Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Basi-Virk case raises many questions Premier Gordon Campbell could and should answer now

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Column
Tuesday May 29, 2007


So many questions

By BILL TIELEMAN

Politicians need to be more willing to engage in full disclosure, rather than the classic Watergate modified, limited hang-out route.

- Bob Woodward, author, All The President's Men

There are dozens of unanswered questions in the B.C. Legislature raid case, including some that Premier Gordon Campbell could answer today.

On June 4, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Bennett may provide the means for many questions to be addressed when she rules on a defence disclosure application.

That court application in April and May provided a window into the upcoming trial of David Basi and Bob Virk, two former ministerial aides charged with breach of trust and fraud for allegedly giving confidential government documents to a bidder in the $1-billion privatization of B.C. Rail in 2003.

Defence allegations are shocking: That Kelly Reichert, B.C. Liberal Party Executive Director, advised Premier Gordon Campbell the RCMP were recommending additional charges against Basi over his involvement in political dirty tricks and manipulation of radio and TV talk shows; that Reichert asked the RCMP not to charge Basi; that the Crown subsequently did not lay charges and much more.

Here are some of the questions that the proceedings raise:

- Why has Special Prosecutor Bill Berardino been absent from the entire disclosure application, leaving Crown duties to his assistants?

- Why is there no written immunity agreement with key witness Erik Bornmann, a provincial lobbyist, when Crown policy is that one be produced?

- Why were Bornmann and his Pilothouse Public Affairs partner Brian Kieran, another Crown witness, allowed to continue their lucrative business lobbying provincial cabinet ministers after allegedly paying bribes to Basi and Virk?

- Was Campbell's press secretary Mike Morton directly involved in media manipulation with Basi, as alleged by the defence?

- Was Campbell aware of Basi's media manipulation, as also alleged by defence lawyers?

- Why won't Campbell answer questions about his knowledge of or his officials' involvement in media manipulation, when no charges are before the courts?

- Why was RCMP Insp. Kevin DeBruyckere left on as lead Basi-Virk investigator when Reichert is his brother-in-law?

- Are taxpayers paying for lawyer Clark Roberts to monitor the courtroom proceedings and comment on behalf of former Finance Minister Gary Collins, who will be a witness? If so, why, how much is that costing and how long will it continue?

- As first reported in 24 hours, government Public Affairs Bureau officer Stuart Chase filed twice-daily reports from the courtroom to Attorney-General Wally Oppal's office. What other cases have received such intense monitoring and why won't Oppal release Chase's reports without a Freedom of Information request?

Justice Bennett may demand disclosure on some of these questions but Campbell and Oppal can answer others right now. Why not do so?

Monday, May 28, 2007

Bill Tieleman's line up for Nightline BC on CKNW AM 980 & Corus Radio Network Tuesday 7 to 9 p.m.


Here's tonight's great lineup for my guest hosting gig at Nightline BC- Tuesday May 29 from 7 to 9 p.m. on CKNW AM 980 and on the Corus Radio Network, filling in for my friend Michael Smyth:


7 p.m. - DR. MICHAEL HAWES—EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE FOUNDATION FOR EDUCATIONAL EXCHANGE BETWEEN THE U.S. AND CANADA (WASHINGTON, D.C.) TALKS ABOUT THE COST OF BEEFING UP BORDER SECURITY BY 2009, IN AN EFFORT TO CONFORM TO THE STRINGENT STANDARDS OF THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE TRAVEL INITIATIVE

7:30 p.m. - BRIAN YEALLAND — SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GAMBLING WATCH NETWORK IN ONTARIO ON TODAY'S REVELATIONS OF GAPS WITHIN THE B.C. LOTTERY CORPORATION’S PRIZE PAYOUT PROCESS

7:43 p.m. - KIM CARTER — B.C.’S OMBUDSMAN SPEAKS ABOUT HER OFFICE'S INVESTIGATION INTO B.C. LOTTERY CORPORATION’S PRIZE PAYOUT PROCESS AND HER 27 RECOMMENDATIONS TO CLEAN THINGS UP

8:00 p.m. - DR. EVAN WOOD — SENIOR SCIENTIFIC INVESTIGATOR AT THE B.C. CENTRE FOR EXCELLENCE IN H.I.V./A.I.D.S. IN VANCOUVER TALKS ABOUT HARM REDUCTION AND RUMBLINGS THAT THE CONSERVATIVE’S TOUGH DRUG POLICY WOULD DO AWAY WITH HARM REDUCTION INITIATIVES LIKE INSITE…WHAT WOULD BE THE SOCIAL COST?

8:30 p.m - MIKE GEOGHEGAN — GOVERNMENT RELATIONS CONSULTANT AND POLITICAL COMMENTATOR TALKS ABOUT THE REPORT INTO FORMER DEPUTY MINISTER TO THE PREMIER KEN DOBELL'S FAILURE TO REGISTER AS A LOBBYIST

Please tune in!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

BC NDP MLAs kneecap themselves with pension while greedy Liberal MLAs laugh on way to bank

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Column
Tuesday May 22, 2007


NDP blew its chance

By BILL TIELEMAN

Oh I used to be disgusted,
And now I try to be amused.
But since their wings have got rusted,
You know, the angels wanna wear my red shoes.

- Elvis Costello, "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes"

Politics isn't fair.

If they were, the B.C. Liberals would be burning in political hell for giving themselves an obscene pay raise last week for a minimum of 29 per cent and up to 53 per cent for Premier Gordon Campbell.

And they wouldn't be able to sleep at night after voting in a gold-plated pension plan worth 37 per cent of their salary - one that will pay Campbell $2.2 million through age 80 and some others more than $1 million.

Instead the Liberals laugh their way to the proverbial bank while the New Democrats come out both poorer and electorally kneecapped.

Amazingly, NDP MLAs put the pistol to the patella themselves. And it may cost them not only the $29,000 raise they will give up to charity, but also the chance to form government in 2009.

That's because they just couldn't turn down the lucrative pensions proposed by the Liberal-appointed commission of wealthy professionals, even after NDP leader Carole James said her MLAs would reject the whole package.

James was right all along. And had the NDP run a province-wide campaign against the pot of gold plan they could have killed it. Even if the plan passed, they would be in excellent position to trash the B.C. Liberals through the next election.

But the NDP MLAs couldn't do it - they wanted the pension plan themselves.

When 24 hours' Sean Holman exclusively reported that the commission had changed its recommendations without the approval of one of the three commissioners, the NDP had a golden opportunity to kill the proposal.

Commissioner Sandra Robinson said the recommendations were changed when she was in Europe and that she had "quite a few" disagreements with them. The NDP should have gone crazy about a tainted report and abused process.

Instead, not one comment. NDP MLAs refused all media requests for interviews and said nothing about it in the Legislature.

So while Campbell is a greedy hypocrite who successfully campaigned to kill the previous pension back in 1996, the NDP MLAs have managed to get him off the hook.

They've distanced themselves from their own lower- and middle-income voters, people who will never get a pension worth up to millions of dollars, and who will never make the $76,000 MLAs already make that puts them in the top 10 per cent of taxpayers.

As Elvis Costello concluded:

"But when they told me 'bout their side of the bargain / that's when I knew that I could not refuse."

And so the NDP angels' wings have rusted.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Defence in Basi-Virk demands Special Prosecutor Bill Berardino be cross-examined on Erik Bornmann immunity deal

Cross-exam of prosecutor requested

Basi-Virk

By BILL TIELEMAN, 24 HOURS

The defence wants to cross-examine the Special Prosecutor team in the B.C. Legislature raid case in order to get details on an immunity deal with key Crown witness Erik Bornmann, B.C. Supreme Court was told yesterday.

Michael Bolton, lawyer for former ministerial aide David Basi in the breach of trust and fraud case, told Justice Elizabeth Bennett that the defence needs to take the unusual step of cross-examining Special Prosecutor Bill Berardino and his associate Andrea MacKay on an unwritten agreement with Bornmann.

