|David Basi - far left - and Bob Virk - far right after entering guilty pleas in October 2010|
In a nearly empty BC Supreme Court room where there are more government-paid lawyers - seven at least - than either media members or public observers, a serious legal street fight is being waged over access to confidential government documents sought by the independent Auditor General.
At stake - accountability to taxpayers and transparency in the expenditure of millions in government funds.
Specifically, Doyle is attempting to find out how the $6 million legal fees of David Basi and Bob Virk were paid by the government despite the two former BC Liberal Ministerial aides pleading guilty to breach of trust and fraud charges.
Government officials can be "indemnified" for their legal fees if they face charges related to the conduct of their duties - but only so long as they are found innocent.
In the BC Legislature Raid case, Basi and Virk admitted receiving money and other benefits in exchange for leaking confidential government documents related to the $1 billion privatization of BC Rail to lobbyists working for one of the bidders.
But in addition, there are nearly 100 other cases of government employees receiving millions in legal fees for indemnification.
And it appears there are no clear policies or even guidelines on how these funds were spent.
That is the purpose of Doyle's attempt to conduct a value for money audit - but it has been steadfastly opposed by the government.
On Wednesday at court in front of Chief Justice Robert Bauman arguments for Doyle were made by lawyer Louis Zivot, who stated that the Auditor General Act was clearly drafted to give Doyle access to whatever government documents his office needs to conduct audits.
The key argument against letting Doyle have confidential files is that it violates solicitor-client privilege, but Zivot rejected that claim.
"It was intended by the legislation that the Auditor General have full access," Zivot told Bauman. "The legislation could have been drafted to exclude legal expenditures."
"If we have to negotiate with the attorney general as to what we can have and how we can have it, it will impede the Auditor General," Zivot said.
"It is absolutely necessary that the Auditor General have access to all these documents," he said. "While a good deal of focus is on Mr. Basi and Mr. Virk... they are only two of the hundreds of recipients of indemnities."
The records that have been given to the Auditor General have been severely severed or redacted, effectively rendering many of them useless, Zivot said.
"Some pages are virtually black - you can't tell who conversations were with - these are insufficient for auditing accounts," Zivot said. On the lectern in front of Zivot observers could clearly see a document with blacked out pages.
In concluding, Zivot warned that a decision against Doyle would not only negatively impact the BC Auditor General's powers but those of other provinces as well, who have very similar legislative authority.
"Essentially this is a very important matter for the Auditor General of British Columbia but also for other auditor generals," Zivot said. "A finding that the Auditor General does not have these powers would have an adverse effect on the Auditor General, other auditors general and auditors."
NOTE TO READERS - Veteran lawyer Roger McConchie made powerful arguments on behalf of BC Conservative MLA John van Dongen later on Wednesday. Those arguments and an interview with van Dongen will be the subject of my 24 Hours/The Tyee column on Tuesday September 18 - along with other information from the hearing on Thursday and Friday.