Friday, December 21, 2007
FOI shows Public Affairs Bureau officer reported to BC govt on Basi-Virk case about NDP MLAs, Gary Collins at Court - but what was cut?
By BILL TIELEMAN,
24 HOURS - 21 December 2007
A Public Affairs Bureau officer reported to the B.C. government about media questions and the attendance of NDP MLAs and a lawyer representing former B.C. Liberal Finance Minister Gary Collins at pre-trial hearings in the B.C. Legislature raid case, a 24 hours Freedom Of Information request shows.
24 hours first disclosed Stuart Chase's attendance in May 14 and it became the topic of an entire question period in the B.C. Legislature, with Attorney-General Wally Oppal wrongly insisting Chase's duties were to assist the media and public but refusing to release his reports.
In fact, the 100-page FOI of Chase's reports and notes shows that he told the government who attended court and what questions media asked prosecutors and defence, as well as extensively detailing the case, in which former provincial aides David Basi and Bob Virk face breach of trust charges related to the 2003 privatization of B.C. Rail.
"Note that two NDP MLAs were in and out of the courtroom today, taking notes on what was being said," the April 27 report reads. "As far as the media is concerned, other than talking amongst themselves about the AG's new nickname, there were no comments or questions from media after the hearing today."
Oppal's nickname became "StoneWally" for not answering questions.
And Chase kept an eye out for 24 hours.
"The Canucks/GM Place ownership trial has started today, and it's creating a media frenzy that's dividing attentions away from the Basi trial. Bill Tielman, [sic] even, has barely been in the court room," reads Chase's April 30th report.
The FOI request had many sections removed. 24 hours has appealed that decision to the FOI Commissioner.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION NOT PUBLISHED IN 24 HOURS
Chase and about 200 Public Affairs Bureau staff are political appointees hired by Order-In-Council – that is, the B.C. cabinet – and are employed “at pleasure” until their appointments are rescinded.
That was a change made by the B.C. Liberals in their first term - previously most government communications staff were public servants hired through the normal process and protected by their BC Government and Service Employees Union contract. Now they can be fired at any point by cabinet - which realistically means the Premier's Office.
Chase's reports are extremely detailed - and he shows a good eye for courtroom coverage.
In one dispatch Chase notes that president Justice Elizabeth Bennett was “visibly irritated” by a lack of disclosure of evidence to the defence and in another quotes Virk’s lawyer Kevin McCullough as alleging there might be “a privileged relationship that seems to exist between the RCMP and the B.C. Liberals.”
The severed sections were ruled "out of scope" - that is, out of the scope of my FOI request and therefore not disclosed.
But those severed sections come at very interesting junctures.
For example, here is what Chase wrote in handwritten notes dated April 23, 2007 leading up to an exclusion:
"March 29, 2006 News from Pilothouse P.A ." - the next six lines are whited-out in the FOI.
In an article I wrote for The Tyee on that day's court hearing there were a number of defence allegations made, focusing on dirty tricks directed from staff in the office of Premier Gordon Campbell, in particular stacking radio talk shows with phony guests.
But there were also many references to Pilothouse Public Affairs and two of its partners, Erik Bornmann and Brian Kieran - both of whom are alleged by police to have provided bribes to David Basi and Bob Virk - and both of whom are now Crown witnesses not facing any charges. A third Pilothouse partner, Jamie Elmhirst, has been subpoenaed to testify in the trial.
Among the allegations made by the defence that day which I reported were:
"That key Crown witnesses against Basi and Virk -- provincial lobbyists Erik Bornmann and Brian Kieran -- were allowed by the RCMP and Special Prosecutor Bill Berardino to continue their lucrative lobbying business even after disclosing that they had "made serious bribes" to the two aides to obtain government information on the B.C. Rail deal.
That the RCMP knew Bornmann had lied to the media when he issued a statement saying he had been cleared of any wrongdoing but did nothing about it, not informing the government of the truth.
That there was "obviously some sort of deal" between Bornmann and the RCMP and Special Prosecutor to allow his lobbying to continue because he was acting as the key Crown witness."
And in another report dated Tuesday May 15, 2007 at 9:30 a.m. the initial 12 lines of Chase's report are removed. In notes from that afternoon over a full page is severed.
