Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Tracking the B.C. Rail Trial

Dubbed B.C.'s "political trial of the decade," the Basi/Virk trial has cast suspicion on all those involved, charged or not.

B.C. media have dubbed the B.C. Rail trial the province’s "political trial of the decade." Former ministerial assistants David Basi and Bob Virk stand accused of breach of trust, while a former low-level communications staffer named Aneal Basi (David’s cousin), is accused of money laundering.

But lobbyists Erik Bornmann and former newspaper columnist Brian Kieran – both alleged to have offered bribes in the forms of free meals and other benefits to Basi and Virk – are not on trial. In return for their testimony, they have been given immunity from prosecution.

Premier Gordon Campbell is not on trial either, but his political chief of staff Martyn Brown was the first person called to testify regarding the highly controversial sale of B.C. Rail to CN. Brown’s testimony, riddled with claims that he did not recall many key events, proved less than credible to many court observers.

Brown, who has been Campbell’s right-hand man since 1998, did however admit that Campbell was very closely involved with the sale. It was also revealed in court that prior to the sale of B.C. Rail, CN had made a political contribution in excess of $100,000 to the B.C. Liberals.

Another fact defence lawyers revealed was that the RCMP had a full surveillance operation watching then B.C. finance minister Gary Collins as he dined at the upscale Villa del Lupo restaurant in Vancouver. The operation took place on Dec. 12, 2003, which was during the bidding process for the sale of the Roberts Bank spur line in Tsawassen. The RCMP chose not to reveal they were investigating the minister of finance, apparently as that would have required the minister’s automatic resignation.

The conduct of the RCMP was also called into question when it was revealed in court that the RCMP team commander for the B.C. Rail investigation, Kevin Debruyckere, is the brother-in-law of B.C. Liberal Party executive director Kelly Reichert. Their wives are sisters.

Another person who has raised questions regarding the RCMP’s handling of the investigation is Bill Tieleman. Tieleman is a political columnist and left-wing political strategist who has written extensively about the B.C. Rail investigation ever since the RCMP conducted an unprecedented raid on the B.C. Legislature on Dec. 28, 2003.

In December 2007, in a bizarre incident reminiscent of past RCMP dirty-trick campaigns, Tieleman returned to his office to find it ransacked and materials related to B.C. Rail pulled from his filing cabinets and placed prominently on his desk. Tieleman regarded the break-in as an attempt at intimidation by persons unknown who were obviously very unhappy with his in-depth coverage of the RCMP’s investigation.

Since the trial began, there have been other unusual events. On June 16 of this year, jury members were approached by a man at a SkyTrain station who attempted to discuss the trial with them. That man turned out to be the father of special prosecutor associate Andrea Mackay.

The lead special prosecutor, Bill Berardino, has come under media scrutiny for making a political donation to the B.C. Liberals in May 2005, well over a year after he had been appointed a special prosecutor, and thus having decision-making power regarding whether any elected politician would face criminal charges.

Two other lawyers with the prosecution team, Mackay and Janet Winteringham, recently leased office space at a building called The Landing in downtown Vancouver. That building is owned by David McLean, the chair of CN. Despite the fact that CP Rail pulled out of the bidding process for B.C. Rail, stating that the process was tainted and issuing a public letter saying so, the relationship between McLean and Premier Campbell is a matter that apparently neither the RCMP have seen fit to investigate nor the prosecution fit to pursue.

The B.C. Rail trial has now recessed for the summer. At present, far more in the way of questions than answers have been provided, but a pall of suspicion has been cast over all those involved.

This article was first published at The Mark News