Sure there are dishonest men in local government. But there are dishonest men in national government too.
— Richard M. Nixon
Why did police execute search warrants at B.C.'s legislature on December 28, 2003?
How did the $1-billion privatization of BC Rail by the Gordon Campbell government become part of an ongoing investigation into drugs, money-laundering, and organized crime?
The release in B.C. Supreme Court on March 2 of a summary of the legislature search warrants' "information to obtain"—the allegations used to convince a judge to issue the warrants—both confirms much speculation and provides new facts. A summary of new facts and material previously reported in the media puts the wide-ranging scandal in perspective.
GANGSTERS AND DRUGS
About April 2002, police in Vancouver, Victoria, and Toronto launch a major drug and organized-crime investigation. On December 15, 2003, Victoria police constable Ravinder Dosanjh is suspended with pay in connection with the investigation.
On December 28, 2003, police execute search warrants on the legislature workspaces of David Basi, ministerial assistant to Finance Minister Gary Collins, and Bob Virk, ministerial assistant to then transportation minister Judith Reid.
Unknown to the media, a third search warrant is also executed at the legislature. As disclosed in the March 2 summary, police secretly seize electronic information equivalent to 97 compact discs from the government computer server.
Four other search warrants are also executed: at Basi's home; at the home office of Erik Bornman, a provincial lobbyist and federal B.C. Liberal executive member; at the Victoria office of Pilothouse Public Affairs, the firm owned by Bornman and former Province newspaper columnist Brian Kieran; and at the home office of Bruce Clark, another federal B.C. Liberal executive member and brother to deputy premier Christy Clark.
RCMP also visit Christy Clark's home to request documents from her husband, Mark Marissen, Prime Minister Paul Martin's top leadership-campaign organizer in B.C.
On December 29, 2003, Basi is fired and Virk suspended by Campbell's chief of staff, Martyn Brown. The RCMP also issue a stunning news release, stating: "The 20-month investigation resulted in the arrest of 9 individuals in Victoria, Vancouver, and Toronto, implicated in the sale of BC marijuana to the United States in exchange for cocaine which in turn was being distributed in Canada."
None of the nine arrested have been charged, and no one yet faces charges from the legislature raids.
BASI, VIRK, AND BORNMAN CONNECTION
The March 2 search-warrant summary refers to "Official 1" and "Official 2" as the two individuals whose legislature work areas were searched. Media reports have identified only Basi and Virk's as the personal workspaces searched in the legislature.
"The primary focus of the RCMP investigation is whether Official 1 and Official 2, were offered and/or accepted personal benefits as consideration for their co-operation, assistance or exercise of influence in connection with government business, including BC Rail contrary to section 121 (1) (a) and (c) of the Criminal Code," the summary reads.
Those sections refer to committing fraud or breach of trust if a government official accepts or an individual offers "a reward, advantage or benefit" for "cooperation, assistance or exercise of influence" affecting government business.
The summary also says the RCMP is investigating whether or not another individual, a lobbyist identified as "L1", may have "offered to facilitate promotion prospects or employment opportunities for Official 1 and Official 2."
The link between the drug investigation and the legislature raids comes where the search-warrant summary states: "The criminal investigation of Official 1 initially concerned proceeds of crime and corruption....During that initial investigation Official 2 and L1 became persons of interest."
According to sources, senior federal Liberals are worried that lobbyist Erik Bornman may face charges.
BC RAIL PRIVATIZATION CONNECTION
On May 15, 2003, the B.C. Liberals broke an election promise by issuing a request for proposals to privatize BC Rail. (Disclosure: the Council of Trade Unions on BC Rail is one of my clients.)
A shortlist of four companies is made: Canadian National Railway Co., the ultimate winner announced November 25, 2003; Canadian Pacific Railway; OmniTRAX, in partnership with Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway; and RailAmerica.
