Sunday, November 23, 2008
Up To Their Armpits in Sleaze
Up To Their Armpits In Sleaze: the RCMP, the BC Rail Scandal, the B.C. Courts, and the Criminal Case Against David Basi, Bobby Virk, and Aneal Basi, former B.C. cabinet aides.
By Robin Mathews
"If the police do not or are not allowed to operate independently under the law and treat every citizen equally, the integrity of the entire justice system is compromised." (Paul Palango, Dispersing The Fog. Inside The Secret World Of Ottawa And The RCMP, Key Porter, 2008, page 2.)
This case is about Gordon Campbell cabinet aides variously accused of Breach of Trust and Fraud, chiefly concerning the highly dubious "sale" of BC Rail by the B.C. cabinet of Gordon Campbell. The case throws into question the role and legitimacy of the Campbell government.
On November 24 hearings towards the trial of Basi, Virk, and Basi in the Supreme Court of British Columbia will begin two or three weeks devoted in large part to finding the basis upon which materials are being withheld from disclosure to the Defence. Significant among those materials are hundreds of items concerning the activities of the RCMP.
The RCMP is the federal police force, and it is a "contract" police force in B.C. and many other provinces. In both cases it answers to the Commissioner in Ottawa, and its members do not act under an oath of loyalty to Canada - but of loyalty to the RCMP. In B.C., for instance, RCMP behaviour is not governed by the B.C. cabinet but by Headquarters in Ottawa.
That apparently unsatisfactory situation suits many. Paul Palango expresses surprise that many provincial politicians seem to like the arrangement, but as a way of preventing action on criminal police activity it serves well. The Robert Dziekanski death in Vancouver International Airport at the hands of RCMP officers, for instance, still rests in limbo more than a year after the shocking, partially filmed event. Jurisdictions criss-cross and entangle. The Crown can't seem to put very simple evidence together to launch a case. The Attorney General is, apparently, for that reason, helpless to get his Inquiry started. Very convenient. If there's a cozy relation between cabinet and RCMP, it isn't disturbed by the Attorney General or the Solicitor General having to come down on wayward RCMP officers. The RCMP can investigate itself and fudge and fumble and procrastinate and delay -- until the public forgets.
Nevertheless, William Elliott, RCMP Commissioner phoned some of the men involved with Dziekanski's death and sympathized with them. He made no contact with Dziekanski's mother. And Gordon Campbell met top B.C. RCMP officer, Gary Bass, by accident and spent time expressing his sympathy for the RCMP in the matter!
Paul Palango demonstrates that the RCMP covers-up, attacks opponents, misleads, and delays - parts of a systematic approach to its activities.
Delay has been the operative word in RCMP disclosure in the Basi, Virk, and Basi case. Almost a full year followed the Search Warrant "raids" on B.C. legislature offices on December 28, 2003 before the accused were charged. Among pages of Affidavit material released at the request of Leonard Krog, Justice critic for the NDP, a memo written during that year from George Copley, lawyer for the cabinet, records that he was asked by Special Crown Prosecutor William Berardino not to mention the already shaping delay when the two of them appeared before Associate Chief Justice Patrick Dohm (who also had the discretion not to mention the delay).
In the two years since pre-trial hearings began Defence has fought against delay after delay with applications for disclosure that have been badly received, shoddily treated, partially - and often inadequately - answered. Many of the requests were for disclosure of RCMP notes and other materials. To this observer in the gallery, the RCMP seems to have been a major source of delay and obstruction. The requests were, of course, made through the Special Crown Prosecutor.
Madam Justice Elizabeth Bennett, presiding judge, appears to this observer to have done very, very little to insist that the Special Crown Prosecutor and the RCMP produce materials in a full, fair, and timely fashion. The quotation from Paul Palango at the head of this column points out that a biased police force "compromises" "the integrity of the entire justice system". I believe that may well be what we have witnessed in the Basi, Virk, and Basi case.
It appeared evident to me that the presiding judge needed to fall heavily upon the Special Crown Prosecutor and the RCMP. She didn't. Was that because she had to presume that the RCMP was working with unquestionable integrity when, perhaps, it was not?
