Thursday, June 07, 2007

Basi-Virk defence demands huge disclosure of sensitive government documents on BC Rail, gifts to MLAs, media influence

A defence disclosure application in the trial of former BC Liberal ministerial aides David Basi and Bob Virk released today demands the provincial government release a massive number of sensitive and confidential documents related to the $1 billion sale of BC Rail, gifts to MLAs and cabinet ministers and efforts to influence the media and public opinion.

The application is sweeping, asking for all records, including documents and emails, from Premier Gordon Campbell's office and staff, from the offices of a series of past and present cabinet ministers and the offices of BC Rail.

It also demands "strategy, policy and any related decision-making pertaining to the influencing, gauging or monitoring of public opinion thorugh media and other public forums."

The application shows the defence is clearly pursuing its theory that ex-Finance Minister Gary Collins was wrongly dropped as a suspect by RCMP.

It requests records on: "the issue of whether and to what extent members of the provincial government, including Minister Collins were under investigation."

The application also seeks information on "the acceptance or receipt of any gift of benefit" including tickets to Vancouver Canucks and BC Lions games, Cirque de Soleil shows and other venues.

And it seeks all communications between lobby firm Pilothouse Public Affairs and its principals - key Crown witnesses Erik Bornmann and Brian Kieran and expected witness Jamie Elmhirst - with cabinet ministers, MLAs and government staff.

Following Justice Elizabeth Bennett strong ruling Monday that ordered the RCMP and Special Prosecutor to disclose evidence not provided to the defence, Bennett directed the defence to attempt to obtain "third party" government documents it previously requested outside of the court process by filing a Freedom of Information Request or simply asking for a voluntary production of documents but left open the possibility of a court order.

Virk's lawyer Kevin McCullough told Bennett after a break to consult with a lawyer for the provincial government that he was "very optimistic" the defence could obtain the information it seeks.

And outside court Basi's lawyer Michael Bolton said: "We're very pleased with today's result because we're going to get the disclosure we were seeking."

But the price of disclosure is delay. Justice Bennett directed both sides to appear July 16 for an update on progress and suggested the next stage in the case will not begin until August 13, when the disclosure application will be heard.



Anonymous said...

So let’s see what this “shaking of the bushes” will expose – whether or not any interesting “Briefing Notes”, “Notes to File” or “e-mails” (government or personal) will “come to light”.

In this regard, I cannot help but note some interesting similarities between the Basi/Virk and the Carrier Lumber case albeit in the case of Carrier Lumber the Defendant was the Crown - as perhaps they will be someday in the Basi Virk case.

The following are some of the more interesting excerpts from Justice Parrett’s closing statement on the Carrier Lumber case:
[501] The conduct of the defendant's servants in the
present case has been found to be both deceptive and the result
of bad faith. The bad faith in question is illustrated by
attempts and conduct calculated to conceal their real actions
and motivations and to create a different appearance calculated
to cast the blame and the resulting losses on the plaintiff.
That conduct reveals a course of dealing that extends from the
time of these events in the Chilcotin until the end of this
trial. While some aspects of the defendant's document
disclosure failure are certainly attributable to other factors,
in some selective areas I have identified the non-disclosure
is, in my view, the product of system and design.

[503] It must be stressed the actions of the
defendants in the present case were not only
unlawful, a fact which in and of itself would not
necessarily give rise to claim for damages, but were
also excessive and high-handed. I award the plaintiffs punitive damages in the amount
of $10,000. I note that those damages will come out
of the pockets of we taxpayers, not the individual
bureaucrats and Minister involved.

The defendants, acting as servants and agents of Her Majesty,
deliberately chose to disregard the law.

The defendants deliberately abused their powers
knowing the actions taken were without legal
authority… the defendants caused undue hardship to
the plaintiffs.

[388] It is improbable that a decision of such magnitude
would be taken without a briefing note setting out the options
for the Minister. This was in fact the very system designed
and implemented by Deputy Minister Halkett and to which he
demanded rigid adherence.

[390] The pattern of behaviour of
this Ministry and these individuals is simply too well
established on the evidence for there to be a) no briefing note
before the Minister, b) no documents communicating his
instructions, c) no documents reflecting Carlson's decision to
take the step of suspending Carrier's licence, and d), no
drafts of Carlson's letter of June 16, 1992. I conclude that
such documents clearly existed and that they have been
deliberately withheld. I draw the inference adverse to the
defendant that those documents, if produced would have
established the events took place as I have described, and that
contrary to the evidence led and relied upon by the defendant
at trial Carlson was instructed to suspend Carrier's licence.

[391] Neither the author of the briefing note (Friesen) nor
its ultimate recipient (Forest Minister Dan Miller) were called
as witnesses. Instead, the Crown chose to rely on the evidence
of Phil Halkett on this issue. Mr. Halkett's evidence and
recollection on those events is unreliable.

[400] It is difficult to conceive of a more compelling and
cynical example of duplicity and bad faith. The words
"managing perception" may have a gloss which seems to carry
with it some high purpose. The reality is, at least in this
case, little more than a process of altering reality by
concealing the truth and presenting a fabricated cover story.

This is, of course, the same Mr. Halkett who still receives consulting contacts from the BC Liberal Government. Most recently, from Minister Rich Coleman to undertake an “independent” study entitled the: Port Alberni Forest Sector Review.

I would imagine that part of Minister Coleman’s defense for hiring Mr. Halkett would be his “stellar” reputation as a former senior civil servant dedicated to serving the “public good”.

But perhaps others might think that it is just another example of “birds of a feather that flock together”. And perhaps they might also wonder whether Mr. Halkett has been hired by Minister Colman to help him “manage the perception” that “something is not what it appears to be”.

Anonymous said...

The Carrier Lumber case and the Leg Raid case seem to have connections and similarities.

Thanks for the post DT.