In October 2002, OmniTRAX hired Erik Bornman and Brian Kieran to lobby the provincial government on BC Rail. The B.C. Lobby Registry Web site shows that the cabinet ministers Bornman and Kieran registered to lobby were Gordon Campbell, Gary Collins, Judith Reid, Rick Thorpe, Richard Neufeld, and Kevin Falcon.
Prior to the government choosing CN, both OmniTRAX and Canadian Pacific complained that the BC Rail process was unfair to them. Several media reports said the government was determined to award the deal to CN. CN has donated about $150,000 to the B.C. Liberals since 1994.
CP wrote in a bitter private letter, dated November 21, 2003, and copied to the premier's office, that the government's handling of the BC Rail deal was "extremely prejudiced", that CN had been provided "enhanced access to shippers", and that CP was formally withdrawing from the bidding.
"By allowing CN access to BC Rail's customers at a time when CPR was prohibited by its confidentiality agreement from contacting such customers, the province has, whether intentionally or not, provided CN with an unfair competitive advantage," says the CP letter.
The government denies any wrongdoing, citing a report by "fairness" commissioners Charles River Associates that noted confidential information was "intentionally leaked" but concluded the bidding was fair. OmniTRAX says it was not involved in any illegal activities.
Interestingly, the search-warrant summary specifically mentions the fairness report.
DAVID BASI'S BACKGROUND
David Basi became ministerial assistant to Gary Collins shortly after the May 2001 provincial election, a job that paid $66,800 in 2003.
Basi is a strong Paul Martin supporter, working on his leadership campaign as a key Vancouver Island membership organizer and helping win control of several federal ridings. Former Liberal cabinet minister Herb Dhaliwal blamed Basi after Martin forces took over his Vancouver South Burnaby constituency.
When Esquimalt Juan de Fuca Conservative MP Keith Martin decided to become a federal Liberal, he met Basi days before the raids.
Basi, his wife Inderjit, a provincial government employee, and his mother, Sukhbir, a chambermaid, own four Victoria-area houses valued at $1.2 million.
In late December, police raided a marijuana grow operation in a house near Victoria purchased by Basi in March 2003. Neighbours told media no one had been living there. Basi's lawyer, Chris Considine, said Basi was unaware of the illegal activity.
Basi is a federal Liberal Party donor, contributing $3,730 between 1998 and 2001, according to Elections Canada. A Sukhbir Basi donated $2,752 in 1997 and 1998.
Another Basi political connection is to Mandeep Sandhu. Basi orchestrated the election of Sandhu to the executive of the federal Liberal riding association in Esquimalt Juan de Fuca on December 7, but Sandhu was disallowed because he wasn't a party member. Two days later, police arrested Sandhu and searched his Saanich house in connection with the drug investigation. They released Sandhu without charges.
Sandhu is a cousin of suspended Victoria police officer Ravinder Dosanjh, with whom he jointly owns a Victoria rental property. Sandhu is also related to Amar Bajwa, another Martin leadership organizer. Bajwa is membership chair in the Vancouver South Burnaby riding of which Herb Dhaliwal lost control, and he has defended Basi publicly in the media.
On two occasions, in 1999 and 2001, Gary Collins introduced Bajwa in the B.C. legislature.
Provincial court Judge Keith Bracken has to date refused to unseal the two search-warrant applications that allowed police to raid Sandhu's house and the grow-op house owned by Basi, saying that to do so would jeopardize the police investigation related to the legislature searches.
Following release of the search-warrant summary, federal Liberal party B.C. president Bill Cunningham said: "There really wasn't a linkage between the investigation to any Liberal party federal matter or political activity of the party."
In fact, key federal Liberal party activists and executives are very much linked to this disturbing story.
In a future column, more on the key federal and provincial Liberal players, including federal Environment Minister David Anderson, Sharon Apsey, past B.C. president of the federal Liberals, Erik Bornman, Bruce Clark, and others.
Bill Tieleman is a political commentator Thursdays on CBC TV's Canada Now and regularly on CBC Radio One's Early Edition. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.