"I remain very, very troubled by the lack of candour and incomplete nature of the Bornmann transaction," Bolton said.

"That will require cross-examination of Mr. Berardino, unfortunately, and probably Ms. MacKay as well."

It is alleged by the Crown that Bornmann paid Basi and co-accused Bob Virk bribes and offered benefits in exchange for confidential government information on the $1 billion B.C. Rail privatization.

Justice Bennett said she will issue a written judgment on the defence disclosure application June 4.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION NOT PUBLISHED IN 24 HOURS

Bornmann was a lobbyist for one of the bidders, OmniTRAX, while Basi was an aide to then-Finance Minister Gary Collins and Virk to then-Transportation Minister Judith Reid.

The request follows allegations by the defence on Tuesday of political interference in the case by Kelly Reichert, the B.C. Liberal Party’s Executive Director, after disclosure of an RCMP document that says Reichert asked the police not to charge Basi with offences related to dirty tricks because it would “embarrass” the party.

Yesterday it was revealed in the RCMP report that Basi allegedly planned to dump manure on the lawn of B.C. Federation of Labour President Jim Sinclair and that he organized a protest at the Federation's 2003 convention.

McCullough alleged that Reichert had briefed Premier Gordon Campbell on the matter on June 24, 2005 and that subsequently, no charges were in fact laid.

“We know that in the July 4 Report to Crown Counsel charges aren’t recommended. Well, what happened?” he asked.


Following Justice Bennett's decision on the disclosure application hearing that has just been completed, the defence will launch a Charter of Rights challenge to the case, arguing that abuse of process by the RCMP and Special Prosecutor has jeopardized the accused right to a fair trial.

That application will ask Bennett to throw the case out of court.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

BC Liberal Party asked RCMP not to lay charges in Basi-Virk dirty tricks, defence alleges

Defence alleges political interference

Basi-Virk

By BILL TIELEMAN, 24 HOURS

The defence in the B.C. Legislature raid case alleged yesterday that the B.C. Liberal Party asked the RCMP not to charge former provincial government aide David Basi over dirty tricks conducted while under contract to the party.

Lawyers for Basi and Bob Virk, two ministerial aides charged with breach of trust and fraud, alleged tricks included a plan to dump manure at the home of B.C. Federation of Labour President Jim Sinclair and a Liberal-organized protest at the Federation's 2003 convention.

The Federation strongly opposed the Liberal privatization of B.C. Rail in 2003.

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.

At B.C. Supreme Court, NDP MLA Leonard Krog called for an investigation into B.C. Rail and government and Liberal Party conduct.

But Attorney-General Wally Oppal rejected any inquiry call. "Because some allegations are made, do we start holding inquiries? Maybe it's accurate. Maybe it's not. Let's wait to see what the judge finds."

Fight BC's outrageous high gas prices - 25 cents a litre higher than rest of Canada!

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Column
Tuesday May 15, 2007


Help stop gas-price gouging by Big Oil - sign the petition

By BILL TIELEMAN

What we have in British Columbia today is a phenomenon whereby British Columbians are paying 25 cents a litre more than their fellow Canadians in southern Ontario.

- John Horgan, NDP MLA, Malahat-Juan de Fuca

Are you sick of not only paying incredibly high prices for gasoline, but also outraged Toronto drivers are charged 25 cents a litre less than we are?

Or that gas prices in Vancouver are much higher than in Montreal, Calgary, Winnipeg or even Charlottetown, P.E.I.?

Here's your chance to actually do something about it.

Below this column is a petition to the B.C. Legislature started by CKNW AM 980 radio station host Jon McComb, who has made fighting rip-off oil prices a personal crusade.

The idea is simple - the petition asks the Legislature to: "Take whatever action is necessary to protect consumers from unfair prices."

McComb says despite interviewing experts on all sides, he doesn't know why a litre of gas costs a Vancouver driver $1.26 a litre and a Toronto driver $1.03 a litre last week.

"I still haven't heard an explanation why when the stuff's taken out of the ground in Alberta and shipped over to B.C. that the price difference is 15 to 16 cents a litre," McComb told me.

But McComb has no doubt skyrocketing big oil company profits are responsible.

"Everybody says 'where's the proof, where's the proof?' - look at the profits! Do you really need a PhD in economics to figure that out?" McComb asks.

Apparently a PhD is actually of no help. Ralph Sultan, the West Vancouver-Capilano B.C. Liberal MLA and former Royal Bank economist - was scathing in response to NDP MLA John Horgan's private member's bill to allow government to regulate gas prices through the B.C. Utilities Commission, which regulates electricity and natural gas rates.

"I believe that the marketplace, not government, will provide the solution to unreasonable and unaffordable gasoline prices," said Sultan.

But McComb says an investigation into oil company profits is needed.

"What's really necessary is a full-on inquiry - subpoena these guys, subpoena their records and find out what's going on," McComb argues.

And don't expect help from B.C. Energy Minister Richard Neufeld. He says that if Horgan thinks his legislation might pass he is "dreaming in technicolour."

So it's up to you to pressure the B.C. government to do something - anything - to lower the outrageously high price of gas here.

Get co-workers, friends and family to sign the petition - and send it to McComb at CKNW so he can present over 10,000 signatures to MLAs in Victoria later this month. And remember - a 52 cent stamp to mail your petition is less than half the cost of just one measly litre of gasoline!

Please send your completed petition, with original signatures to:CKNW c/o The World TodaySuite 2000 - 700 West GeorgiaVancouver, BC, V7Y 1K9

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

More stunning allegations in Basi-Virk case - BC Liberal Party asked RCMP not to lay dirty tricks charges against David Basi

UPDATE ON THE BC LEGISLATURE RAID CASE - filed 2 p.m. Monday May 15, 2007

The defence in the David Basi-Bob Virk trial made more stunning claims today - alleging that the BC Liberal Party asked the RCMP not to press charges against David Basi over his involvement in dirty tricks when he was on a contract with the Liberals in addition to his full-time government job.

And there were new details on those dirty tricks, including an allegation that Basi was involved with dumping a load of manure on the front lawn of the home of Jim Sinclair, BC Federation of Labour President and organizing phony protestors outside the 2003 Federation of Labour convention.

Defence lawyer Kevin McCullough alleged that BC Liberal Party Executive Director Kelly Reichert was consulted by the RCMP and told Premier Gordon Campbell that criminal charges were being recommended.

The allegations come from a previously undislosed document provided by the Special Prosecutor to the defence, an RCMP report titled: "Kelly Reichert - Do Not Disclose".

McCullough read into the court record some of the June 24, 2005 document, saying a tape recorded interview with Reichert was stopped but a conversation with RCMP investigators continued.

"After the tape was turned off Mr. Reichert was asked if the Liberal Party would be harmed by the disclosure that a load of manure was dumped on Jim Sinclair's lawn and protestors sent to the BC Federation of Labour Convention," McCullough read.

"Mr. Reichert replied that any benefit to the Liberal Party would be outweighed by the harm of embarrassment," he added.

The RCMP report continued, McCullough said: "Careful consideration will have to be given to the wishes of the victim. The likelihood of successful charges versus the embarrassment to the victim."

Presumably McCullough believes the BC Liberals were being described as the victim by RCMP because Basi was under two $10,000 private contracts to conduct "media monitoring" for the party, activities that have previously been alleged in court to include stacking radio and TV talk show call ins and organizing phony protestors at other events.

McCullough alleged that Reichert told Campbell that day that the RCMP was recommending charges be laid against Basi.

"When the tape was turned off, he [Reichert] didn't want charges approved against Basi because it would be embarrassing that manure was dumped on the lawn of Jim Sinclair and protestors were sent to the BC Federation of Labour," McCullough alleged.

"The wishes of the Liberal Party and Mr. Reichert, the same day he notifies the Premier, all came true," McCullough concluded, noting that charge were indeed never approved against Basi for those activities.