Or did she have other reasons?
Whatever the motivations of the Honourable Madam Justice Elizabeth Bennett, the cast of characters involved does not inspire confidence.
The Special Crown Prosecutor, William Berardino, chosen for objectivity and distance from the principals in the case, is alleged to have been (earlier) a business associate of Attorney General Geoff Plant who made the Berardino appointment.
As the 2005 Provincial Election approached Plant appeared to develop a passion to manage a small, tin-pot, haywire airline - and he left politics. Christie Clark, Deputy Premier and Minister of Education, followed suit. Her brother had been found to possess apparently confidential government documents; and she discovered a passion to spend time with her family. She, too, left politics; though a very few months after that she discovered enough time on her hands to try to beat Sam Sullivan as NPA candidate for mayor of Vancouver, with her husband, Mark Marissen, as campaign manager. Marissen moved on to be Stephane Dion's campaign manager, and is now in that position for Michael Ignatieff.
Gary Collins, finance minister, and someone the RCMP was clearly investigating for a time (before announcing that no elected person was under investigation) followed Christie Clark. The passion that he discovered leading to his withdrawal is not as clear as the passions of the other two. Maybe he simply had a passion to save his skin.
(Remember that almost as the boxes of records and the computer hard drives were being dragged from the legislature offices and as homes and offices in Vancouver and Victoria were being searched on December 28, 2003, the RCMP made the surprising, clairvoyant announcement that no elected officials were being investigated or would be! Then the force took almost a full year to look at the materials gathered and charged three cabinet aides - whom one might reasonably think were following the orders of their superiors - but no elected people.)
Earlier Madam Justice Elizabeth Bennett presided over the criminal case against former premier Glen Clark for, it was alleged, breach of trust in the matter of having an insignificant sun deck built at his small East End Vancouver house. Clark resigned as premier because of the investigation in 1999 and was acquitted in 2002. The RCMP reported to me that they had gathered 28 volumes of evidentiary material in the matter. And they wrongfully (by the judgement of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP) terminated the investigation I asked for into their delays and investigating techniques.
Perhaps something of a slow learner, Madame Justice Bennett sat for 136 days on the Glen Clark case (and the 28 volumes of RCMP-gathered evidentiary material) before acquitting him of any and all suspicions of wrong-doing. She did not apologize for seeing him dragged through hot asphalt and an unending Right Wing Press and Media assault which destroyed his political career. Rather - in what I judge was a thoroughly imprudent judicial remark - she scolded Clark for being imprudent in his choice of friends.
The first complaints against Clark regarding his sun-deck came - surprise - from the constituency office of Gordon Campbell. A key officer in the group investigating Clark was one RCMP sergeant, Peter Montague. He moved to the group after his stint in the never-fully-investigated (incredibly mismanaged and probably criminally conducted) Gustafsen Lake stand-off pitting a few dozen First Nations people and their supporters against a military-like gathering of RCMP and alleged army support (400 RCMP, helicopters, armored personnel carriers, etc.), described by Maclean's Magazine as "the largest paramilitary operation in B.C. history".
Peter Montague is recorded as saying (on a to-be training film at the site) that the RCMP are experts in "disinformation" and "smear". Does that statement bear any relation to the conduct of the action against Clark? At any rate, Montague is alleged to have been wooed more than once by Gordon Campbell to consider running for provincial office as a Liberal.
Those deeply disturbing facts have to open questions about the extent to which, if at all, the RCMP in British Columbia is a biased instrument of reactionary government. Beverley Busson was made acting Commissioner of the RCMP when Zaccardelli resigned the post, meaning that she had to be acceptable to the Harperites. Then she was placed, in March of 2008, on a RCMP Reform Implementation Council to supervise the overhaul of the force.
That Council is almost guaranteed to do nothing about significant reform of the force. It is a gathering of Harperclones. As Paul Palango makes perfectly clear in his book, Dispersing The Fog, Harper is working to cement political control of the force and to make it - in my terms - a Personal Palace Army. Palango claims that the RCMP in Ottawa now makes no statement that is not vetted by its political masters.
