Friday, December 21, 2007

FOI shows Public Affairs Bureau officer reported to BC government on Basi-Virk case about NDP MLAs, Gary Collins' lawyer at Court - but what was cut?

Report shows gov't followed trial

BASI-VIRK

By BILL TIELEMAN, 24 HOURS

A Public Affairs Bureau officer reported to the B.C. government about media questions and the attendance of NDP MLAs and a lawyer representing former B.C. Liberal Finance Minister Gary Collins at pre-trial hearings in the B.C. Legislature raid case, a 24 hours Freedom Of Information request shows.

24 hours first disclosed Stuart Chase's attendance in May 14 and it became the topic of an entire question period in the B.C. Legislature, with Attorney-General Wally Oppal wrongly insisting Chase's duties were to assist the media and public but refusing to release his reports.

In fact, the 100-page FOI of Chase's reports and notes shows that he told the government who attended court and what questions media asked prosecutors and defence, as well as extensively detailing the case, in which former provincial aides David Basi and Bob Virk face breach of trust charges related to the 2003 privatization of B.C. Rail.

"Note that two NDP MLAs were in and out of the courtroom today, taking notes on what was being said," the April 27 report reads. "As far as the media is concerned, other than talking amongst themselves about the AG's new nickname, there were no comments or questions from media after the hearing today."

Oppal's nickname became "StoneWally" for not answering questions.

And Chase kept an eye out for 24 hours.

"The Canucks/GM Place ownership trial has started today, and it's creating a media frenzy that's dividing attentions away from the Basi trial. Bill Tielman, [sic] even, has barely been in the court room," reads Chase's April 30th report.

The FOI request had many sections removed.

24 hours has appealed that decision to the FOI Commissioner.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION NOT PUBLISHED IN 24 HOURS

Chase and about 200 Public Affairs Bureau staff are political appointees hired by Order-In-Council – that is, the B.C. cabinet – and are employed “at pleasure” until their appointments are rescinded.

That was a change made by the B.C. Liberals in their first term - previously most government communications staff were public servants hired through the normal process and protected by their BC Government and Service Employees Union contract. Now they can be fired at any point by cabinet - which realistically means the Premier's Office.

Chase's reports are extremely detailed - and he shows a good eye for courtroom coverage.

In one dispatch Chase notes that president Justice Elizabeth Bennett was “visibly irritated” by a lack of disclosure of evidence to the defence and in another quotes Virk’s lawyer Kevin McCullough as alleging there might be “a privileged relationship that seems to exist between the RCMP and the B.C. Liberals.”

The severed sections were ruled "out of scope" - that is, out of the scope of my FOI request and therefore not disclosed.

But those severed sections come at very interesting junctures.

For example, here is what Chase wrote in handwritten notes dated April 23, 2007 leading up to an exclusion:

"March 29, 2006 News from Pilothouse P.A." - the next six lines are whited-out in the FOI.

In an article I wrote for The Tyee on that day's court hearing there were a number of defence allegations made, focusing on dirty tricks directed from staff in the office of Premier Gordon Campbell, in particular stacking radio talk shows with phony guests.

But there were also many references to Pilothouse Public Affairs and two of its partners, Erik Bornmann and Brian Kieran - both of whom are alleged by police to have provided bribes to David Basi and Bob Virk - and both of whom are now Crown witnesses not facing any charges. A third Pilothouse partner, Jamie Elmhirst, has been subpoenaed to testify in the trial.

Among the allegations made by the defence that day which I reported were:

"That key Crown witnesses against Basi and Virk -- provincial lobbyists Erik Bornmann and Brian Kieran -- were allowed by the RCMP and Special Prosecutor Bill Berardino to continue their lucrative lobbying business even after disclosing that they had "made serious bribes" to the two aides to obtain government information on the B.C. Rail deal.

That the RCMP knew Bornmann had lied to the media when he issued a statement saying he had been cleared of any wrongdoing but did nothing about it, not informing the government of the truth.