"We have the effort by Reichert to not have the charges approved. That reeks of political interference," McCullough alleged.

When contacted today, Jim Sinclair said he was unaware of a manure attack on his home in 2003 but was aware of organized protestors outside the BC Federation of Labour Convention.

And Sinclair said it was very unusual that Campbell was informed about possible RCMP charges but not himself.

"I've was never informed by the RCMP about the protests or manure allegation but I understand Premier Campbell was informed that charges were being considered. And I was never consulted when charges were dropped," Sinclair said in an interview.

"This just seems to be getting dirtier and dirtier. I don't think the public would be impressed that a full-time public official is allegedly involved in organizing dirty tricks," he said.

Outside the BC Supreme Court room NDP MLA Leonard Krog, attending the hearing today, called for a complete investigation.

"If the allegations are true, political interference is the only conclusion. The government at a minimum should be committing not only to a full public inquiry into BC Rail but into the whole affair, from top to bottom," he said.

The defence has also made other allegations regarding Basi's involvement in manipulating media, allegations that include an RCMP investigation into possible charges against Basi.

MORE ON THAT LATER ON THIS BLOG

Monday, May 14, 2007

Basi-Virk Case: Missing evidence, missing prosecutors, missing Crown witness immunity agreements

Basi, Virk 'Hung Out to Dry': Lawyer
But Crown says aides acted on their own.

View full article and comments here http://thetyee.ca/News/2007/05/14/BasiVirk/

By Bill Tieleman

Published: May 14, 2007 TheTyee.ca

Two key documents in the B.C. Legislature Raid case are missing, according to defence lawyers. And perhaps it's not surprising in such a politically-charged trial that one piece of evidence is connected to the federal Liberal Party of Canada, while the other relates to the B.C. Liberal party.

David Basi and Bob Virk are the two former B.C. Liberal ministerial aides charged in B.C. Supreme Court with breach of trust and fraud for allegedly leaking confidential government documents to OmniTRAX, a bidder in the $1 billion privatization of B.C. Rail.

And both Basi and Virk were not only government political staff for the B.C. Liberals but also worked heavily on the federal Liberal leadership campaign of Paul Martin, the former prime minister. Aneal Basi, who is charged with money laundering for allegedly passing bribes to his cousin David, was also a federal Liberal party supporter.

The missing federal Liberal Party of Canada BC evidence is from an RCMP "tip file" consisting of Liberal membership and donor databases seized by police in a spring 2005 visit to LPC BC headquarters and donor lists for the Paul Martin Liberal leadership campaign, the defence says.

The missing provincial BC Liberal party document is the so-called "media monitoring" contract between the party and David Basi, who was allegedly paid $20,000 for stacking talk radio and televisions shows with paid callers, including himself, and for organizing dirty tricks such as phony protests with paid attendees all to prop up the B.C. Liberals.

Not just defence concerned

And it wasn't just the defence upset about lost documents. Justice Elizabeth Bennett made clear her own views.

"The concern is that despite checks and balances, a number of documents have gone missing in this case," she said May 9.

Both documents will likely resurface under defence pressure. The B.C. Liberal contract was supposed to be provided to the defence late last week and may be discussed when the case resumes Tuesday, May 15, at 9:30 a.m.

But the fact that evidence linked to the two separate parties went astray draws attention to the intensely political nature of the trial.

Political connections

The court proceedings are also making clear the strong political connections that abound in this case.

For example, the key Crown witness against Basi and Virk is Erik Bornmann, a provincial lobbyist and past federal Liberal party executive member in B.C. Bornmann worked closely with Basi and Virk in both provincial Liberal party campaigns and on the federal leadership campaign of former prime minister Paul Martin. Bornmann was also an aide to Martin when he was finance minister.

Defence lawyer Michael Bolton, acting for David Basi, had no hesitation in drawing attention to the myriad of political connections between the accused, Crown witnesses like Bornmann and his Pilothouse Public Affairs co-owners Brian Kieran and Jamie Elmhirst, who will also testify, and others related to the investigation.

"All of the principle players in this case, including the three Pilothouse partners, Basi and Virk were all very, very active in the Paul Martin leadership campaign," Bolton told media outside the court on May 1. "At the same time of the B.C. Rail bids, the Paul Martin campaign was going on. You'll see a great deal of the connections between the Paul Martin leadership campaign and the B.C. Rail bidding process."

'Who's scratching whom?'

Kevin McCullough, defence lawyer for Virk, also raised the political connections in relationship to what's termed: "Tip 3756 B.C. Federal Liberal Party."

McCullough said the tip was missing from the RCMP project room of documents and criticized senior Special Prosecutor Bill Berardino for telling the defence in a letter inquiring about the evidence that it was "not relevant" and therefore not disclosed.

"The membership list that they go seize of the Liberal donors -- who's scratching who and the vast sums of money some of them give is not relevant?" McCullough asked incredulously. "That, milady, makes absolutely no sense."

McCullough argued that Berardino has abdicated disclosure of evidence to the RCMP instead of taking charge of it.

"It's the RCMP controlling the disclosure. The Paul Martin campaign donor list and the federal Liberal party donor list. How can Mr. Berardino say it is not relevant when Mr. Bornmann was communication director for the Paul Martin leadership campaign [in B.C.]? Mr. [Mark] Marissen ran the campaign in B.C. and Mr. Basi was the key political operative."

"Mr. Collins at the time was thinking about running for the federal Liberals," McCullough alleged.

"It's important to understand the interconnectedness of the parties," he said. "It's all about a bunch of federal Liberals who are involved provincially and the double dealings that are going on."

Collins told of pro-Martin tactics

Bolton furthered the argument in court on May 2. "Basi and Virk are tied to Erik Bornmann not only because of his lobbying for OmniTRAX but because Bornmann was heavily involved in the campaign to select Paul Martin as leader of the Liberal party and Mr. Basi was a key political operative in gathering support for that party in communities where he had influence,"

Bolton used an intercepted police wiretap on a cell phone call between Basi and Gary Collins on December 3, 2003, to demonstrate how the federal party campaign tied in with provincial politics.

Basi: "Hi boss."

Collins: "Hi."

Basi: "We took over a [federal] Victoria riding association."

Collins: "You did?"

Basi: "We took 14 of 18 positions. We killed them. They only had 20 people and we had 60. We didn't take out the president or vice-president but we took everyone else out."

Collins: "Okay, great!"

Bolton said the call shows how Basi was used by Collins for "all sorts of political matters."

"Collins was very much behind the manipulations or activities of Basi and Virk to maintain the optics of the B.C. Rail freight division sale," he said.
Masters and servants?

"The case of the defence is that at no time did the accused do anything that was not explicitly or implicitly authorized by their political masters," Bolton said, arguing the defence thesis that Basi and Virk were merely the agents who facilitated a government-wide strategy to keep OmniTRAX in the bidding to legitimize an already-criticized privatization process.

Bolton also says Basi and Virk became fall guys for politically more important or more connected players, the soldiers taking the bullet for the generals, in effect.

"What they did was critical to the survivability and elect-ability of the [provincial] government," Bolton said. The botched Coquihalla highway privatization had been "a bit of a disaster for the Liberals."

"The B.C. Rail freight division sale was therefore critical. Northern MLAs had concerns about that privatization and how it would be handled," he continued. "In certain circles it was a fait accompli, a certain fact, that CN would be the winning proponent in that auction."

As a key player for Finance Minister Gary Collins, who was lead minister handling the privatization, David Basi was under enormous pressure, Bolton said.

"There were concerns about the appearance of a real and contested auction for the freight division. CP left the auction, asserting it to be a fixed process."

"Mr. Collins said he considered Mr. Basi to be his eyes and ears, appropriate to meet lobbyists for proponents, including OmniTRAX," Bolton said.

