Tuesday April 1, 2008
No Les of a mystery
By BILL TIELEMAN
The solicitor general wasn't supposed to know. Nobody was supposed to know.
The sudden Friday afternoon resignation of Solicitor General John Les due to an ongoing police investigation poses more questions than a week's worth of the quiz show Jeopardy.
Questions like: How can B.C.'s minister responsible for policing be under RCMP investigation for nine months without his cabinet colleagues having a clue?
And how do unelected bureaucrats and police get to decide not only what, but when the public and elected politicians learn about possible allegations of impropriety against their boss?
Premier Gordon Campbell says he only found out when Les called to resign that the cabinet minister was part of an RCMP investigation involving land deals in Chilliwack in the 1990s, when Les was mayor.
Attorney-General Wally Oppal says he didn't know either until just before his officials issued a news release saying independent special prosecutor Robin McFee was appointed in June 2007.
The news release was only prepared after a CBC reporter asked if Les was being investigated.
That can't give anyone much confidence in B.C.'s unique special prosecutor system, which rightly removed politicians' ability to interfere with criminal investigations.
But it's ridiculous to allow B.C.'s top cop to be secretly under RCMP investigation when Les was dealing with critical decisions on policing, crime prevention, correctional services, lotteries, gaming, liquor and much more.
The system needs to be changed so that police and the special prosecutor have very limited time to make a decision to either continue the investigation and inform the public or drop it.
It's important to remember that Les has not been charged with any crime and hopefully will be cleared of any wrongdoing.
But how can the public have confidence in the justice system if it appears that authorities are unwilling to disclose that the man in charge of the police is himself being investigated?
It's also telling to look back at a previous example. On Jan. 27, 2003, John van Dongen, then B.C.'s agriculture, food and fisheries minister, resigned when he came under police investigation over allegations he informed a fish farm of an impending inspection.
Van Dongen said then: "I was advised last night by the premier, who was informed by the attorney general, that a special prosecutor will be appointed to assist the police investigation."
In a far less significant case, the attorney general learned of the investigation from his officials, told the premier and the minister temporarily resigned.
So how come B.C.'s top cop stayed on the job with police investigating him for nine months?