monday trying to do just that with no success. Robin starts out with:

I set out today to get to the documents in question on the application for disclosure of the Defence in the Basi, Basi, and Virk case in the hands of Madam Justice Elizabeth Bennett.
Without trying to spoil the story, I will just say that after many phone calls, many inquiries with not particularly helpful staff, the closest he came to finding the documents in question was when he was told that he could,

write to Madam Justice Elizabeth Bennett and ask to see the documents (the ones that are already being discussed publicly by "accepted" media outlets), or that I could make a formal application to appear before Madam Justice Elizabeth Bennett to ask if I can see the documents.


Perhaps one of the most heartening events of the last week though was when the Loyal Opposition returned from Tahiti or hibernation or where ever they have been and raised a flurry of potentially embarrassing questions in the House.

L. Krog: The former Finance Minister, Gary Collins, told this House that his meetings with Omnitrax representatives had nothing to do with the sell-off of B.C. Rail or the Roberts Bank spur line. New allegations cast those assertions into serious doubt. The allegations suggest that representatives of the Liberal cabinet and caucus set up the Roberts Bank spur line as a consolation prize for failed bidders. Mr. Collins was not the only member overseeing negotiations. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]
Can the Minister of Transportation confirm that other government ministers and MLAs sat on a committee to oversee the negotiations, and can he tell us who they were? [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Hon. W. Oppal: This case is before the Supreme Court of British Columbia. The member knows that. A special prosecutor has conduct of the case. The member knows that too. Where the matter is before the Supreme Court and a special prosecutor has been appointed, it is totally inappropriate to discuss this matter in public. The member is a member of the bar. He should know better than to ask that question. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

The bolded part above is my bolding, Mr. Oppal managed to repeat this in not necessarily the same exact words more times than I know numbers to count with. Well, perhaps I exagerate, slightly, but the AG who has no problem commenting on any matter before the courts be it this case or the Pickton case when he is on the street suddenly finds the cat has his tongue when he is in the House and protected by privilege and thus unable to answer questions from the Justice Critic.



Update March 2 - As long as Wally Oppal is the Attorney General he is accountable to the people of British Columbia and subject to criticism of his statements or policies . However I would like to wish Mr. Oppal all the best of luck in his current battle with cancer. From what I've heard he seems to have a positive attitude, which is desirable. Also I've found that people faced with mortality like Mr. Oppal currently is sometimes re-evaluate their priorities and values. Mainly, I want to wish Wally the best in his recovery.

To read the rest of the Hansard Draft, and count the many ways the AG can "not" answer a question click on the More down below where the complete draft exchange will be appended.



Oral Questions

DISCLOSURE OF DOCUMENTS IN
B.C. RAIL–CN RAIL INVESTIGATION

L. Krog: The former Finance Minister, Gary Collins, told this House that his meetings with Omnitrax representatives had nothing to do with the sell-off of B.C. Rail or the Roberts Bank spur line. New allegations cast those assertions into serious doubt. The allegations suggest that representatives of the Liberal cabinet and caucus set up the Roberts Bank spur line as a consolation prize for failed bidders. Mr. Collins was not the only member overseeing negotiations. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]
Can the Minister of Transportation confirm that other government ministers and MLAs sat on a committee to oversee the negotiations, and can he tell us who they were? [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Hon. W. Oppal: This case is before the Supreme Court of British Columbia. The member knows that. A special prosecutor has conduct of the case. The member knows that too. Where the matter is before the Supreme Court and a special prosecutor has been appointed, it is totally inappropriate to discuss this matter in public. The member is a member of the bar. He should know better than to ask that question. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

L. Krog: With the greatest respect to the Attorney General, members of this government are not currently under investigation. This is a matter before the public. In an information bulletin dated November 3, 2003, this government established a steering committee to "assist in overseeing negotiations." The committee was struck "to ensure the best deal for British Columbians." [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]
Committee members included the current Minister of Education, the current Minister of Agriculture and the current Minister of Energy. Did that committee ever discuss the potential of the deal collapsing if only one bidder remained? [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Hon. W. Oppal: However the opposition member may characterize his question, the fact is that when he's talking about B.C. Rail, he's talking about a matter that's before the Supreme Court of British Columbia. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]
[1350]

He knows full well that it would be totally improper for me or for any other member of this House, as lawmakers, to discuss this issue. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

C. James: Within the application for disclosure, there is a long list of documents the defence counsel has requested. Those requests are now a year old, and the government has withheld the information from the special prosecutor. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]
To the Attorney General: why has the government refused defence counsel's requests to access information? [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Hon. W. Oppal: The special prosecutor has advised us that it is not appropriate to comment publicly on any of these allegations that are made. These are allegations that are made by defence counsel. When the defence makes allegations of this sort, I can tell the Leader of the Opposition that the normal course of events is for the prosecutor to respond in court. That's where these matters are heard — in court. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a supplemental. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

C. James: I must state again that my understanding is the government is not before the courts. We're talking here about very specific materials that have been requested. When this case began, the Premier personally pledged that the government would fully cooperate in the investigation. Now it seems that the government is withholding information. It's been over a year, according to documents, since counsel asked for this information. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]
So my question again to the Attorney General: why is the government refusing to cooperate? [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Hon. W. Oppal: There's absolutely no evidence that the government is not cooperating. I'll say it one more time. The conduct of the case is in the hands of a special prosecutor who's at arm's length from the government. He conducts the case. He has advised us clearly — and it has got to be obvious to everyone in this House — that it is totally inappropriate to talk about a case that's being litigated in the Supreme Court of British Columbia. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Mr. Speaker: Leader of the Opposition has a further supplemental. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