"OmniTRAX was widely believed by insiders in the Liberal party and cabinet to be being used as a 'stalking horse' -- deployed in effect as a bidder where there would appear to be a competitive bid."

"There's nothing wrong in law in using a corporation as a stalking horse in this way -- but the RCMP seemed to think otherwise," Bolton said, which led to the investigation and subsequent arrest of the defendants.

"Basi and Virk, in my respectful submission, have been hung out to dry," Bolton concluded.

The Crown fights back

But the special prosecutor's team was not about to shed legal tears for Basi or Virk.

Special Prosecutor Janet Winteringham, taking the lead for senior Special Prosecutor Bill Berardino, who is inexplicably absent from the entire hearing to date, gave for the first time a detailed accounting of what documents the Crown says were leaked by Basi and Virk to Bornmann and Kieran of Pilothouse Public Affairs, the lobby firm retained by OmniTRAX for nearly $300,000.

"Basi and Virk provided Mr. Bornmann with information from May 2002 to December 2003," Winteringham began and then outlined what else RCMP say they found and where:


  • "Found in both Virk's office and the Pilothouse office was a letter from CN to Judith Reid."
  • "And an e-mail sent to Virk from Mahoney of CN with a draft communications strategy." [A Kevin Mahoney was CN Vice-President Corporate Affairs and involved in the B.C. Rail bid at that time but was not identified specifically as the "Mahoney" by Winteringham.]

CORRECTION: I was informed Monday by CN that Kevin Mahoney has never been employed by the company. Mahoney was in fact B.C. Rail Vice-President Corporate Affairs at that time and is now B.C. Rail President and CEO. I apologize for the inadvertent error.

  • "May 20, 2003 -- legal advice from Borden Ladner Gervais located at Pilothouse." [Borden Ladner Gervais were legal counsel to the B.C. government on the B.C. Rail deal.]
  • "A [government] briefing note on bids located at Pilothouse."
  • "A confidential memo from Ms. Illington to Judith Reid located at Pilothouse and Basi's residence." [Joy Illington was secretary to the Cabinet in 2003.]
  • "One of the documents was the first round of indicative bids from CN, CP, OmniTRAX, Rail America and Genesee & Wyoming. Virk supplied the indicative bids to Bornmann."
  • "A guide to negotiations for cabinet, a draft was found at Basi's house and Pilothouse."
Did Basi and Virk act on their own?


Winteringham also worked hard at connecting Basi and Virk -- and them alone -- to the leaking of government documents.

And in an interesting twist, Winteringham said neither Basi nor Virk were the major players in the B.C. Rail deal that the defence has claimed, suggesting a Crown argument that they merely took advantage of access to government information for their own gain.

"It will be the Crown's submission that Mr. Basi did not have that significant a role," Winteringham told Bennett. "Virk's role in the sale was far less significant than what's been described by defence counsel."

She added that Basi was not involved in the cancelled sale of the B.C. Rail Robert's Bank Port Subdivision, another privatization worth up to $70 million that the defence has alleged was a "consolation prize" that OmniTRAX was supposed to get for staying in the bidding process.

The defence alleges that Gary Collins approved of the "consolation prize," an assertion strongly denied by Collins.

"It's anticipated that you'll hear Mr. Basi had no significant participation in the sale at the Port Subdivision and that Mr. Basi had no reason to have information related to that sale," Winteringham concluded.

Winteringham also refuted earlier defence allegations that RCMP Insp. Kevin Debruyckere had steered the police investigation towards Basi and Virk and away from Collins because Debruyckere's brother-in-law is B.C. Liberal Party executive director Kelly Reichert.

In fact, Winteringham argued, Debruyckere himself believed Collins was under investigation, while other RCMP investigators felt he was not.

Both sides hitting hard

But like a professional tennis match, both sides volleyed hard back and forth at length.

Bolton particularly attacked Special Prosecutor Berardino for allowing key Crown witnesses Bornmann and Kieran to continue their high-priced business lobbying the provincial government even after allegedly admitting their role in bribing Basi and Virk to get secret provincial documents.

Bolton and Virk's defence lawyer Kevin McCullough were particularly exasperated May 10 after Winteringham told them that no written immunity agreement exists with Erik Bornmann.

McCullough had previously argued at length that Berardino had left a voice mail for Bornmann lawyer George Macintosh canceling the immunity agreement after Bornmann had "self-exonerated" himself by telling the media he was neither charged nor under investigation back in 2004.

That allowed Bornmann and Kieran, McCullough argued, to continue his lucrative lobbying business and also to attend law school at the University of B.C. in his attempt to become a lawyer.

Justice Bennett asked about the immunity agreement.

"The only question I had -- was there an immunity agreement as outlined in Crown policy and the answer is there was not. But there's no written agreement signed by Mr. Bornmann?" Bennett said.

"No, there's not," Winteringham replied.

McCullough asked what kind of immunity agreement must exist if it isn't in writing.

"If they don't have a signed agreement, then is it on the down low, on the QT?" he asked.

Bolton said the situation creates yet more questions for the defence.

"What were the inducements in this deal to Mr. Bornmann to change his [original police] statement and give the statements he gave in April implicating my client? I need that in order to properly defend my client," he said.

And he served notice that the defence would demand Berardino explain the deal.

"There's got to be full disclosure of the deal between Mr. Bornmann and Mr. Berardino on immunity. In my respectful submission, Mr. Berardino is going to have to make a statement on this." Bolton concluded.

Winteringham said she will fight that.

"Just so it's clear, the Crown opposes an order to have Mr. Berardino make a statement on this issue," she said. "I've spoken to Mr. Berardino, since he can't be here, and that is his position."

Missing political party evidence, missing Crown witness agreements and missing special prosecutors. Anyone missing the Basi-Virk trial is clearly missing a lot.

BC Liberal government not talking but listening lots on Basi-Virk case

Victoria keeps close eye on Basi-Virk trial

By BILL TIELEMAN, 24 HOURS

An NDP MLA says it's "beyond troubling" Premier Gordon Campbell and Attorney-General Wally Oppal refuse to comment on the Basi-Virk case in the B.C. Legislature but get daily updates from B.C. Supreme Court by a government Public Affairs Bureau employee.

MLA Leonard Krog also says taxpayers should not be on the hook for the cost of former B.C. Finance Minister Gary Collins having his own lawyer observing the trial and making comments to media.

The breach of trust and fraud trial of former B.C. Liberal ministerial aides David Basi and Bob Virk is politically charged, with allegations Basi, Collins' former assistant, and Virk were bribed to leak confidential government documents on the $1-billion privatization of B.C. Rail to a bidder.

And Krog said that's why Stuart Chase, a Public Affairs Bureau officer with the A-G's ministry, is taking notes in B.C. Supreme Court and why Collins has lawyer and ex-B.C. Liberal caucus staffer Clark Roberts at the trial for several days.

"The allegation about taxpayers funding observers at this trial while the government refuses to provide answers is way beyond troubling," Krog said Sunday.

Chase told 24 hours last week he files reports to the government twice daily - at noon and after court adjourns.

Meanwhile Roberts told 24 hours earlier in the trial: "I'm here to protect Mr. Collins' reputation but who is paying the bill is not clear at this time. I understand Mr. Collins has an indemnification as a former cabinet minister."

The Victoria-based Roberts flies back and forth to the capital each day he is in court.

"Why are taxpayers defending Mr. Collins when Mr. Collins hasn't been charged?" Krog asked. "Does every ex-cabinet minister now get legal representation even if they're only a witness?"

It is expected former Transportation Minister Judith Reid will testify in the case and other cabinet and former cabinet members may also be called as witnesses.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

MLA Pay and Pension report bombshell - where is the NDP?

BC NDP MLAs missing in action on golden opportunity as one Pay and Pension Commissioner says final report was altered without her consent or involvement

You would think that nothing could be closer to manna from heaven for an opposition party than to discover that an "independent commission" appointed to deal with a highly controversial issue had published its final report without consulting one of its three members.

