Report fails to answer Basi-Virk questions

Taxpayers end up paying $6 million to cover the legal fees of two Liberal staffers who admitted taking bribes.

UBC president Stephen Toope didn’t come up with answers about how taxpayers ended up paying $6 million to cover the legal fees of two Liberal staffers who admitted taking bribes.

That wasn’t Toope’s assignment, he said when he delivered a report on when taxpayers should and shouldn’t pay the legal bills for government employees. The government asked him to make recommendations about the policy in the future, not report on how it worked in the past.

Toope’s report was useful. But it didn’t dispel the smell hanging over the B.C. Rail scandal and the $6 million payout that helped ensure guilty pleas from Dave Basi and Bob Virk, shutting down the B.C. Rail corruption trial well before all the evidence was heard.

The government chose to release Toope’s report while he was in India, part of Christy Clark’s Asian tour.

The University of B.C. has good reasons to be building ties with China and India. But the approach did emphasize the close ties between Toope and the government, and Clark’s unavailability to deal with questions.

Toope recommended the government keep on picking up the legal fees for government workers facing job-related lawsuits or criminal charges.

Partly, it’s a matter of fairness. If people are doing their jobs, and someone sues them or files criminal charges, they shouldn’t face crushing legal bills.

It’s also practical. If an enforcement officer fears facing a huge legal bill as a result of being sued for denying a development permit, he might just say yes to a bad project. Legal indemnification supports independent decisions in the public interest.

Toope recommended a clearer written policy, and better ways of managing costs in big ticket criminal cases.

The government has effectively written a blank cheque to defence lawyers and special prosecutors. Toope said those costs could be reduced, at least on the defence side.

And he said the government should seek to recover costs if people are found guilty — something it chose not to do in the Basi-Virk case.

Toope also found there has been no real policy about covering costs in criminal cases.

Public sector managers tried to push for a written policy, but the politicians never got around to making any decisions.

But the understanding, from the first case — when the government paid former Glen Clark’s legal fees in the casino licensing case — was clear. If the defendants were found not guilty, the taxpayers paid. If they broke the law, they had to pay for their own defence.

Until Basi-Virk.

The government had claims on the defendants’ assets and could have collected a significant chunk of cash. But government, prosecutor and defence cut a deal.

The two men pleaded guilty, and got an easy sentence of house arrest. The government — you — covered $6 million in legal fees.

The NDP raised the issue in question period this week. Attorney General Shirley Bond read from a statement in October 20101, when David Loukidelis, deputy in the Attorney General’s Ministry, and Graham Whitmarsh, finance deputy, said they made the decision because the Basi and Virk had limited ability to pay. The $6 million ensured a guilty plea; the alternative was to let the trial continue at a potentially greater cost, with no assurance of a conviction.

But it remains unclear how the two deputy ministers decided Basi and Virk couldn’t pay (the government already had $350,000 in security from Basi it could have claimed), how they had estimated trial costs and whether considered that the $6 million looked much an incentive to plead guilty, creating a perception damaging to government and the justice system.

Auditor General John Doyle is also looking at the $6 million payout.

Hopefully, he’ll come up with some better answers for the public.

In the meantime, the B.C. Rail scandal continues to hang over the government.

Footnote: The legal fee issue isn’t the only remaining question. It’s still unclear, for example, why lobbyists Brian Kieran and Erik Bornman, who both admitted paying bribes to Basi and Virk to get inside information on the deal, weren’t charged.

It’s also unclear whether that was normal practice for them, or Basi and Virk. They also admitted leaking information to lobbyist Bruce Clark (Christy Clark’s brother), but it has never been explained why they did.

willcocks@gmail.com

Just Posted

“I want to see the difference in the world, embrace it, celebrate it … ” Photo: David Cantelli/Unsplash
A new way to say ‘Hello’

“Inclusion, you see, is NOT about making us all the same.”

Waneta Manor is located on Laburnum Drive in Trail. Photo: Sheri Regnier
Senior dies as Trail tenants continue wait for broken elevator to be fixed

The elevator in Waneta Manor has been out of commission since February

For Your Consideration
Brokeback Facebook: I wish I knew how to quit you!

Thom is inspired by the proliferation of viral inane questions to reevaluate his social media use

The author during GoByBike Week. Taking a break from all that high-flying on the Isador Canyon Trail. Photo: Christina Blaskovich
The auto and the bike: A paean to them both

One becomes an extension of one’s self. The other offers the sensation of flight.

Area A Director Ali Grieve (right), Village of Fruitvale Mayor Steve Morissette (front), and Village of Montrose Mayor Mike Walsh (left) held a congratulatory ceremony for Beaver Valley students who are part of the Class of 2021 graduates of J. L. Crowe Secondary at Beaver Creek Park on Thursday. Photo: Jim Bailey
Beaver Valley Grads of 2021

Beaver Valley mayors, RDKB Area A director celebrate their 2021 graduates with gift ceremony

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

FILE – Most lanes remain closed at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The restrictions at the border took effect March 21, while allowing trade and other travel deemed essential to continue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Feds to issue update on border measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents

Border with U.S. to remain closed to most until at least July 21

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Fort St. John man arrested after allegedly inviting sexual touching from children

Two children reported the incident to a trusted adult right away

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed teen facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

Most Read