Sunday, April 05, 2009
Robin Mathews: The Basi, Virk, and Basi Case Thus Far. Part One
The last kick at the can of the Basi, Virk, and Basi case - until May 4 - happened on Friday, April 3.
There were strange things about it on that closing day which have not been discussed in the excellent reporting by the Globe and Mail and Bill Tieleman on his blog, and elsewhere.
Some of those things concern the conduct of the presiding judge, Madam Justice Elizabeth Bennett.
As others have pointed out, Mr. McCullough for the Defence attempted to make a strong case that abuse of process may have happened; that the premier, Gordon Campbell, may have been interfering politically in the conduct of the case; that he might be using the Attorney General's office "as a political arm in the matter"; that a deputy attorney general may have been in conflict of interest, undertaking supervision of two conflicting obligations - remuneration for Defence counsel and deciding upon release of cabinet documents relevant to the case, the latter which formerly (until changed by the premier, after more than three years) was in the hands of the deputy cabinet secretary.
Mr. McCullough pointed out that - apparently - as Defence counsel called for the release of documents, some government personnel in related responsible positions changed. And he argued that the deputy attorney general (in charge of document disclosure) gave the appearance of speaking publicly in political support of the premier and cabinet (specifically in an interview with Michael Smyth in February, 2008). Between June 2005 and March 2007 there were 50 meetings or phone calls between Campbell and Seckel [the deputy attorney general referred to].
Mr. McCullough spoke forcibly. His argument - in any court - should have been received with seriousness, however much the Court may (reasonably) have wished to question the logic or basis of his claims.
As I have said, this is probably the most important public case in British Columbia history because the conduct of high government officers is in question and may involve criminal activity.
I mean higher public officers than the three accused.
Every aspect of the case requires, I insist, the most careful attention of the presiding judge.
I do not believe she showed the kind of careful attention required. Look first at a portion of the day reported by Bill Tieleman.
"McCullough then produced a copy of Campbell's personal agenda and said that between June 2005 and March 2007 there were 50 meetings or phone calls between Campbell and Seckel, drawing a skeptical response from Bennett.'
'Having worked for many years in the attorney general's ministry, that's not uncommon,' Bennett said.
'You got calls from the premier?' McCullough asked.
'No, but I wasn't the deputy attorney general', Bennett replied."
Whether it is common or not for the premier to communicate in the manner suggested with a deputy attorney general is not the point at question. What is at question is that the premier appointed as supervisor of disclosure someone with whom he had much contact and who Defence suggested responded publicly as a political champion of the premier. Those are matters which the judge might well have probed. She did not. Instead, it appears to me that she de-railed that line of thinking in favour of a near irrelevance.
Look at a part of the day as reported by Mark Hume (Globe and Mail). The matter in question was the apparent conflict the deputy attorney general engaged in as both the decider of whether government documents were covered by cabinet privilege and as the maker of decisions about "how much funding would be available for the defence of Dave Basi and Bob Virk"....
"Mr. McCullough said the system sent an unspoken message to the defence , which he put in these words: 'You push too hard, the tap gets turned off.'"
"That comment caused Madam Justice Elizabeth Bennett to respond with a smile and raised eyebrows."
'You're still here,' she said."
Her response was probably meant to be witty. It seems to me irresponsible. For if the Campbell forces decided to try to coerce Defence by creating a system which might threaten some who fill the role of Defence counsel, the point is not that the Defence counsel at work refused to accept the possibility of threat. The point is that coercion may have been intended.
Once again, Madam Justice Elizabeth Bennett might well have probed that allegation in an attempt to discover if there was anything like a basis for it. She might have shown, and determined, there was no basis. Or she might simply have said to Mr. McCullough that she had taken note of his very serious allegation . But that is not what she did. She joked the matter aside.
This is not a "normal" case. It is special because it is a case in which the most important 'principal' in the case is the unspoken one - the people of British Columbia. That should force upon the consciousness of Madam Justice Elizabeth Bennett a need to exercise care and scrupulousness of behaviour that I, for one, have not seen.
The case is special, too, because the greatest power involved in the case is a government whose actions are marked by sleaze, secrecy, manipulation, and betrayal of trust. In the light of those facts, Madam Justice Elizabeth Bennett should, I believe, over-reach herself in demonstration of independence and concern for transparent judicial behaviour. In my eyes, she has not done that.
Finally, outside the immediate events of Friday, April 3, I earlier wrote a letter to Madam Justice Elizabeth Bennett (February 5, 2009) in which I raised, again, the allegation that the Attorney General of the day who appointed William Berardino was at some time in his career a partner or working colleague or other of the Special Crown Prosecutor he appointed, seemingly opening the possibility of a reasonable appearance of bias. I asked her what protocols exist to give clear assurance that Special Crown Prosecutors are unquestionably independent and unbiased.
Madam Justice Elizabeth Bennett has neither answered my question nor, even, acknowledged my letter.
Thanks for the report. I didn't see this.
What the heck do you suppose the message was?
What is Caroly Taylor's "loves to hate song?" and in steps PAB with an answer before she can reply......
"Then I noticed something curious underneath that official's e-mail back to me. He'd forgotten to delete the "tracking history" of where my original question had been dispatched. It showed I'd been vetted by the premier's office, one of his senior aides, a deputy minister and then handed back to the mighty Public Affairs Bureau.
What's the Public Affairs Bureau? Well, PAB is essentially an in-house information spin machine, housed in the legislature's basement.
It has a $28-million budget. It has 223 full-time news spinners. And it has high-tech systems that allow them to monitor all media in the province and transcribe it in almost real time. If a political thought is broadcast or printed in this province, chances are PAB has found it and combed it for any political import."
As for the politicians being there, that also was orchestrated just like the Glen Clark affair, but to have the opposite effect. And after that blatant political show I now am personally convinced that the RCMP are in bed with the liberals.
And that virtually qualifies as incest, considering that they are "family."