You would guess that with two of the three members of the Commission changing previously agreed-upon conclusions and emailing the final version to the third member while she was in Europe and unable to respond would be "get up on your hind legs in Question Period and howl" material.

But when it comes to the Independent Commission to Review MLA Compensation and when it comes to the BC NDP opposition you would be dead wrong.

After my 24 hours colleague Sean Holman, also of Public Eye Online, broke this major story Thursday morning with an exclusive interview with dissenting commissioner Sandra Robinson, I assumed this would be Job #1 in Thursday's Legislative Question Period.

But no, not a single word. Nor a single news release. Nor a single media interview.

To be abundantly clear - Robinson blew the whistle on her colleagues, Commission chair Sue Paish, a QC lawyer, and Josiah Wood, a QC lawyer and former Appeal Court justice.

Here's part of what Robinson said in the Public Eye/24 hours story:

"There's quite a few," disagreements said Robinson, But "the biggest area of disagreement would have been on the pension - both the type and the actual size of the pension."

"But we negotiated out a set of recommendations and signed-off on those. And, then, it was only after I was in Europe that they changed their minds and came up with a different set" of recommendations. "So, yeah, to be completely left out - to have no influence on the outcome - was certainly frustrating."

Prof. Robinson said she was "just told - via email - they would be doing that."

So the BC Liberal government put out the report calling for a massive 29% pay raise and a pension worth 37% of an MLA's salary and a 53% raise for Premier Gordon Campbell, and on, and on - and never once mentioned that the report had been changed without the consent of one of the three commissioners?

That the dissenting commissioner had been "completely left out"?

And NDP MLAs don't raise this shocking situation in the Legislature?

What's more, according to my sources, NDP MLAs also refused several opportunities to comment on the story in the media?

And if one were to go to the BC NDP caucus website, not only will you not see any news releases on the issue of the Commission report being altered without the approval of the dissident commissioner, you won't find a single comment on the entire issue of MLA pay and pension.

UPDATE - My error - there is a news release dated May 4, 2007 stating that the NDP Caucus had rejected the pay and pension package. It is not on the main page of the website but is listed chronologically within the "news releases" section - my apologies for missing it. MLA Harry Lali's apology for saying he would vote for the package is also on the website but not easily found.


This dispite the fact the NDP Leader Carole James has strongly and correctly condemned the pay and pension package and said the NDP caucus will not support it.

I don't know why. I don't have any idea why the NDP is not making a stink about this.

Even if the NDP wholeheartedly supported the pay and pension package - which it actually opposes - a vigorous opposition would still condemn the government and the Commission for effectively silencing one of its members.

And if you oppose the package - which the NDP does - why would you not drive this issue of the Commission's tainted report so as to force the BC Liberals to drop the entire proposal, kill it dead?

Where is the public campaign to drop the pay raises? Where are the newspaper and radio ads? Where are the town hall meetings?

Doesn't anyone in the NDP realize this is a total political gift? It's possible an aggressive opposition could reverse its fortunes and actually win an election on such a populist issue that appeals not only to its lower-income base but actually crosses BC's traditional political cleavages?

Polling by Ipsos-Reid showed 67% opposed the big pay raises, with a whopping 48% "strongly opposed.

And yet, nothing.

There are several reasons why the BC NDP is behind the BC Liberals by a margin of 16 percentage points - 51% Liberal to 36% NDP according to the Mustel Group poll released May 10, confirming an earlier Ipsos-Reid poll with similar numbers.

But one of the most important has to be a failure to go for the jugular of the Gordon Campbell Liberals when they make a big mistake.

And with the BC Liberals benefiting from a strong economy and with Campbell changing his right wing spots faster than a painted leopard in a car wash to capture middle of the road voters, the NDP can't miss any opportunity to capitalize on Liberal errors.

Instead, it seems far too often to be content with waving from the sidelines as the parade goes by.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

No written immunity deal for Bornmann, Crown claims in Basi-Virk trial - to defence disbelief; case adjourns till Tuesday

Crown opposes defence request for Special Prosecutor statement on what happened with Bornmann immunity deal in Basi-Virk case

By Bill Tieleman, 24 hours

[NOTE: this is a longer unedited version of a story written for Friday's 24 hours.]

Key Crown witness Erik Bornmann has no written immunity from prosecution agreement in the B.C. Legislature raid case, a special prosecutor told B.C. Supreme Court Thursday.

That provoked an exasperated response from defence lawyers, who are demanding that senior Special Prosecutor Bill Berardino make a statement on what they still call a Crown immunity deal.

Justice Elizabeth Bennett got the surprise answer from Special Prosecutor Janet Winteringham, who has handled most Crown duties during Berardino’s unexplained absence from the proceedings.

“The only question I had – was there an immunity agreement as outlined in Crown policy and the answer is there was not. But there’s no written agreement signed by Mr. Bornmann?” Bennett asked.

“No, there’s not, “Winteringham replied.

Michael Bolton, representing David Basi, the ex-ministerial aide charged with breach of trust and fraud for alleging giving lobbyist Bornmann secret government documents in the $1 billion B.C. Rail sale, said there is a deal.

“There’s got to be full disclosure of the deal between Mr. Bornmann and Mr. Berardino on immunity,” Bolton said. "What were the inducements in this deal to Mr. Bornmann to change his statement and give the statements he gave in April implicating my client? I need that in order to properly defend my client."

But Winteringham said no to the request for Berardino to hold forth.

“Just so it’s clear, the Crown opposes an order to have Mr. Berardino make a statement on this issue,” Winteringham said. "I’ve spoken to Mr. Berardino, since he can’t be here, and that is his position."

The case has adjourned until Tuesday May 15 at 9:30 a.m. and will only sit Tuesday and Wednesday next week due to legal counsel scheduling conflicts.

US Ambassador entertains and charms the Fraser Institute crowd but says little

US Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins addresses Fraser Institute in a crowded bar

You have to like David Wilkins. And Vancouver.


Where else in the world would you find a US Ambassador sharing thoughts and beverages with the likes of Marc Emery, marijuana advocate and potential lifer in an American jail for allegedly trafficking drugs into the Ambassador's country?


But there they both were, the Prince of Pot and the Ambassador of Bush, imbibing and pontificating in the Opus Hotel's lobby, brought together under the auspices of the Fraser Institute.


And make no mistake, the former Marijuana Party backer and legalization crusader Marc Emery is a very far right-winger - at least when it comes to economics.


But when the Fraser Institute's charming Leah Costello kindly passed the microphone to Emery during a Q & A, he made clear his views on the George Bush administration.


"Are you aware that most Canadians despise the US federal government?" Emery impolitely asked Wilkins to boos and catcalls from the audience.


"I don't agree with the assumption you make in your question," Wilkins responded. "There is genuine trust and friendship among Canadians. Not a day goes by without a Canadian coming up to me and saying - 'We appreciate the stand of your president'."


While that answer may have had some wondering which of the two was smoking more of the powerful stuff, none of those people were in attendance at the Fraser Institute event.


Who was there, among others, were Nick Geer, the former chair of the Insurance Corporation of BC, Doug Horswill, Senior V-P for Teck Cominco and Sara MacIntyre, the former head of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation in BC, now Director, Public Affairs and Communications for NaiKun Wind Development Inc, a private power developer.


Wilkins is a smart man who knows exactly what he is saying and how to say so humorously for the most part.


When an earlier questioner asked whether he prefers the US or Canadian system of government, Wilkins responded as only a veteran politician turned diplomat can.


"I see that when my guy's in charge, I like your system better. When my guy's not in charge, I like our system better," Wilkins said to many laughs. He then joked about having an American president being able to appoint all Senators, as the Canadian prime minister can, for an example.


Wilkins also understands his role well and gives amusing responses to disarm his audience, while not exactly informing it either.


"I'm basically not going to answer your question," he said at one point to large guffaws.