The first line from the 9:30 a.m. report that is included in the FOI reads:
"Bud Bishop was aware that Debrechyre had relationship by family to Kelly Reichert, only by way of the letter. First troubling issue to McCullough is the BC Liberal Party involvement in the issue. Recalled a comm b/t Reichert and Campbell that outlined charges which would be laid."
This section apparently refers to RCMP Sargeant Bud Bishop and RCMP Inspector Kevin DeBruyckere, who was in charge of the investigation despite being the brother-in-law of Kelly Reichert - who is the BC Liberal Party's Executive Director.
The "comm b/t" appears to be the communication between Reichert and Premier Gordon Campbell about possible additional charges that the RCMP were contemplating laying against David Basi over political dirty tricks he allegedly was involved in. Reichert, the defence alleged based on evidence disclosed to them, asked the RCMP not to lay charges as it would be embarrassing to the party. No charges were in fact laid.
Here is what I wrote for 24 hours about the court hearing May 15:
"Virk's defence lawyer Kevin McCullough alleged that the RCMP consulted B.C. Liberal Party Executive Director Kelly Reichert, who told Premier Gordon Campbell that criminal charges were recommended against Basi.McCullough alleged an "effort by Reichert to not have the charges approved. That reeks of political interference."
The allegations come from a June 24, 2005 RCMP report titled: "Kelly Reichert - Do Not Disclose."
McCullough said a recorded RCMP interview with Reichert was stopped but a conversation continued.
"After the tape was turned off Mr. Reichert was asked if the Liberal Party was comfortable being the victim in three payments to Basi. Reichert said frankly any good to the party by prosecutions would be outweighed by the embarrassment to the party, with the issue of the load of manure dumped on Jim Sinclair's lawn and sending people to the B.C. Federation of Labour convention," McCullough alleged.
Sinclair told 24 hours there were protesters at the Federation convention but that his home was never attacked. Sinclair asked why the RCMP would allegedly consult the Liberal Party but not the Federation."
Chase's notes are again whited-out in the afternoon session of court on May 15, starting just after McCullough tells Justice Elizabeth Bennett that he needs Bornmann's lawyer George McIntosh in court for cross-examination regarding the agreement reached with Special Prosecutor Bill Berardino that resulted in Bornmann becoming the key Crown witness and not facing any charges.
The severed section lasts for 36 lines, then continues with: "Letter noting Collins was not advised of surveillance - March 24, 2004. Facts are inconsistent with reasoning of Sgt. Debruckyer given the fact that he had knowledge of wiretaps. Mentioned the meeting w Claude Richmond again, w took place in Kamloops to get Richmond's permission to search the house."
So what was said in BC Supreme Court on May 15 that the Public Affairs Bureau wanted whited out between those two disclosed segments?
The FOI appeal may reveal that but fortunately, we can get some immediate idea from my own courtroom notes, which do not mirror Chase's but may be informative.
That afternoon defence lawyer McCullough was exploring the details of the Crown's deal with Erik Bornmann.
McCullough quoted from "RCMP Sgt. Finner's notes" in court [possibly Sgt. Pat Finner]:
"Mr. Bornmann said he'd received a letter from Mr. Berardino. I was aware that Mr. Berardino had spoken to the media and said that Mr. Bornmann's interpretation may be misleading to the public."
McCullough then drew his own conclusion: "Mr. Berardino, apparently was contacting the media directly. We have no disclosure of that....he was concerned that Mr. Bornmann was taking advantage of that self-exoneration so he could lobby, lobby, lobby and make money, money, money. So he could go on to a law career."
There were other topics that afternoon but Bornmann's deal was the main one. Why references to it were removed from the FOI request as "out of scope" is just another puzzling question in a very puzzling case.
On Bill Tieleman's web-site, G West said...
... remember that 'Chase' was being paid through the ministry of Finance.
I think this little info gathering exercise was not just something that the AG knew about ... the whole Cabinet must have been aware exactly 'what' was going on. The Attorney General's utterly lame attempt to spin this out as part of a 'media-helping' exercise attached to the Picton trial was disingenuous at the time. - In the context of what Stuart Chase was actually doing - and that he was appointed on OIC makes it eminently clear that this was a 'political' exercise from the start....
And, to get back to that quote at the start of the item on your own blog … “sayin’ it’s your job don’t make it right!”
Bill: Very special thanks for getting this Freedom of Information report (well, most of it) for distribution.
