Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Basi-Virk Trail: Political Theatre

We might never get justice in the prosecution of B.C. political aides David Basi and Bob Virk, but we will get plenty of intrigue.

Six-and-a-half years after the RCMP raided the British Columbia Legislature as part of an investigation into drugs and money laundering dubbed “Everywhichway,” a very different case has finally been brought to trial at the Vancouver courthouse.

There are no drugs, and the most minor of money-laundering charges have been laid against a low-level political staffer named Aneal Basi. But there are also serious allegations of breach of trust in the trial of former ministerial assistants (political chiefs of staff) David Basi and Bob Virk – a trial that has been dubbed “the political trial of the decade.”

A veritable “who’s who” of senior political staff, cabinet ministers, industry CEOs, and lobbyists have been called to testify as witnesses. First up is Martyn Brown, Premier Gordon Campbell’s political chief of staff and his right-hand man since Gordon Campbell became premier of B.C. back in 2001.

The case centers on the controversial privatization of B.C. Rail and its subsequent sale to CN. The sale of B.C. Rail was controversial for several reasons. The first is that, like the HST, Campbell sprang it right after an election. The second is that in the course of the bidding process, Canadian Pacific Railway pulled out and complained in a letter that later became public that essentially the fix was in for CN to be the successful bidder. CN certainly wasn’t shy about letting its confidence be known to the other bidders.

But neither Campbell nor the chair of CN is on trial. Instead Basi and Virk stand accused of having accepted benefits from Pilothouse Communications, a now defunct lobbying firm run by former Vancouver Province columnist Brian Kieran and federal Liberal operative Erik Bornman(n).

To say that Erik Bornman(n) is a controversial character would be an understatement. The reason for the bracketed “n” is that he chooses to vary the spelling of his last name from time to time. In fact, he earned the nickname “Spiderman” after an infamous incident in which he allegedly broke into a federal Liberal office by climbing through the ceiling tiles in order to obtain the party membership lists on behalf of the Paul Martin leadership campaign.

More recently, Bornman(n), who articled with the prestigious law firm McCarthy Tertrault, attempted to become admitted to the Law Society of Upper Canada. What he failed to disclose to them was that in return for immunity from prosecution, he has allegedly agreed to state that he had committed fraud with regard to his clients and offered benefits to government officials. It was only the last-minute intervention of lawyers in B.C. that kept Bornman(n) from being a fully practising lawyer in Ontario.

More interesting still is the relationship between Crown Prosecutor Bill Berardino and Bornman(n). In another twist to the immunity deal, Berardino taught Bornman(n) at UBC law school. Did this have any bearing on Berardino’s decision to spare Bornman(n) and make him the prosecution’s star witness? We will likely never know.

Also of great media interest was the recent revelation that in 2005, almost two years after he was appointed special prosecutor, Berardino made a political donation of $600 to the B.C. Liberals. Again, it raises serious questions about the impartiality of the special prosecutor.

It has certainly not escaped my attention or that of many others who have been following this trial that all of the accused are Indo-Canadian, while all those who have been offered immunity from prosecution in return for their testimony are Caucasian.

This colour distinction was further reinforced when, during jury selection – which I myself observed – the prosecution objected to all jury candidates who were Indo-Canadian. The result is a jury that includes no Indo-Canadians and, with one exception, is made up entirely of Caucasians.

The result is a trial about political intrigue that is itself muddied with intrigue. At the end of the day, there seems little likelihood of truth or justice emerging from this process. What there will be, however, is great political theatre, and that, at the end of the day, is what we British Columbians relish most.

This column was first published at The Mark News