Later, asked to explain how what the difference is since he switched from being a partisan Republican elected official to a diplomat he responded: "I could give you the short answer - 'Keep your mouth shut'."


The closest Wilkins came to a newsworthy statement was when he addressed a question about US passport requirements for Canadians travelling to his country.


"I know you've got some problems with lineups and waits," the Ambassador understated.


And then it was off into the night for Wilkins. Diplomacy, you see, depends on never overstaying your warm welcome.




Justice Bennett in Basi-Virk case criticizes missing evidence

Judge scolds prosecution

By BILL TIELEMAN, 24 HOURS

An angry judge criticized missing evidence in the B.C. Legislature raid case as the defence pressed the prosecution for additional documents related to alleged B.C. Liberal Party media manipulation and dirty tricks.

Justice Elizabeth Bennett interjected several times as Special Prosecutor Andrea MacKay attempted to explain why several documents were neither disclosed to the defence nor identified on a "not disclosed" list.

"The concern is that despite checks and balances, a number of documents have gone missing in this case," Bennett said.

Kevin McCullough, lawyer for former provincial ministerial aide Bob Virk, argued that "media monitoring" contracts between the B.C. Liberal Party and David Basi, Virk's co-accused in the breach of trust and fraud trial, must be disclosed.

McCullough has alleged that Basi, former ministerial aide to ex-Finance Minister Gary Collins, was paid $20,000 for media manipulation on talk radio shows and political dirty tricks connected to the $1-billion privatization of B.C. Rail.

"Why haven't we received that Liberal Party contract right now? Why not just give it to us?" he asked. Bennett agreed.

ADDITIONAL INFO not in 24 hours


“Can you give that to your friends before they reply?” Bennett asked MacKay, who said she would provide it. After lunch McCullough again asked why the Liberal Party contract had not been produced, with MacKay saying she had not been to her office over the lunch break to retreive it.

Earlier Special Prosecutor MacKay outlined that there were 78 documents not disclosed to the defence, including several in which solicitor-client privilege was being claimed.

"These documents were not on the 'not disclosed' list," McCullough complained.

In further discussion of the B.C. Liberal Party contract with Basi for 'media monitoring' MacKay said there was a "Report to Crown Counsel on the Liberal contract charge approval process."

"The Crown was taking the position that that document not be disclosed because it was not proceeding with charges," MacKay said.

"Then why wasn't it on the 'documents not disclosed list?" McCullough asked.

There was also a lengthy discussion of the contents of seven filing cabinets related to the drug investigation that originally brought David Basi to the attention of police. The defence argued that it should have access to at least an inventory of what is in the files.

"Not only have they [the Crown] not created an inventory, they haven't even looked at them," an exasperated McCullough told Justice Bennett. "That's based on a conversation I had at noon with my friend.

Special Prosecutor Janet Winteringham immediately objected.

"I never said I haven't looked at them. Ms MacKay has. I only said there was no inventory," Winteringham explained.

Bennett then interjected: "There are seven file cabinets in the drug room. Has the Crown looked at every single page of those documents?"

Mackay replied: "The Crown has not looked at every single document in those file cabinets. The file coordinator has seen every document."

That brought McCullough back to his feet.

"They haven't made an inventory of the drug file. They haven't been through it. They simply haven't done that. And I was led to believe the opposite," he said.

MacKay argued that there were concerns about the confidentiality of the files and the possibility that an RCMP drug informant could be identified if defence lawyers gained access to the files.

Later MacKay tested Bennett's patience again by attempting to take her through the details of a precedent setting case involving informants and privilege to access to their information.

"I've been involved in the leading case of [informer] privilege in this province," Bennett told MacKay.

Later MacKay drew the judge's ire again.

"Milady, I know you made an earlier decision but you are not bound by that decision..." MacKay started.

"I know that I'm not bound by my decision," Bennett firmly stated.

The defence disclosure application hearing continues Thursday and Friday at least in BC Supreme Court.



Tuesday, May 08, 2007

David Basi's 6,926 wiretapped calls form part of huge evidence in BC Legislature Raid case

Basi-Virk case evidence massive, Crown says

By BILL TIELEMAN, 24 HOURS

Prosecutors defending their conduct in the breach of trust case against former provincial ministerial aides David Basi and Bob Virk yesterday outlined exactly how massive the evidence is.

Special Prosecutor Andrea MacKay told the B.C. Supreme Court about the challenges the Crown faces in disclosing evidence to the defence due to the scope of the investigation centred on the $1-billion privatization of B.C. Rail.

"There are 50,000 documents in the breach of trust case," MacKay said in response to a defence application for disclosure. "There were 6,926 calls intercepted on Basi's phone lines."

MacKay added that there are also 70,000 pages of additional evidence in a drug investigation that led police to put Basi under surveillance and ultimately prosecute him for allegedly leaking secret government documents. He is not charged in the drug case.

Liberal MLAs want pay & pension raise? Greedy, nasty little piggies!

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Column
Tuesday May 8, 2007


A greedy pay raise

By BILL TIELEMAN

Be sure to put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.

- Abraham Lincoln

Greedy, nasty little piggies.

Those would be B.C. Liberal Members of the Legislative Assembly who plan to increase their pay by a whopping 29 per cent to $98,000 a year and add a pension plan worth 37 per cent of their salary.

And B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell would get a 53 per cent raise, to $186,200 from $121,100, while cabinet ministers would jump to $147,000 from $115,000.

Liberal MLAs would also get $19,000 a year to maintain Victoria homes - while the Legislature sits just 75 days a year.

This proposal is outrageous, unfair to taxpayers and should be rejected immediately. The highly-paid commissioners who recommended it are out to lunch.

MLAs already make $76,100 plus extras, plus annual RRSP contributions worth $6,849.

Take a reality check, you greedy little piggies.

Current MLA pay is more than 90 per cent of all British Columbians make and is indexed to go up about one per cent annually.

Average full-time B.C. wages are about $38,500 - or half of the MLAs' existing pay - while 1.8 million people here make under $30,000 a year. Only six per cent of B.C. taxpayers make more than $100,000.

And the average B.C. RRSP contribution is $3,000, under half what MLAs already get, while only 31 per cent of Canadians even make RRSP contributions.

To her credit, NDP leader Carole James has rejected the pay raise plan, saying her MLAs will vote no.

But here's the nasty part - the B.C. Liberals may introduce an "opt-out" clause to force MLAs who don't want to take this obscene package to sign a form saying they will never take the pension or increase. Those MLAs could actually lose their existing RRSP contribution.

This is despicable and shows how desperate the Liberals are to force the NDP MLAs into accepting their plan. They don't want angry voters to be able to punish their party come election day and they hope NDP MLAs will do the wrong thing by accepting the pay package.

This is the defining moment for James and her caucus. They could even win the next provincial election if they hold a principled position and go strongly on the attack.

James should announce that if elected government, the NDP will retroactively rescind the B.C. Liberal pay package - wipe it out.

She should also say that any NDP MLA who votes in favour will be immediately thrown out of her caucus - there can only be one position on this critical issue.

But voters of all political stripes who oppose this greedy plan must force Gordon Campbell and B.C. Liberals MLAs to drop their legislation - or face certain defeat in the next provincial election.

Contact Campbell and all MLAs now, before it's too late.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Confidential BC Rail cabinet documents found at home of David Basi, lobbyists' office

B.C. Rail bids found at accused's office: Crown

By BILL TIELEMAN, 24 HOURS

The prosecution in the B.C. Legislature raid case said yesterday that secret bids and cabinet documents in the $1-billion privatization of B.C. Rail were found in the offices of a lobbyist and in the home of former ministerial assistant David Basi.

Special Prosecutor Janet Winteringham told B.C. Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Bennett that a series of confidential documents related to the B.C. Rail deal were found by police when search warrants were executed on Basi's home and the offices of Pilothouse Public Affairs.