Couldn't help comparing it with a CanWest "report" today about former Victoria Police Chief Paul Battershill. Why would CanWest keep rushing into print to tell us that the RCMP report isn't -- is not -- ready yet? The subject of this ominous-sounding RCMP review is some allegations of "misdemeanors" in personnel matters? It leads me to think that Victoria's police chief must be a good guy. That's the feeling I get, after reading the West Coast CanWesters.
Yeah. And didn't Chief Battershill's lawyer's office get broken into? No further news on that, of course.
Looking forward to your news of what was blacked out on the Stuart Chase reports, Bill. Which, come to think of it, we the people paid for. - BC Mary.
And 3 cheers for Bill Tieleman, who persisted with that Freedom of Information request.
Betcha won't see THAT in the CanWest media!!
A typical GREEN announcement from Gordo and Company:
Lately we've had the Texada LNG terminal, transhipping LNG to the US at the least risk to the US. We always take their risks for them, like on September 11, 2001, when we hosted all those air passengers mostly on the East Coast, that the US pretended were possibly terrorists.
They knew who was and wasn't terrorists, how else would they know whose ID to place on top of the rubble at Ground Zero and to allow access to air space for Saudis, particularly bin Ladens so they could leave the country without being debriefed.
Scary New Year coming up...........
I may be being overcome with the Christmas Spirit, but maybe I should be grateful that I have a government that cares enough to use my money to ferret out information and then protect me from that which may "upset" me.
I mean if there is bad greedy stuff going on, I wouldn't want the knowledge of it to distract me from enjoying the Olympics or Gordo's glazed smile.
Maybe only Gordo and his cronies really understand the "real world" and why bother us with the details? Think of it like sausage, it's good, until you see how they make it! Prepare to be ground up for the next batch - it's all for the greatest good - the enrichment of Gordo, his cronies and the rest of the elites! Urbanize the ALR, strip mine where-ever possible and get every tree left by the beetle. Wild life - quaint at best.
Think of the development bucks waiting for the people with the vision to bulldoze the whole lower mainland and start over!!! Makes seismic upgrading so last century!
That's a remarkably Christmasy thank you ... with all the good meanings. Greatly appreciated, I must say.
Thanks so much.
I too bless the others who are working so hard for British Columbia: Bill Tieleman, G West, Kootcoot, Lynx, RossK at Pacific Gazette, and some wonderful Anon-y-Mice. Like you, 10:01.
I think we're all working in the realm where political parties don't matter because they don't work. In that sense, it's been a pleasure doing this web-site. The only way I can think of, to explain, is that the Province of British Columbia has been beaten up and abused long enough.
Sadly, the work is eroding the image of a democratic free press publishing what's important for the greatest number of people. In B.C., that's so far from true. I regret that, and hope it's only temporary.
For example, David Radler was once owner-publisher of Vancouver Sun and The Province, an uncomfortable fact seldom mentioned in CanWest's B.C. I saw it in Toronto Star online.
For me, CanWest's worst moment wasn't Vancouver Sun managing editor's double-cross, it's not entirely their constant harping on Fast Ferries as "fiasco" etc. Their most deplorable moment was when they failed to report that one of their colleagues had been subjected to professional intimidation by means of an office-break-in and smash-up. An incredible, glaring, ugly lapse of decency.
But I have a greater-than-ever admiration for the dauntless journalists who (a) see the truth and (b) make sure it reaches the population it affects. God bless 'em all.
Right now, I'm working on a tribute to that wonderful person who stood alone, in all this country, and told us that, yes, court WAS in session in Courtroom 54 on December 17 and 18 and exactly what happened. He alone.
It was an almost-perfect media world when Bill T. got back, tried to find out what went on in Studio 54, hit a blank wall, asked me, I forwarded Anon 2:40's reports, Bill's pro-journalist mind worked it out and confirmed that yes, it's a guy, and the guy's facts hold up.
It's a great pleasure to have news like this to write about.
Very best wishes, 10:01.
But really, does this stuff not have the word 'plumber' written all over it.
I mean, following the spectators in the courtroom's comings and goings as much (or perhaps more?) than the actual courtroom proceedings themselves.....?
If this is true this entire thing has an entirely brand new odour of conspiracy about it.
A "treasure trove of information" has surfaced lately. Mary, the last week or two has been fun keeping up with the latest from Studio 54. Many more F.O.I.s I hope are in the works. I am looking forward to more on this messengers detaled notes. Hats off to Bill for keeping these clowns in check.