That there was "obviously some sort of deal" between Bornmann and the RCMP and Special Prosecutor to allow his lobbying to continue because he was acting as the key Crown witness."


And in another report dated Tuesday May 15, 2007 at 9:30 a.m. the initial 12 lines of Chase's report are removed. In notes from that afternoon over a full page is severed.

The first line from the 9:30 a.m. report that is included in the FOI reads:

"Bud Bishop was aware that Debrechyre had relationship by family to Kelly Reichert, only by way of the letter. First troubling issue to McCullough is the BC Liberal Party involvement in the issue. Recalled a comm b/t Reichert and Campbell that outlined charges which would be laid."

This section apparently refers to RCMP Sargeant Bud Bishop and RCMP Inspector Kevin DeBruyckere, who was in charge of the investigation despite being the brother-in-law of Kelly Reichert - who is the BC Liberal Party's Executive Director.

The "comm b/t" appears to be the communication between Reichert and Premier Gordon Campbell about possible additional charges that the RCMP were contemplating laying against David Basi over political dirty tricks he allegedly was involved in. Reichert, the defence alleged based on evidence disclosed to them, asked the RCMP not to lay charges as it would be embarrassing to the party. No charges were in fact laid.

Here is what I wrote for 24 hours about the court hearing May 15:

"Virk's defence lawyer Kevin McCullough alleged that the RCMP consulted B.C. Liberal Party Executive Director Kelly Reichert, who told Premier Gordon Campbell that criminal charges were recommended against Basi.McCullough alleged an "effort by Reichert to not have the charges approved. That reeks of political interference."

The allegations come from a June 24, 2005 RCMP report titled: "Kelly Reichert - Do Not Disclose."

McCullough said a recorded RCMP interview with Reichert was stopped but a conversation continued.

"After the tape was turned off Mr. Reichert was asked if the Liberal Party was comfortable being the victim in three payments to Basi. Reichert said frankly any good to the party by prosecutions would be outweighed by the embarrassment to the party, with the issue of the load of manure dumped on Jim Sinclair's lawn and sending people to the B.C. Federation of Labour convention," McCullough alleged.

Sinclair told 24 hours there were protesters at the Federation convention but that his home was never attacked. Sinclair asked why the RCMP would allegedly consult the Liberal Party but not the Federation."

Chase's notes are again whited-out in the afternoon session of court on May 15, starting just after McCullough tells Justice Elizabeth Bennett that he needs Bornmann's lawyer George McIntosh in court for cross-examination regarding the agreement reached with Special Prosecutor Bill Berardino that resulted in Bornmann becoming the key Crown witness and not facing any charges.

The severed section lasts for 36 lines, then continues with: "Letter noting Collins was not advised of surveillance - March 24, 2004. Facts are inconsistent with reasoning of Sgt. Debruckyer given the fact that he had knowledge of wiretaps. Mentioned the meeting w Claude Richmond again, w took place in Kamloops to get Richmond's permission to search the house."

So what was said in BC Supreme Court on May 15 that the Public Affairs Bureau wanted whited out between those two disclosed segments?

The FOI appeal may reveal that but fortunately, we can get some immediate idea from my own courtroom notes, which do not mirror Chase's but may be informative.

That afternoon defence lawyer McCullough was exploring the details of the Crown's deal with Erik Bornmann.

McCullough quoted from "RCMP Sgt. Finner's notes" in court [possibly Sgt. Pat Finner]:

"Mr. Bornmann said he'd received a letter from Mr. Berardino. I was aware that Mr. Berardino had spoken to the media and said that Mr. Bornmann's interpretation may be misleading to the public."

McCullough then drew his own conclusion: "Mr. Berardino, apparently was contacting the media directly. We have no disclosure of that....he was concerned that Mr. Bornmann was taking advantage of that self-exoneration so he could lobby, lobby, lobby and make money, money, money. So he could go on to a law career."