C. James: I'm not speaking about the specifics of this case. I am speaking about government's actions related to information to ensure that this case will go forward. The disclosure requests were sent to a representative of the provincial government over a year ago. So my question to the Attorney General is: who is the representative that received those requests over a year ago? [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Hon. W. Oppal: You know, we have a trial judge who is presiding over the case. The trial judge will ensure that all those matters that are necessary for defence disclosure will be made. In the meantime, it's appropriate for us to keep out of the case and not discuss the case. I don't know how much more plain I could be. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Mr. Speaker: Just a friendly reminder to members that if we're going to continue along this line of questioning, the Attorney General has stated clearly that this is a matter before the courts. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

J. Kwan: The government holds the documents that may assist in the court case. If the government can't get bidders in their privatization schemes, then there's not even the appearance of competition, and the process falls apart. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]
If the government doesn't release the information requested by the defence counsel and the special Crown prosecutor, how can British Columbians then be asked to have confidence and be sure that other privatization schemes have not been tainted? [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

[1355]

Hon. W. Oppal: I'll say it one more time. Defence counsel has made certain allegations. The special prosecutor, I would expect, will reply in kind. In the meantime, the special prosecutor has advised us quite clearly and quite properly that it's inappropriate for us to comment on these matters. There may be some substance to the defence allegations; there may be none. It's foolish to assume that because the defence have asked for certain documents, they already haven't been provided. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]
That's why we have the rule. We keep out of matters that are before the Supreme Court or any court. We're not in a position to comment on those matters. It's inappropriate for lawmakers. That is so clear, so basic, so fundamental — as to why we observe that rule. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Mr. Speaker: The member has a further supplemental. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

J. Kwan: The opposition is not asking for the government to comment on the case. The opposition is simply asking the government…

Interjections. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Mr. Speaker: Members. Members. Proceed, Member. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

J. Kwan: …to release documents that would actually assist in that process with the court case. The Premier made a commitment. "The important thing is that neither the RCMP nor the government shy away from carrying out a thorough, complete and diligent investigation in the public interest." The Premier further said: "Obviously, it's troubling to everyone, but the important thing is that there is an ongoing investigation and that I've told everyone to be as open and as transparent as they can about the entire situation, and I hope the RCMP will do that as well." [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]
The opposition is asking the government to live up to the spirit of the Premier's comments by advising the public who is the representative representing the province with respect to the information that's not being released. Who is that person, and why won't the government release that information to the courts? [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Hon. W. Oppal: As near as I can understand the question, the member is asking the government to release documents. We have a trial judge that does that. The application is before the trial judge. It's not before the government. It's not before us. We can't release the documents. That's entirely before the trial judge in the Supreme Court of British Columbia who's presiding over the trial. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Mr. Speaker: Just a friendly reminder again to members to be cautious, if we're proceeding along the same line of questioning. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

M. Farnworth: The issue is disclosure. The question that we are asking is…. It's been a year since the request was put forward for that information to be released, yet it has not been released. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]
So the question we will ask — and the Attorney General may not like answering it, but it's legitimate for us to ask — is: why has it taken so long to have this information released or given to the court? How long will it be, and when will it happen? [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Hon. W. Oppal: Same question with more vigour. First of all, we don't know that the documents haven't been given. I can tell you a little bit about courtrooms. Defence counsel often make allegations. Sometimes they're accurate; sometimes they're not. We have a trial judge that presides over these. The trial judge will determine — forgive me if I'm lecturing, but I am — whether or not there's any substance to the application. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]
In the meantime, we as lawmakers keep out of it. It's for the courts to decide on an independent basis. We don't interfere with the deliberations of courtrooms and of judges. That's why we have independent judges who decide these cases and decide these difficult issues in criminal and civil cases. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

[1400]

Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

M. Farnworth: If only a few of these allegations are proven true, hon. Speaker, that will be very disturbing indeed. So once again, the question is quite simple. Can the Attorney General confirm or not confirm whether this information has at least been released? [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]

Hon. W. Oppal: I'm not going to confirm anything. It's not my job to confirm anything. The member of the opposition obviously has the document that's been filed in the Supreme Court of British Columbia. That's what he's referring to. It's a document filed by defence counsel. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]
I'll say one more time that it would be inappropriate and it would be wrong — 100 different ways — for me to comment on it, and I'm not going to comment on it. [DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY]



2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Koot
I guess you've heard about the long-delayed report on CN and 'safety' (if that's not a contradiction in terms) which was finally unveiled today? There's a story up on the CBC website with a link to the two reports.

I knew you'd wanna know - it's interesting reading.

"great railway" no more.

Friday, March 2, 2007 at 5:44:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I especially liked the Sun story's suggestion that there's no hint of Collins having done anything wrong.

Would have been nice if they'd also included the bits about Collins' role in keeping OmniTRAX in the game after they and everyone else knew that CN was the golden goose wouldn't it?

And that he offered - and presumably tried to deliver - a booby prize during that meeting at the Wolf's lair....

Unfortuately, the media in this province are playing its citizens for boobies.

keep up the good work.
GW

Friday, March 9, 2007 at 3:20:00 PM PST  

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