Mary, here's a link to info on Stuart Chase, most of it known but the article on the sidebar from Saltspring News is interesting. Again, most of it known but even more intetesting in light of recent events. Especially in terms of Wally Oppal, and as G West notes above that the Public Affairs Bureau came under control of the Ministry of Finance and as this article makes clear, thus under Carole Taylor. It also mentions the signature of Gordon Campbell on Chase'a appointment:
"Therefore, I started to look for more recent amendments to General Appointment OIC 656. I found one, OIC 3 from January 18, 2007 that changed two appointments and added an additional three individuals to the names on 656 - all nicely signed by the Premier but no Stuart Chase. And then, finally, pay dirt: OIC 63, dated February 15, 2007 which identified one Stuart Chase, Junior Public Affairs Officer, Ministry of Finance, Applied Leadership pay grade Category A. One of 10 names in the order, Stuart being one of the six brand new appointments. Again nicely autographed by the Premier. "
Seems Bill's little exercise in freedom of information and 'full disclosure' is getting some wider notice on the web even if it still ISN'T on the radar in the MSM.
This may turn out to be a nice little surprise for Gordon Campbell's vision concept of 'open and accountable' government, eh?
What G West said on Bill's blog was: "but remember that 'Chase' was being paid through the ministry of Finance." That is a much more accurate wording than mine... the use of the word "through" an important one, not to be overlooked.... and an important distinction to make.
We only have to harken back to Charlie Smith's article on that infamous memo from the premier's office that stated where the real "control" over government ministries would lie.
Did we ever find out just who, exactly he is working for?
After all, wasn't that 'the' story of the week in Studio 54, a story that British Columbians did not see, hear or read about because there was, apparently, not one single member of the media in attendance.
And given that there were no media to 'assist' is it any surprise that there was no one from the PAB there to 'chase' them down?
For anyone who thinks that the Campbell Government didn't give away BC Rail think about this: First Quarter Financial Reports delivered Sep.14,2004 states that "$52 million of the transaction gain relates to the operating lease for the right-of-way and rail bed assets, and will be spread over the term of the lease."
We handed over $750 Million in assets from a profitable company (they had no subsidies since 1993)for a return of $52 Million spread over 90 years. That comes to $577,000 per year. And by the way the CN cut rail service from Prince George to North Van by a full two thirds.
Thanks, gary e ... did you find this information in a Hansard debate between Joy MacPhail and (I think) Kevin Falcon??
""but remember that 'Chase' was being paid through the ministry of Finance."
Wouldn't the above be "ultimately" true (thus, no lie, how unusual for these guys) for anyone getting paid for anything by the Government of BC - Money = Ministry of Finance.
Regarding the early (in the BC Rail saga) possible "influence" or outright "obstruction" - what about the decision to NOT go to Maui while the iron was hot to interview the drunk and the ferret at the time of the raids themselves?
I thought it was Rich Coleman (then being whatever John Les pretends to be these days - like the provincial version of Stockwell Day) that met with the RCMP in a hanger in Kamloops just before the raids. But that is just a tidbit from my dim memory. Or was it Norm whomever?
I'm beginning to think FOI's were invented to do the opposite of what they pretend. Instead of "open" government with the public's info available, one has to file an FOI, which lets the government know what you want to know and, (just) incidentally what they need to hide, shred, disappear, redact, or just claim doesn't exist!
It is undeniable that some information that was once freely available online 24/7 or at Government agencies, is now only available by means of making an FOI. The added benefit to the hider of information under this protocol is that the seeker has to know a certain amount already about just what he/she is seeking in order to be specific enough in the request. Definitely not an improvement from the seeker's perspective. It's comparable to the difference between open stacks and card catalog access only to library resources. BTW even the cost and lack of ease of access to our Provincial Archives (our common-shared and paid for heritage) has been raised under the Open Government of Fatso (Gordo in Spanish) Campbell and his Orwellian/Corporate/let them eat Olympic Cake regime.
Funny how it works the other way though, when the Education Ministry wanted permission to use a photo of mine in some of their materials credit for the photo was all the compensation they thought appropriate. But I wonder if their lawyers would come after me for using a photo from OUR archives without payment? Who knows, maybe my photo is now part of the archives and I owe royalties.