Monday, November 12, 2007

 

Improper use of public office

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28,000 hectares of British Columbia's most valuable Tree Farm lands suddenly turned up in the real estate ads. recently. Apparently the deal between the current Minister and the forest companies was signed in January 2007. Did you know? I surely didn't. That's what gives the strong stench of impropriety.

It's time to look into this. And if some of my astute readers feel that this has nothing to do with Basi-Virk/BC Rail, let me say that I think it does.

Basi-Virk is about alleged crimes involving government's giveaway of a public asset. And it seems as if half of B.C. is on the auction block. Lands which belonged to the people. Proceeds going into private pockets.

In my view, these changing times place a greater duty upon citizens to look into these situations. So I started my search by typing "Robert Sommers" into Google. I wanted to see if the massive giveaway of the Clyoquot forests (1952) had any similarities with the massive giveaway of the Tree Farm forests (2007). Here is the first of the 1,300,000 entries on this former (convicted) B.C. Minister of Lands & Forests. And if what I am beginning to wonder is true, no organized, sophisticated criminal of the 21st century in his Armani suit would bother robbing banks, would he?
- BC Mary.

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The International Cooperation Group
Government of Canada

Publications

IMPROPER USE OF PUBLIC OFFICE

Aline Baroud
Andrew Gibbs

BRIBERY

Bribery is one of the clearest forms of unethical behaviour that can occur in the exercise of public functions. It can be defined as the dishonest inducement of a public official to act in someone's favour by a payment or other inducement [2] . It can arise in many different contexts. For instance, when a Parliamentarian is offered money from a private corporation while matters relating to a grant for the corporation are before Parliament, the potential for bribery exists. As part of his or her official duty, the Parliamentarian must decide whether or not to award the grant, and yet he or she has been asked to do so in exchange for money. If the Parliamentarian chooses to accept the money in exchange for awarding the grant, he or she is guilty of bribery.

This infraction is covered primarily by the Criminal Code . The Criminal Code provides that when Parliamentarians obtain or attempt to obtain any valuable consideration for themselves, or another person, in respect of anything done or omitted by them in their official capacity, they are guilty of bribery. [3]

It should be noted that the Criminal Code also punishes the person who offers the bribe. It states that everyone who corruptly gives or offers any valuable consideration to a Parliamentarian is guilty of the same offence [4] . The Code provides a maximum sentence of fourteen years imprisonment for both the person giving the bribe and the one receiving it [5] .

One of the more notorious examples of bribery in Canadian history took place in the 1950s in the province of British Columbia [6] . Robert Sommers, then Minister of Lands and Forests of British Columbia, was charged with receiving bribes in connection with the issuance of forestry management licences. The licences were issued to forestry companies to regulate the amount of timber that could be harvested. These licences were extremely valuable, so much so that companies were accused of making huge profits based on the sale of shares issued after the licence was granted, but before a single tree had been cut. A number of representatives from forestry companies were charged with giving bribes, and Sommers was charged with receiving bribes. Under the intensive public scrutiny of the media, the case was prosecuted over a lengthy period with prolonged political and legal wrangling in the Legislative Assembly and the courts. Eventually, Sommers was convicted on five of the seven accusations of receiving bribes, including $607 worth of rugs, $3,000 in bonds, $1,000 in cash and $2,500 sent by telegraph [7] . As a result, Robert Sommers became the first person in the Commonwealth found guilty of conspiring to accept bribes while serving as a Minister [8] .

The relevant section of the Criminal Code states that the bribe must be in relation to the individual's "official capacity". In other words, it must relate to his or her capacity as a Parliamentarian. In the early 1960s, a member of the House of Commons was charged with accepting a bribe when he agreed to assist one of his constituents in selling land to the government [9] . The government was seeking property to construct a post office in the electoral district of the member, and a number of properties were being offered, including one owned by an acquaintance of the member [10] . The normal procedure was for the government to consider all of the submissions and then consult the member of the House of Commons representing the area before making the final decision. The acquaintance offered the member $10,000 to recommend his property to the government [11] . In the end, the property of the acquaintance was selected and $10,000 was paid to the member [12] . The member argued that because he was not directly involved in the decision making, he did not accept the money in relation to his official capacity [13] . The court rejected this argument and found that a member's "official capacity" has a much broader interpretation, which included administrative functions of the government that are ultimately subject to the will of Parliament [14] .

At trial, the member was convicted but was given a two-year suspended sentence, meaning that he did not have to go to jail. On appeal, however, it was determined that the seriousness of the offence, combined with the need to deter other Parliamentarians from considering such activities, warranted a stiffer sentence. The Court of Appeal considered the fact that the member was young, married, with children and that he would no longer be able to pursue his career as a lawyer ; and yet, to mark the severity of the offence, a five-year jail term was imposed [15] . The Court stated:

The responsibility of a [member of the House of Commons] to his constituency and to the nation requires a rigorous standard of honesty and behaviour, departure from which should not be tolerated. If, in violation of their responsibilities, the services of [members of the House of Commons] can be bought then justice and freedom cannot survive, nor can this nation long survive as a place where free men can live [16] .

In addition to the provisions under the Criminal Code , bribery is dealt with in both the Parliament of Canada Act [17] and in the Standing Orders of the House of Commons [18] . The Parliament of Canada Act disqualifies a member found guilty of bribery from being a member of the House of Commons and from holding any office in the public service of Canada for five years after conviction [19] . There are no reported cases of elected officials being charged with bribery under the Parliament of Canada Act or under the Standing Orders of the House of Commons .