Basi and former ministerial assistant Bob Virk face breach of trust and fraud charges. Pilothouse lobbyist Erik Bornmann will testify against them.

Winteringham said the accused broke their oaths of confidentiality as government employees.

She said the documents police found included "indicative bids" for B.C. Rail from CN, CP, OmniTRAX, Rail America and Genesee & Wyoming, legal advice to government and a guide to negotiations for the provincial cabinet.

Winteringham also rejected defence allegations that RCMP Insp. Kevin Debruyckere manipulated the direction of the investigation away from ex- Finance Minister Gary Collins because his brother-in-law was B.C. Liberal Party executive director Kelly Reichert.

She said Debruyckere believed Collins was under investigation.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Basi-Virk wiretap alleges ex-Finance Minister Gary Collins involved with dirty tricks, media manipulation

Wiretap Said to Tie Collins to Media Tricks

Allegations pile up as legislature raid case unfolds.

TheTyee.ca

http://thetyee.ca/News/2007/05/04/CollinsWiretap/

By Bill Tieleman

Published: May 4, 2007

B.C. Supreme Court has heard a litany of allegations since the long-awaited case of the Crown vs. Basi, Virk and Basi began April 18.

And Wednesday, May 2, saw some of the most dramatic allegations to date, including the defence citing wiretap evidence that former B.C. Liberal Finance Minister Gary Collins was directly involved in media manipulation and political dirty tricks.

Almost all of the information produced in the defence disclosure application to date can be assigned to one of five key areas:

  1. The alleged abuse of political power by key members of the B.C. Liberal government and the B.C. Liberal Party;
  2. The alleged political manipulation of the $1 billion privatization of BC Rail;
  3. The alleged pervasive influence of lobbyists on the B.C. Liberal government;
  4. The alleged connections between the B.C. legislature raid and powerful players in the B.C. Liberal party, the federal Liberal Party of Canada-BC branch and the Paul Martin leadership campaign;
  5. The alleged abuse of the power of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in this investigation.
And despite some media reports to the contrary, the mounting allegations add up to a case on its way to becoming a huge story with the potential to become a major political scandal.


The case exploded when police armed with search warrants carted materials out of the B.C. legislature and RCMP spokesperson ominously linked it to drug dealing, organized crime and corruption but in the years since then it has been regularly derided as minor and inconsequential, involving small-time, non-elected players in a trial that's been endlessly delayed.

As the allegations and evidence begin to pile up, however, it becomes clear this case touches everyone from former Liberal prime ministers Paul Martin and Jean Chretien to former RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli to B.C. Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell.

And its search beam is illuminating everything from one of the biggest privatization deals in Canadian history to paid media manipulation and paid dirty tricks to top cops related to top B.C. Liberal party officials to provincial lobbyists with deputy minister pals.

Watchers of the unfolding case would do well to recall what the legendary Deep Throat told Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward in the movie All The President's Men: "You tell me what you know, and I'll confirm. I'll keep you
in the right direction if I can, but that's all. Just... follow the money."

Basi and Collins transcript

Wednesday's court proceedings in front of Justice Elizabeth Bennett provided an object lesson in why the charges of breach of trust and fraud against David Basi and his brother-in-law Bob Virk and a money laundering charge against Basi's cousin Aneal Basi are so important and explosive.

Dave Basi was once the most powerful ministerial assistant in Victoria, serving as then-finance minister Gary Collins' eyes and ears. Bob Virk was ministerial assistant to then-transportation minister Judith Reid, while Aneal Basi was a young communications aide in government.

Then Basi and Virk were charged with leaking confidential government documents on BC Rail to lobbyists representing OmniTRAX, one of the bidders for the then publicly-owned railroad, in exchange for money and benefits.

But on Wednesday it was clear that Dave Basi was much more than just a ministerial aide. He was perhaps the government's key political operative, as well as the top organizer in B.C. for the Paul Martin forces in the battle against Jean Chretien for control of the Liberal Party of Canada -- and the country.

Late in the day, Michael Bolton, the veteran lawyer who is defending David Basi, quietly set off multiple sticks of political dynamite by reading into the record a wiretapped cell phone conversation between Basi and Collins on October 31, 2003.

The call takes place less than a month before the BC Rail sale to CN Rail is announced and as opponents to the planned deal are mobilizing against the B.C. Liberal government.

The call allegedly captures the type of media manipulation and political dirty tricks that have already been headlined previously in this case but this time Gary Collins is directly involved.

The following is a transcript taken from notes from Bolton's statement in court and is slightly abbreviated:

Collins: Hello.

Basi: Hi boss. Judith Reid was on Ben Meisner [at the time, a Prince George radio talk show host] -- she handled herself real well. There was only one call and it was ours.

Collins: Good.

Basi: Bill Vander Zalm will be on [radio] with Barb Sharp -- mayor of North Vancouver. [former B.C. premier Vander Zalm and Sharp both opposed BC Rail privatization]

Collins: Uh-huh.

Basi: I wanted to have the mayor of Squamish, who's a good friend of ours, rip Barb Sharp a new asshole. Is that okay?

Collins: Absolutely.

Basi: I called Jerry Lampert of the [BC] Business Council and said: 'Jerry, we need your help.' The Prince George Citizen might take an op-ed [opinion editorial article] but they don't want only positive pieces.

Collins: Well, you could do that....I want you to keep this completely to yourself because there's only two of us who know about this."

Basi: Okay.

Collins: I talked to the Premier. We want to put Colin Kinsley [mayor of Prince George] and the mayor of Squamish on the committee.

Basi: I'm going to call Ian Sutherland [mayor of Squamish] at home.

Collins: Uh-huh.

Basi: Then we're going to arrange calls and rip these guys up good.

Collins: Okay but don't tell Sutherland because it's the Premier who's going to call.

It should be noted again that the wiretapped conversation cited by Bolton is part of the defence allegations, which are unproven in court and to which the Crown has yet to respond.

Former North Vancouver City Mayor Barb Sharp was stunned when I called her Wednesday evening to get her reaction to the alleged comments.

"It's quite a shocker. I don't know what they were so upset about with me except that I was trying to keep BC Rail in North Vancouver," Sharp said. "It's quite inappropriate to talk about anyone that way -- what a terrible way to talk about people."

Collins’ lawyer and spokesman retained by taxpayers??

Victoria lawyer Clark Roberts has been in B.C. Supreme Court every day since the defence disclosure application began, representing Gary Collins and speaking on his behalf on several occasions to rebut defence allegations.

But Roberts left the court without speaking to the three remaining media -- myself for 24 hours newspaper and The Tyee, Rob Brown for BC CTV and Mark Hume for the Globe and Mail newspaper -- after Bolton's statement.

But Roberts himself disclosed some other interesting details earlier in the day, including that his fees for attending court daily from Victoria may be paid by B.C. taxpayers.

"I'm here to protect Mr. Collins' reputation," Roberts told journalists at a break in the proceedings.

When I asked if Collins is personally retaining him at his own expense, Roberts allowed that he may in fact be paid by taxpayers.

"Mr. Collins asked me to act for him but who is paying the bill is not clear at this time. I understand Mr. Collins has an indemnification as a former cabinet minister."

Roberts' role was actually raised the previous day in court by Virk's lawyer Kevin McCullough, who presented most of the aggressive defence case till Wednesday afternoon.

"In the case of Mr. Collins, he has a lawyer here every day. As best I can read in the newspapers, he's speaking for Mr. Collins," McCullough told Justice Bennett in asking that any witnesses for the subsequent trial be banned from attending the disclosure hearing.

McCullough also noted the presence of an RCMP officer who will be called to testify in the trial as one of the investigators.

"There will be a ban from here on in -- any witness cannot be in the courtroom," Bennett ordered immediately.

RCMP: failure to communicate?

The RCMP's role in the Basi-Virk investigation also took a beating from the defence in the past few days.

McCullough made sustained arguments he completed Wednesday that the RCMP has "tailored" its investigation in order to steer it away from elected politicians and towards Basi and Virk.