There were other topics that afternoon but Bornmann's deal was the main one. Why references to it were removed from the FOI request as "out of scope" is just another puzzling question in a very puzzling case.



18 comments:

Chasing Mr. Chase said...

very interesting Bill. how far was this report emailed or circulated? Was there a distribution list?

I wonder if mr. chase be there in the spring?

Gazetteer said...

Bill--

On the fly at the moment, so haven't gotten past the stuff in the 24 Hrs column yet but, even at that, I feel I must make the following point....

Which is that when you think about what this type of government reportage/surveillance really is, at it's core, it is pretty much impossible, if one has some historical perspective in such matters, not to find oneself muttering the term 'plumber' over and over and over again.

(and don't forget how Mr. Oppal described Mr. Chase' duties at the time).

.

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G West said...

Not only that, Gazetteer, but remember that 'Chase' was being paid through the ministry of Finance.

I think this little info gathering exercise was not just something that the AG knew about ... the whole Cabinet must have been aware exactly 'what' was going on. The Attorney General's utterly lame attempt to spin this out as part of a 'media-helping' exercise attached to the Picton trial was disingenuous at the time. - In the context of what Stuart Chase was actually doing - and that he was appointed on OIC makes it eminently clear that this was a 'political' exercise from the start....And, to get back to that quote at the start of the item on your own blog… “sayin’ it’s your job don’t make it right!”

St. Nick said...

so the reference to the Canuck trial is within the scope of your request but other information is not?

Once again, another perfect example of questionable FOI practices. I wonder if this FOI was proofed by the Premier's office?

Dl said...

Folks seem to be a bit interested in what's going on down at te court house ands doing there best to stay low key on ther activities.

Hopefully the case will get underway and some more media folks will start reporting. Thanks to Bill and a very few others for taking the time, unpaid to do the sitting looking and reporting.
A Christmas wish would be a lot more movement as the Supreme Court building, and maybe the appearance of the crown council

G West said...

But how come the 'rest' of the press aren't all over this story like white on rice?

Complacency?

Ignorance?

Lack of vision and an absence of work ethic?

OR, a just a case of the Lucinda Chodan disease: 'Ain't no news here folks, move along...c'mon, move along!'

Or, considering who supports the Campbell government with bucks whenever election time rolls around, conflict of interest?

Anonymous said...

Wow! What they chose to white out was more revealing than what they revealed!

These people are looking scarier every day!

Great reporting, Bill!

Anonymous said...

Too complicated Bill...as a long term follower of this issue, it took me a few reads to commprehend the entire meaning of what is happening...I know it is very difficult but you need to simplify the story and the implications into something that the public can understand and digest...to leave it the way it is will only be good for us poltical junkies and the public will be left scratching their heads wondering who did what to whom.

Gary E said...

So Bill, if Chase's job was to "assist the media and the public" why are these lines whited out? Was Oppel lying to us? If so he should resign? Either that or have all the info released forthwith. No ifs, ands or buts. By saying this mans job was to assist you and I and then edit was reported is in my mind tantamount to a huge lie.

Gazetteer said...

Bill and/or other wise-in-the-ways Anon-O-Mice......

....Am I correct in surmising from the extended (ie. blog only) portion of the post that what was originally written (ie. by the junior officer) and what was ultimately whited-out were both carried out by members of the public affairs bureau?

_____
Regarding Anon-Above's comment re: the 'complications'.......

I see their point on, particularly on a MSM-type scale.

And I would suggest that Mr. T does a very good job of distillation in his 24 hr and even his Tyee pieces.

However, that is not what we who visit Mr. T's blog are looking for (ie. we do want the hard stuff, straight-up, neat).

RossK.

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Bill Tieleman said...

Thanks to all posters for their comments. To answer some questions:

The FOI process requires a staffer dedicated to dealing with FOIs in the ministry responsible to process the request, working with those affected. I have found that generally these staff to be quite fair.

