Attorney General David Eby stonewalls B.C. Liberal MLAs asking about legislature suspensions
When the B.C. Liberals were in government, they routinely refused to answer questions in the legislature regarding ongoing criminal investigations.
Today, it was the NDP's turn to do this.
Several B.C. Liberal MLAs peppered Attorney General David Eby with inquiries about the role his ministry may have played before a motion came before the house to suspend clerk of the legislature Craig James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz.
B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson lobbed the first question, asking if the Ministry of Attorney General received any request for legal advice from the speaker prior to a meeting of house leaders on November 19.
"Now, I know that the member knows that there is an active police investigation," Eby replied in question period. "I know that the member knows that special prosecutors have been appointed.
"So I struggle to understand why the member doesn't understand how important it is that that proceed in all of its elements without interference from this place," the attorney general continued. "With that said, I won't be making any further comment on this matter."
Next, Wilkinson asked if Eby was aware that the speaker sought outside legal counsel to advise him on the motion to suspend James and Lenz.
"This has nothing to do with the special prosecution nor the RCMP investigation," Wilkinson stated.
Eby responded that even though the B.C. Liberal claimed that this has nothing to do with a police probe or special prosecutors doesn't make this true.
"I am disappointed that he persists in this line of questioning," Eby declared. "The police are separate from the government for a reason. The special prosecutors are separate from government for a reason. I won't be making any comment on this at this time."
Wilkinson reiterated his question whether the speaker sought legal advice from the Ministry of Attorney General. And Eby said that he won't comment until after the investigation is completed.
Then it was B.C. Liberal MLA Shirley Bond's turn to ask questions of Eby. She inquired whether the speaker's legal counsel consulted with lawyers with the Ministry of Attorney General.
Eby replied by urging the members "to refrain from commenting on the events of the past week until the investigation is complete".
Another B.C. Liberal MLA, Jas Johal, asked if Solicitor General Mike Farnworth sought advice from Eby prior to introducing the motion to suspend James and Lenz.
Eby said that he won't be commenting on this.
Then Johal asked Eby if he sought the advice of his ministry before the motion was introduced on November 20.
Eby refused to comment, saying all these matters are "tied together".
"You can't speak about one thing without speaking about the other," the attorney general insisted.
Next, B.C. Liberal MLA Laurie Throness asked when the solicitor general first learned of the police investigation and the speaker's investigation.
"I've made the recommendation to all members of this place that they refrain from commenting on a matter of active police investigation where special prosecutors are appointed," Eby responded. "It's incredibly serious."
Throness replied that what's serious is the government "not revealing to the people of B.C. about matters that are under their control".
"When did the premier first learn of the police investigation and when did the premier learn about the speaker's investigation," Throness asked.
Again, Eby stated that there wouldn't be a reply.
The next five questioners—B.C. Liberal MLAs Todd Stone, Michelle Stilwell, Peter Milobar, Michael Lee, and Mike de Jong—also didn't make any headway.
Eby responded to the final questioner, de Jong, with ridicule, saying he's "relatively new in this place". De Jong was first elected in 1994.
"I mean, he used to be attorney general, so he knows that police are separate from government when they do an investigation," Eby stated. "He knows that when special prosecutors are appointed, there's a reason for that—to keep the process independent of government."
De Jong had previously filed an application under standing order 35 to the speaker seeking adjournment of the legislature to discuss a matter of "urgent importance"—the events and facts that led to the motion to suspend James and Lenz.
Deputy speaker Raj Chouhan concluded standing order 35 "cannot involve the normal administration of justice", citing a ruling in 1994 by then speaker Emery Barnes.
"While the Chair does not suggest that it would be the intention of the House to interfere with the normal administration of justice, due to the circumstances, there is a very real and substantial concern in this regard," the deputy speaker stated. "I conclude that because the active investigation focuses on two prominent officers of this house, the risk to offend the spirit and intent of the sub judice convention is more heightened in this instance. For these reasons I find that the application made under standing order 35 cannot proceed."
Following the ruling, Wilkinson said that the house must address this issue at some point.
Chouhan responded by saying: "Member, this is not debatable."