But nothing he did could have helped his case more than an unexpected phone call he received on Sunday, April 29, from a man named John Preissell.

Preissell, it turns out, had contacted RCMP in January 2005 to offer information he had about the role of provincial lobbyist Brian Kieran in the case. And after speaking to McCullough, Preissell made a surprise appearance in the courtroom Monday to give evidence.

Preissell told the court in sworn testimony as the case's unscheduled and first witness that the RCMP "didn't seem too interested" when he contacted them about Kieran, who is one of the Crown's key witnesses against the defendants.

McCullough found that amazing because first of all, special prosecutor Bill Berardino had never disclosed the Preissell tip to the defence.

And second, because Preissell testified under oath that Kieran had threatened him over a planned public campaign against Gary Collins about Insurance Corporation of B.C. issues. Collins was minister responsible then and Preissell at that time was owner of an auto body and glass repair shop having "red tape" trouble with ICBC.

"The bottom line was he [Kieran] threatened me repeatedly and said if we didn't back off of Mr. Collins we wouldn't get what we wanted," Preissell alleged. "I was actually afraid, I was very afraid."

Preissell said that at the time of the threat in the spring of 2003 he was a member of a group of the Auto Glass Survival Coalition and that another industry group he had been involved with had hired Kieran as a lobbyist.

"Kieran offered to work for the Coalition for free to embarrass ICBC but not to embarrass the minister of finance," Preissell testified.

When I contacted Kieran and read him Preissell's statement he declined comment.

"As per the past three years, I've been advised by my attorney that I should wait until I'm in court to say my piece," said Kieran, a longtime Victoria political columnist for The Province newspaper before becoming a lobbyist.

Railroading and the RCMP

Preissell's surprise appearance was followed by another surprise appearance the next day. The Crown discovered extensive notes of the tip received by veteran RCMP Sergeant Bud Bishop. And Bishop himself showed up in court.

However by the time McCullough had read Bishop's notes, he was barely able to control his anger.

"You've been hearing me repeatedly talk about the failure of the Crown and the RCMP to disclose," he told Justice Bennett. "These are comprehensive notes about BC Rail. They're not just about Mr. Preissell. Sergeant Bishop's notes were never disclosed in any way, period."

"But for Mr. Preissell phoning us, we would never have pursued this at all," McCullough said heatedly. "The special prosecutor has not met his disclosure obligations whatsoever."

It then turned out that Bishop's notes were indeed a treasure trove of information that included references to other public tips and mention of current B.C. Liberal Forests Minister Rich Coleman and former B.C. Liberal Deputy Premier Christy Clark.

"These notes contain details of conversations Sergeant Bishop had with a Terry Fergusson," about BC Rail issues, McCullough continued. Fergusson, he said, "complained about a flawed process, that he complained to Christy Clark about, that he was talking to Mr. Virk about the very flawed processes that were going on."

"Four MLAs wrote Christy Clark [or] saw Coleman," McCullough read from Bishop's notes. "He left out that Mr. Fergusson was having dealings with Christy Clark and seeing Minister Coleman. That begins to tell you, milady, how the B.C. Liberal government is operating."

Christy Clark did not respond to a request to comment on statements attributed to Fergusson. It later turned out that Fergusson is executive director of the National Historical Railway Society, a group that sued BC Rail in 1998 over money it claimed was owed to it.

The missing notes didn't anger just McCullough. Justice Bennett had sharp words for the special prosecutor as well.

"You see the problem with this?" Bennett asked Janet Winteringham, assistant to special prosecutor Bill Berardino, who is absent from the hearing.

"Yes," Winteringham answered.

"As you probably know, I practiced criminal law for 15 years before moving to the bench 10 years ago. What you're telling me is troubling, that these disclosures are coming at this stage," Bennett concluded.

Spiderman trouble

But that was far from the last thing troubling the defence. McCullough launched into a multi-day attack on the conduct of the special prosecutor and RCMP in connection with their dealing with former provincial lobbyist Erik Bornmann, who is to be the star witness against Basi, Virk and Basi.

Bornmann was a
controversial character long before the B.C. legislature raid took place.

Nicknamed "Spiderman" after he entered a locked BC Liberal Party of Canada office through the ceiling, Bornmann was partners with Brian Kieran and former LPC BC president Jamie Elmhirst at Pilothouse Public Affairs.

Pilothouse was retained by BC Rail privatization bidder OmniTRAX to conduct government relations on its behalf and according to court documents, OmniTRAX spent nearly $300,000 on Pilothouse's services.

But when the final results of the BC Rail privatization were announced, OmniTRAX had lost out to CN Rail.

When the police executed search warrants on the B.C. legislature, they also searched the Pilothouse office and Bornmann's Vancouver home-office looking for evidence.

Soon afterwards the RCMP and the Special Prosecutor cut an immunity deal with Bornmann to testify against his former friends Basi and Virk, who had all worked together on the Paul Martin leadership campaign, McCullough outlined.

And it was that deal with Bornmann and the fact that the defence says it does not have any of the details about it, that troubles McCullough.

McCullough alleged that Bornmann and partner Kieran were both allowed to continue their lucrative lobbying business despite allegedly admitting to "bribing public officials" because of the deal.

He further alleged that Bornmann was also allowed to complete law school and begin articling at prestigious Toronto law firm McCarthy T├ętrault despite his involvement in the BC Rail charges because of the special deal.

'Unfathomable'

McCullough said it was "unfathomable" that a lengthy statement Bornmann gave investigators in February 2005 was not disclosed to the defence.

"The Bornmann statement deals exclusively with Mr. Virk and Mr. Basi and Aneal Basi. It is to do with BC Rail and it is to do with the payments," McCullough said.

"Bornmann was not a bit player but the key player, a witness whose credibility was sullied from the get go and we don't get a statement from him," McCullough complained.

McCullough continued by alleging Bornmann was an unreliable witness who made false accusations against another likely Crown witness, Bruce Clark, brother of Christy Clark and an executive member of the Liberal Party of Canada BC.

"Bornmann provided statements regarding another potential witness. Mr. Bornmann alleged Mr. Clark bribed Mr. Basi," McCullough alleged. "A purported payment to Basi from Clark regarding Pacific Western Brewery -- Erik Bornmann stated Clark paid Basi for the information."

"Mr. Bornmann may have made one too many statements," McCullough continued. "Now the defence can rebut that statement. We understand that the allegation is not only untrue but it unfortunately compromised the good name of another. There's an indication he's making it up as he goes along."

"How did the police follow that up? Whether Mr. Bornmann was simply making false allegations in respect to Mr. Clark and Mr. Basi?" McCullough asked.

[Bruce Clark has previously told the Globe and Mail that he has already been investigated and cleared by police in that matter.]

Allegations and accusations

And so it goes in courtroom 54 as the allegations and accusations pile up.
What's sometimes stunning to remember given the number of revelations is that this is merely the preliminary defence disclosure application.

The defence will make a Charter of Rights application once this stage is complete and then, unless Justice Bennett halts the case altogether, the trial itself will begin and run for at least six months.

That means many if not all of the allegations to date will return to the courtroom but this time with witnesses called, cross-examination and evidence entered -- evidence that can be examined by journalists and the public.

During the current disclosure application stage, no evidence has been presented for the media or spectators in the public gallery to review.

But that hasn't stopped the defence from using the B.C. legislature raid case to give British Columbians its angle of view on the machinations of political power and the intersection of money, influence and government, even if only through allegations unproven in court.

Related Tyee stories:
Premier Alleged to Know of Paid Media ScamPhony hecklers, fake protesters paid by BC Libs, says Virk defence.
Basi-Virk Defence: Bold AllegationsPremier tipped off? Collins investigated pre-raid? RCMP 'bad faith'?
Will BC Rail Bomb Explode?Basi-Virk lawyers allege deal was rigged by BC Libs.