The political vetting of FOIs, however, can create huge gaps - and often make the omission speak louder than what was released.

Because I broke the story other media and the NDP may have not bothered to FOI the Chase reports, presuming I'd immediately done so.

On the "complicated" comment - it is no doubt a complicated case. I would be happy to add more to clarify if you spell out where I lost you. As the Gazetteer said, I try to provide lots of info and let the diggers sift through it.

But all that said, the short version is that a politically appointed government staff person reported throughout the spring twice daily on the political ramifications of the case. That shows its importance to the government, as does the removal of what may be revealing sections of Chase's notes.

BC Mary said...

.
Anonymous 8:53,

First thing to understand is that the BCRail Case is moving along pretty much the way government and media want it to go. For them, there's no urgency at all about informing the public on specific BCRail matters. So that's the #1 High Jump: making up our minds that we won't be pushed aside.

#2 is recognizing the resulting silence for what it is, a tactic which suggests that nothing happened. Or, as Police Chief Wiggum would say, "OK, folks, nothin' to see here. Thank you, just keep movin' along."

#3 is the choked language used by the government to "answer" questions about the BCRail issue. These in my view are deliberately made hard to follow. Example: when the same Hansard debate can mean "He's NOT guiding the disclosure of documents" to the Government's lawyer ... and "He IS guiding the disclosure of documents" to the rest of us. These things are clearly intended to confuse.

Or when "Open and transparent" mean the exact opposite.

Or when they daren't make the effort to explain because the matter is before the courts.

4) The break-in and trashing of Bill Tieleman's office, with the clear identifier that it was an intended threat about the Basi-Virk trial, is 1/2 of this same message. But make no mistake: CanWest saying not one word about this act of violence intended to silence a working journalist -- that's the other 1/2.

Don't be fooled, Anon 8:53. There are only a few people trying to make it easy to understand the Basi Virk Basi / BC Rail case. Bill Tieleman is foremost among them.

And in my opinion, our general understanding is also helped by the comments left by people such as you. Some provide new clues, new concepts, new ways of looking at this important trial.

In my view, citizens have real work to do, these days. One Citizen Journalist provided the only link between Courtroom and the people of BC (Bill was away, Robin Mathews was busy elsewhere, and no Big Media reporters attended) during the critical 2 days of pre-trial Hearings on Dec. 17 and 18. It's the most significant example of what BC is up against, in trying to see justice done in the Basi Virk Basi / BC Rail Case.


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Anonymous said...

Yes, the way it's laid out is not user-friendly to those who just want the headline version - but the level of detail provided does make a compelling case pending what may come out in an appeal. One problem is that until you see exactly what was blanked out, you're talking about something that has all the appearances of an attempt to hide something, as opposed to hard evidence thereof.

The headline, as I got it, was that

1) A government-paid Liberal political guy (ostensibly a provincial PR staffer) was monitoring and reporting back daily to someone in Victoria on minute details of the Basi Virk trial. [This alone suggests a very high level of political concern in Victoria over what might come out -the Province rarely does this, I would imagine - did they even do that for Picton's trial of the century?]

2) The Attorney General tried to downplay this individual's role, claiming he was just there to help the press - which no one believed and which the FOI confirmed was not exactly factual.

3) Comparison of the blanks in the FOI documents and Tieleman's own notes gives at least the impression that someone in Victoria may have tried to cover up/downplay the political nature of this role (i.e. by apparently deleting what may have been the most politically-charged sections of these reports), using the excuse they were outside the scope of the FOI. Bill's notes suggest these parts could actually be the most relevant and revealing aspects of the reports.

Taken together, it's building a very worrying and unflattering picture, in terms of the credibility and integrity of key government processes.

I know of other FOIs where what has been blanked out as not relevant, outside the scope, or non-responsive raises similar questions over whether there is an intentional effort to avoid transparency. Hopefully, a successful appeal will show what was withheld, and, if it suggests a deliberate effort to be opaque, that the attendant political embarrassment will discourage such attempts in future.

