Sunday, January 28, 2007

 

Solicitor General's unfulfilled March 2003 promise to hold a public forum on organized crime involving judiciary, Crown prosecutors, police & public.

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What was it like, I wondered, in the Legislative Assembly on the first day back at work only 6 weeks after the historic police raid of 28 December 2003? Here's the story. The 37th Parliament, 5th session, opened on 10 February 2004 with a prayer by Pastor Tim Schroeder of Trinity Baptist Church, Kelowna, who said (and this is God's truth, straight from Hansard):

Let's pray together.

           Dear God, each time the phrase "Super, Natural British Columbia" rolls off our lips, it's a tribute to the fact that this incredible treasure is more than any of us can claim to have made. While we wouldn't ever have the audacity to suggest that when you made some other provinces you were having an off day, we would certainly declare that when you made this one, you were at your very best.

           As this session of the Legislature begins, it's without any embarrassment that we ask for your help. As these men and women are faced not only with the honour but with the awesome responsibility of managing this treasure, I pray that you give each of them individually and that you give them collectively a measure of wisdom and courage and sensitivity that is beyond any of their natural abilities, and at the end of the term, this province will be an even more polished treasure than it was when it came into their care.
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Next on the program was the Queen's Representative, top job in the B.C. Legislature. Her speech, traditionally written by the government, made no mention of the unprecedented raid on the B.C. Legislature, either. In fact, it reads like a jolly advertising campaign.

The new era has begun, read Iona Campangnola. The new government has repaired all previous damage and will thenceforth be bringing the best out of everything and everybody in B.C., including: Olympic history, the economy, employment, agriculture, environment, real estate and resources, land use, forests, oil and gas, health care! patient care! (if only we will agree to save every penny!), sport, music, culture, science, women, children, families, coalbed methane (including the Fartmobile), energy and mining, BCRail, Transportation and Northern development, new markets in China, pine beetles, tourism, education, and digital technology bringing broadband Internet access to everyone. Then Iona leaves the building. I don't blame her, having uttered not one syllable about the alarming raid only 6 weeks before, when 32 police sergeants had stormed their polished treasure and carried off what they had reason to believe was evidence of drug-dealing and organized crime.

Next the Honourable premier immediately set about managing things.

           Hon. G. Campbell: I move that the select standing committees of the House for the present session be appointed for the following purposes:

           1. Aboriginal Affairs;
           2. Education;
           3. Finance and Government Services;
           4. Health;
           5. Public Accounts;
           6. Parliamentary Reform, Ethical Conduct, Standing Orders and Private Bills;
           7. Crown Corporations;

           which said committees shall severally be empowered to examine and inquire into all such matters and things as shall be referred to them by this House and to report from time to time their observations and opinions thereon, with power to send for persons, papers and records; and that a special committee be appointed to prepare and report, with all convenient speed, lists of members to compose the above select standing committees of this House under standing order 68(1), the committee to be composed of the Hon. G. Collins, Convener; Messrs. Wong, Krueger, Wilson, Nuraney and Manhas; Ms. McMahon, Ms. Orr and Ms. MacPhail.

           J. MacPhail [Leader of the Opposition]: I rise today in support of this motion and to amend it. I move the following amendment, after which I will speak.

I move that the select standing committees of this House for the present session be appointed for the following purposes ... In addition to the seven that the Premier has just appointed, add an eighth: Attorney General–Solicitor General joint committee [as follows].

1. Aboriginal Affairs;
2. Education;
3. Finance and Government Services;
4. Health;
5. Public Accounts;
6. Parliamentary Reform, Ethical Conduct, Standing Orders and Private Bills;
7. Crown Corporations;
8. Attorney General-Solicitor General Joint Committee;

           At certain times in the life of our province, issues of grave concern arise that demand the immediate attention of legislators, that demand strong leadership, that demand strong action. These issues rise above the daily partisan battles that we wage here in the Legislature. They are fundamental to the maintenance of a free, open and democratic society.

           The spread of organized crime in British Columbia is just such an issue. Recently, every British Columbian watched as members of the RCMP organized crime and drug units descended on this building, carrying away boxes of evidence from the offices of senior political staff. Although we know little about what led to these raids on our most important democratic institution, we listened carefully to the words of RCMP Sgt. John Ward, who described the spread of organized crime as "a cancer eating away at the moral fabric of our society."

           That's a graphic and alarming description of a disturbing phenomenon in the daily life of our province. The impact of organized crime activity is reflected in rising crime rates, in the prevalence of new, powerful and widely available drugs and in — we can only assume — the activities of those charged with protecting the public interest. That's why the opposition has brought forward this amendment to the motion before us to establish, this session, a joint Attorney General–Solicitor General standing committee of the House, a committee whose first task we may respectfully suggest would be to investigate organized crime in B.C. with a view to proposing practical solutions to halt its spread.

           To assure the members opposite, I want to make it clear that the intent of this committee would not be to examine organized crime's links to this government. Indeed, that is the subject of a police investigation. Rather, the intent perhaps can best be understood…

           Interjections.

           Mr. Speaker: Order, please.

            J. MacPhail: …as our way of helping the Solicitor General keep his unfulfilled promise to hold a public forum on organized crime — a forum he said would involve the judiciary, the Crown prosecutors, police and the public — to examine fully how we can do a better job fighting organized crime. The Solicitor General will recall that he made that promise in March of last year at the Premier's annual congress.

           At the time the opposition fully supported this initiative, but we have been disappointed in his failure to follow through. Therefore, we bring this motion forward, a motion that is in keeping with the new-era promise to give all MLAs and citizens a better voice in government through active legislative committees. The government side of the House should not feel threatened by this motion, although I suspect they already are — by their disappointing reaction. Rather, they should view it as an opportunity — an opportunity to help their government take a stand against organized crime, an opportunity to stand up for their communities, an opportunity to contribute to a public discussion of an important issue for their constituents.

           There will always be a need for public scrutiny of this government's activities on this matter. Just last week the Solicitor General announced integrating the Organized Crime Agency with the RCMP, but integrating with the RCMP means there will no longer be a service plan forthcoming from the agency responsible for organized crime in this province. Therefore, unless we have this legislative standing committee, there will be no legislative scrutiny because of that action of the Organized Crime Agency. It will be through a standing committee such as this that information regarding the adequacy of funding and resources for organized crime fighters will be found.

           We cannot hide from this issue. We cannot ignore it and hope that it just goes away. Now is the time to match rhetoric with action and to get serious about our collective responsibility to tackle a mounting, dangerous problem that affects us all. I strongly encourage and hope that every member of this House will support this motion. ...snip....

           Mr. Speaker: Order, please.

           Hon. members, we are voting on the amendment proposed by the Leader of the Opposition. It reads as follows, under item 8, "the Attorney General–Solicitor General Joint Committee" so that the amended motion reads that this committee is incorporated.

           Amendment negatived on the following division:

YEAS — 3 [The NDP Opposition at that time]

NAYS — 74 [The entire Campbell government, at that time.]

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So isn't it fair to ask if this orchestrated silence on the BCRail case set the standard as the first clear lesson to the media that discussion of the Basi, Virk, Basi case was not welcomed by the B.C. government? And recalling recent journalistic efforts to laugh off the ridiculous notion of organized crime, was this why all investigation stopped?

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