In the years that concern us Commissioner of the RCMP in Ottawa was the now-disgraced Guliano Zaccardelli, reported to be a dictatorial, lavish-spending autocrat who practiced favouritism and demanded sycophants around him. Those who did not toady were banished. Paul Palango calls him the Emperor Commissioner. Zaccardelli not only fell under the sword of the Maher Arar investigation but was tracked by allegations of - at least - knowing about misappropriations and other indiscretions.
Such was Zaccardelli's self-confidence (if not arrogance) that in 2006 he tied himself in knots before the parliamentary committee on Maher Arar and he was asked by MP Mark Holland "on which day you perjured yourself before this committee, today or September 28?"
In the years covered by the BC Rail Scandal the role of top RCMP officer in B.C. was filled first by Beverley Busson and now by Gary Bass. Of Beverley Busson, Paul Palango writes that: "Under her command in British Columbia, the RCMP was all but a disaster" (p. 513).
Bass was, apparently, one of Zaccardelli's 'favourites', and was made B.C.'s top officer in 2006. During the regime of the two named RCMP top officers, the reputation of the RCMP in B.C. sank to new lows. Officers whom British Columbians often believed engaged in criminal acts were shuffled into the shadows. Those accused of lesser offences were often placed on paid leave and then quietly returned and sometimes promoted. Almost none ever faced serious discipline or expulsion. The total inaction on the Robert Dziekanski taser death is just one of the more recent achievements of the RCMP in B.C.
Beverley Busson is reported to have attended at least one RCMP BC Rail Scandal meeting. Strangely, however, though there were, apparently, communications between RCMP officers, high civil servants, and members of the Gordon Campbell cabinet before the Search Warrant raids, records (even routine notes) were rarely kept. The oversight appears to have been general.
Busson filled in as Commissioner in Ottawa until William Elliott, the first civilian was named RCMP Commissioner. Who is William Elliott? In all the available information about his arriving in the Deputy Prime Minister's office in 1988 (Mulroney times), and moving rapidly until the departure of Mulroney in 1992, one key piece of information is missing.
William Elliott is alleged to be a close relation of Brian Mulroney - which would explain his rapid rise, then his more-or-less treading of water during Liberal years, and then his rocket rise to Commissioner of the RCMP, especially since Mulroney was appointed to Harper's transition team in 2006. Palango records that "Mulroney would become one of Harper's closest confidantes and most trusted advisers". (p. 47)
But no one seems to have been able to pin down the claim of Elliott's relation to Mulroney. And so I wrote directly to Stockwell Day, Minister in charge of Public Safety, and to William Elliott himself asking the pertinent questions. Is he a relation of Brian Mulroney? If so, what relation?
Both men to whom I addressed the questions are public servants who have an obligation to communicate with Canadians. Much time has passed and neither Day nor Elliott will even acknowledge my inquiries. From that silence, I presume consent - meaning the two men refuse to answer the question because they would have to confirm that the new, civilian Commissioner of the RCMP is in fact a political lackey so close to the Inner Inner political circle of Stephen Harper that he is a relation of Brian Mulroney.
That does not bode well for either policing or justice in Canada. In fact, it places the whole population under threat of living in a more and more dangerous Police State.
On Monday, November 24, two new faces will appear in the courtroom of Madam Justice Elizabeth Bennett to participate in the pre-trial hearings related to the charges against Basi, Virk, and Basi. Both men are concerned with disclosure of RCMP materials. G. Stark represents the federal Department of Justice. W. P. Riley represents the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (essentially concerned with litigation involving the federal government).
The two men may well respond to the desire of Defence counsel to understand the role of the RCMP in the BC Rail Scandal as it relates to their clients in such a way as to provide one more depressing chapter to the story related here.
This piece is beautiful. More and more we see evidence of wrongdoing in this government. But with this piece I see the Legislature Raids appearing on a National level. And the now defunct thought that the Special Prosecutor is acting on behalf of the people of the province and keeping the government at arms length is sickening.
I have wondered many times in this case if there was anything we, the people, could do. I really want charges laid. Maybe someone out there has some advise along those lines.