In all great political scandals, it is the cover-up that eventually brings them down, but I thought people would have figured that out by now...

Bill Tieleman said...

I am posting an EDITED version of an Anonymous comment only - I cannot verify the claims in the full comment but present it in this format for further information to come forward.

Anonymous:

"When they edited Stuart Chase's report did the gov't white out crown counsel Winteringham's references to Basi's attempt to get a government research grant for XXXXXXXXX or his attempts to get XXX XXXX XXXX XXXX a job with the BC gov't?"

Jim said...

Interesting comments from anonymous bill. It appears obvious the bornmann "sock puppets" are now scrambling to do some damage control. All the damage control in the world won't help. I look forward to senior federal liberals having to answer questions about bornmanns allegations against the chief federal liberal fundraiser in BC, none other than Bruce Clark. It has been widely reported that bornmann made serious allegations against Bruce Clark that turned out to be complete hogwash. You can bet the very liberals who were coddling ole bornmann are now sweating profusely as more bombshells are dropped in court.

kootcoot said...

" 2) The Attorney General tried to downplay this individual's role, claiming he was just there to help the press - which no one believed and which the FOI confirmed was not exactly factual."

It's difficult not to notice the difference in the Canned Waste coverage of Glen Clark's deck (until it got to trial and he was cleared of criminal acts, of course) and the Pickton trial with the weird mating rituals going on in Studio 54. The Pickton case apparently merited a DAILY column even when it was on adjournment for a week or two or more.

Meanwhile Studio 54 doesn't even apparently exist except in the minds of those who get their information here, at Bill T's, Robin's and the Gazetteer and oh yeah, the Infamous House. And the Big Shots in Victoria use OUR money to pay for their own coverage.

I demand that Mary and I be assigned OUR OWN court reporter at taxpayer expense. Of course we aren't feeling in legal jeopardy - but then I think those guys could afford their own lawyers AND reporters to defend THEIR OWN INTERESTS, theirs, not ours!

Of course part of the Liberal philosophy of government is that the people have no interests unless they can afford to pay to have them looked after. Well apply it to yourselves then!

Budd Campbell said...

I have absolutely nothing new to contribute, just a little anecdote about history repeating itself.

In the 1950s many Canadians were amazed that Minister Robert Sommers and a minor forestry consultant named Wick Gray were charged and convicted of bribery. But the ultimate funders of those bribes, the prominent forestry companies who paid money to obtain valuable licences, and their key, executive-grade employees, were never charged with anything.

Isn't that a bit like this case, with Basi and Virk charged with receiving a bribe, but Bornmann not charged for offering one?

In BC it seems, some things never change.

BC Mary said...

.
Y'know, Budd, when those illegally-obtained, extremely valuable Timber Sale Licences over the Carmanah territory came up for renewal many, many years later, I thought sure that the BC government would say "Sorry guys, that's the end of the ride for you."

Like, if the TSLs couldn't have been revoked at the time of the Sommers trial, then surely they could've been revoked or re-negotiated when the doggone terms expired.

But no. The TSLs were renewed without a murmur, just as if they'd been perfectly legal. And they're probably in the process of being given away as mere Real Estate, as we speak.

The thing about the Robert Sommers case, though, is that he as Minister of Forests did land up in jail. WAC Bennett twisted and squirmed for quite a while (sound familiar?) but eventually he had to let go of Sommers who then took the full brunt of the blame.

When you look back at THAT case, you wonder too how such big transactions could have been negotiated without *anybody* else knowing a thing about it.

Some things in B.C. never change,all right: the lousy press. These issues aren't rocket science.

But the Sun and Province pick and choose what they'll report, how much they'll report, and if (like Bill Tieleman's break-in) they'll say anything at all. The mainstream media in B.C. has always been a disaster.