Another form of bribery occurs when someone contributes to the electoral fund of a member in return for a contract or other benefit. Since all members of the House of Commons are elected, the funding of political parties and candidates is an important aspect of every election. Where contributions are made with the expectation of future advantage, the behaviour is dealt with in the Criminal Code . The Code prohibits anyone from giving any valuable consideration for the purpose of promoting the election of a candidate, or a party, to Parliament or to the legislature of a province in order to obtain or retain a contract with government [20] . This provision is aimed specifically at government contractors who contribute to election funds for the purpose of obtaining government contracts. The key element of this offence is the intent of the contributor. Interestingly, it appears that this provision has never been applied, which may suggest that its mere presence is enough to discourage such conduct.

http://canada.justice.gc.ca/en/ps/inter/imp_use_pub/page03.html

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What do you think? Is the Minister of Lands the right person to be negotiating the transfer of public lands to privately-owned forest companies who then treat the forests as real estate commodities rather than as the basis of the major provincial industry? Is it true that Rich Coleman aspires to be the next premier of British Columbia?

I don't think you can argue that these forest lands will be put to better use for condos and casinos. But share your thoughts on this important issue, as we wait for the next Basi-Virk pre-trial hearing in Supreme Court in 3 more days. - BC Mary.

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We're going to be seeing and hearing much more like this Letter to the Editor of the Victoria Times Colonist today:

LAND TRANSFER MUST BE REVOKED

Letter to Editor
Times Colonist
Published: Monday, November 12, 2007

I have been trying to understand why Forests Minister Rich Coleman agreed to the deletion of the land from TFLs 6, 19 and 25 and gave Western Forest Products permission to sell the land, without consultation with the general public and the First Nations, without debate in the legislature and without asking WFP for any concessions whatsoever. Unable to conceive of any good reasons, I can only draw one of two conclusions.

Either he agreed to the deal without thinking its repercussions through, in which case the massive potential loss for the B.C. public would then make this an act of gross negligence, or he and the premier were completely aware of what they were doing and intended to give a huge gift to WFP. If that is the case, the agreement to this deal is an act of bad faith as far as the minister's responsibility and accountability toward the public is concerned. They did not only fail to negotiate a fair deal for the people of B.C., they never tried.

Neither scenario allows us to just leave the matter alone. I therefore urge the minister to reverse the deletion and revoke the permission to WFP to sell the land. The fact that there will be legal fights with the company and the developer must not and cannot stand in the way of the rights of the citizens of this province.


Reinhard Illner,
Victoria.
http://www.canada.com/victoriatimescolonist/news/letters/story.html?id=8b734695-20de-4e80-9318-4af70c07c07c

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Comments:
I think it's very apt Mary. Although to be fair I think the methods of the classic 'pay-off' have become considerably more sophisticated than a few stocks and bonds and a couple of rugs; but, you never know.

It's so typical of an ideologically-driven government like Campbell's that so much of this should be 'done' behind closed doors and at variance with common practice and traditions. In cases where the suspicion might arise that some collusion was going on, openness and transparency ought to be the rule.

So much can be covered by a few well-placed lies and a blanket of bureaucratic silence.

Time to pull back the blanket and let more light in. The stakes are a lot higher now than they were in Sommers’s day.

An interesting aspect of the Sommers case also arises from a cursory look at the way the Attorney-General of the day stonewalled and obfuscated 'in defence' of his cabinet colleague and of course, as you've noted, the media seems much less likely to take the lead NOW than they were in those days.

And of course, the fact that today the same kind of ‘permits’, to do business with public assets (the tree farm licence) , are integrally involved in the current situation just can’t be ignored.

Somehow, with the Campbell government, the public interest always ends up serving someone else’s bottom line.
 
I've just read Corky's letter and now this. I feel nauseous.

Earlier I was reading about Mulroney and Schreiber and who knew what when and everyone has written a book about anyway and it was comical but the centre of world (Ottawa) is riveted.

Then I'm reminded of the film "The Corporation" and a visibly excited Michael Walker from the Fraser Institute, going on about how everything should be able to be bought and sold, every river, every tree, everything. He liked that idea a lot.

It's pretty obvious that the Campbell Gov. does not expect much outcry from the people of BC. He just walks right over us. Makes laws when we are not looking. Ignores the SC when he is caught out. His arrogance is unbounded. And we all wait for someone to stand up to him and make him stop.

And you can't put the genie back in the bottle. God knows what he's put into place to continue to run even if he's not around to manipulate the controls behind the curtain. And you know he's going to walk away from all of this with that tight assed smile of his. The same one he used when he apoligised for drunk driving. I'd love to know who was in the SUV with him.

Geo
 
"I'd love to know who was in the SUV with him."

From what I've read, no one was in the SUV with him, but he was heading over to her place where she was waiting. Interesting spelling slip in the above comment also - forgetting the "r" in Gord. I imagine Gordo leaves it out in his mind, all the time.

I wonder how much it cost to get that radio personality and his wife, that were hosting when God got drunk, to shut up? But only in BC is it none of the people's business where the premier was going when he gets arrested for drunk driving in another country - unless of course it had been an NDP premier.

Or, I guess it would also have been sprayed all over the headlines that Gordon Wilson was on his way to see Judy Tyabi, if something like that had happened while the superior Gordon was a possible obstacle to the evil Gordon's hijacking of the BC LIEberal Party.
 
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