After dragging on for seven long years and over two provincial elections—and on the eve of the former finance minister Gary Collins's scheduled testimony in court—the B.C. Rail corruption trial suddenly ended.
The following day, Premier Gordon Campbell stepped forward and condemned two former B.C. Liberal insiders, Dave Basi and Bob Virk, as criminals acting on their own. Campbell also announced that the case was over.
The B.C. Liberals have a knack for this kind of manoeuvre. Again and again when senior B.C. Liberal officials have gotten into trouble, their underlings ended up taking the blame.
Former solicitor general John Les was investigated by the RCMP for allegedly profiting from changing the land use his farmland while he was the mayor of Chilliwack. The case ended up with a former city staffer being charged and Les being exonerated.
Then another solicitor general, Kash Heed, was investigated by the RCMP for cheating in the 2009 election. The special prosecutor only charged Heed’s campaign manager and financial agent.
Intruigingly, a court document revealed by the Vancouver Sun two weeks ago stated that the RCMP believed that 15 offences were allegedly committed or were suspected to have been committed. Numbers 12 and 13 were alleged violations of section 266 of the Election Act—publishing a misleading report. Offence number 12 was linked to Satpal Johl (the financial agent), whereas number 13 was linked to Heed.
Although the 121-page document did not indicate that Johl or Heed knew about alleged illegal dirty tricks beforehand, the special prosecutor decided to charge Johl and cleared Heed. (Please note that this case is scheduled to be heard in court in November.)
When I heard from the media about the sudden end to the B.C. Rail corruption trial because the special prosecutor had made an agreement with the accused, I couldn’t help but wonder, "What is the problem with our prosecution system? How come every time, it’s only the underlings who have to take the blame? Is that merely a coincidence or is there more going on behind the scenes?"
Unless an independent public inquiry is conducted into the B.C. Rail case, like the one that investigated the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at the airport, it is difficult for people with common sense to believe what Gordon Campbell and the B.C. Liberals are telling us.
First, one of the former ministerial aides, Basi, was involved in two corruption cases: one was taking bribes in the sale of B.C. Rail and the second was taking bribes from a developer for helping change the land-use designation of farmland in Greater Victoria.
Basi took $25,695 in the first case and $50,000 in the second.
Just before Collins, the former finance minister and Basi's former boss, was to appear in court, the special prosecutor made an extraordinarily attractive but unreasonable offer to the accused.
If Basi and the other ministerial aide, Virk, were to plead guilty, there would be no jail sentence, just two years of house arrest (and they could still go to work, go shopping, go to the gym, take their kids to sporting events, live with their families, and sleep with their wives), and 150 hours of community work.
The provincial government would waive the accused's $6-million legal fee and acquit Basi's cousin Aneal Basi. In return, they would be required to sign a nondisclosure agreement not to reveal anything related to the case and their past work for the B.C. Liberal government.
People have to wonder why the B.C. Liberal government would table such an attractive deal in exchange for a guilty plea and nondisclosure.
Abusing public trust and taking bribes in two corruption cases—and the result? No jail, no financial penalty, and legal fees waived. With such a precedent set, would it not encourage other civil servants to cross the line?
For ordinary citizens who evade tax, the Canada Revenue Agency would seek penalties and interest. So why is a corrupt official only required to repay the sum he has pocketed?
Waiving the legal fee is simply absurd. According to a Globe and Mail report, Basi held some properties. In 2003, Basi with his wife and mother held four houses. In 2004, it was reported that Basi bought five acres of land at Shawnigan Lake, as well as a house in Esquimalt valued at $280,000.
The media have also reported that Basi had signed over his family house (now valued over half a million dollars) as collateral to pay his legal fee. Thus, what the Attorney General Mike de Jong said—that there is nothing the B.C. government can collect from the convicted—is most unconvincing.
Even if the government may not have collected the entire sum, it could still have gotten some money back. By not taking their wealth and property to repay their legal fees, it is as if the government is giving a sum of money to Basi and Virk.
Back in 2003 when police searched the offices of two cabinet ministers at the B.C. legislature, the news sent shock waves across the entire country. The way the trial ended has made many British Columbians feel disappointed, suspicious, and ashamed.
How can such an absurd thing happen in B.C.? Do the B.C. Liberals really see all the citizens of the province as fools?
Think about this: the B.C. Liberals vowed in the 2001 election that they would not sell B.C. Rail, but started the selling process once they got into office.
B.C. Rail paid $300,000 to the Liberal campaign chief Patrick Kinsella to be the Crown corporation’s adviser. Earlier, the court revealed that executives of B.C. Rail who took part in the bidding process had accepted goodies from the agent who represented CN Rail.
It is incomprehensible why four senior executives of B.C. Rail were still on the payroll ($1.2 million a year) for six years after pretty much all of the Crown asset had been sold. What’s going on? What was the pay for?
CN Rail, the company which successfully bought B.C. Rail, had donated $270,000 to the B.C. Liberal party. Its chairman is a great supporter of Campbell and helped him become leader of the B.C. Liberal party.
Isn’t it a little off-the-wall when the guys who were convicted only pocketed $25,695 in connection with the sale of B.C. Rail assets?
The B.C. Liberal government has been promoting Prince Rupert as an entry point to North America serviced by our railway system. It is puzzling why Campbell only started trumpeting this initiative after B.C. Rail had been sold.
If B.C. Rail had not been sold, wouldn’t all the transportation revenue have gone to our treasury instead of into private pockets?
If this corruption case is truly what Campbell and the B.C. Liberals say—merely the bad deeds of Basi and Virk—why not launch a public inquiry? Why did the Crown sign a nondisclosure agreement with the two B.C. Liberal insiders instead?
Last but not least, it was revealed before the last election that the B.C. Liberal government had given orders to destroy e-mails from the premier and cabinet and documents related to the B.C. Rail corruption case. If the B.C. Liberals had nothing to hide, why give the order? Who gave the order?
Who said that Quebec is the most corruption province in Canada?
Gabriel Yiu is a former B.C. NDP candidate who lost to Kash Heed in Vancouver-Fraserview in 2009. Yiu also ran for the B.C. NDP in Burnaby-Willingdon in 2005.