BC Rail investigation cleared politicians
The province's Supreme Court released a host of documents connected to the RCMP investigation — dubbed Project Everywhichway — on Wednesday, less than two weeks before the governing Liberal party chooses a new leader to replace Premier Gordon Campbell.
The BC Rail scandal has hung over the Liberal party and its leadership race, particularly candidate Christy Clark, who was deputy premier at the time. During pre-trial hearings in the case, defence lawyers suggested Clark might have been a source of cabinet leaks to lobbyists.
But the newly released documents from the investigation show the RCMP found no evidence to support those suggestions, and instead indicate police were never suspicious of Clark.
The daily investigation reports, wiretap transcripts and statements by key witnesses were released in response to an application filed for The Globe and Mail and CTV, and they shed new light on the investigation and prosecution of former ministerial aides Dave Basi and Bob Virk.
Clark and Falcon targeted
They also show that Clark was one of several cabinet ministers — another being her rival in the leadership race, Kevin Falcon — that lobbyists planned to target in a covert campaign aimed at convincing cabinet that BC Rail should not be sold to Canadian National Railway.
That strategy failed, however, and the provincially owned railway went to CN in 2003 for $1 billion.
The documentation shows Basi and Virk worked as a team of two, feeding confidential information to a small group of lobbyists and Liberal insiders without the awareness or support of any government officials.
Although police initially suspected Gary Collins, who was then finance minister, those doubts were quickly erased as investigators probed deeper into the activities of Basi.
"No elected official was ever implicated in any way and we maintained that throughout the entirety of the court process," said special prosecutor William Berardino.
Last fall, Basi and Virk pleaded guilty to charges of breach of trust and accepting bribes, and they received two-year sentences under house arrest.
Clark said Wednesday the public release of the court record is an exoneration.
"Two people have been convicted of accepting bribes who worked for the government. I mean, that's unacceptable," said Clark, who was on the campaign trail in the Okanagan. "From a personal perspective, it confirms what I've been saying from the beginning. I have a spotlessly clean public record, I have always discharged my duties honourably."
"I spent 14 years in office ... trying to restore people's trust in the [political] process," he said. "This thing overshadowed all that work."
Clark, who also left politics in 2004, was linked to the case because her former husband, Mark Marissen, a Liberal strategist, and her brother, Bruce Clark, a lobbyist and Liberal fundraiser, were associates of the accused. She also had contact with other lobbyists, including Erik Bornman, who bribed Basi to obtain government secrets about BC Rail.
The police didn't uncover any evidence of wrongdoing by Marissen or Clark.
The case came to trial last fall, but little evidence was presented in court because, after maintaining their innocence during pre-trial hearings for seven years, Basi and Virk suddenly entered guilty pleas.
The abrupt end to the case led to speculation the government agreed to a plea bargain, in which millions of dollars of defence bills were paid, to head off possibly embarrassing testimony by Collins, who was about to take the stand.
But the guilty pleas were entered just before the Crown was about to present wiretap evidence in which Basi and Virk are heard arranging to give confidential documents to lobbyists.
The files obtained through the courts do not comprise the complete police record — some 50,000 documents — but they do contain the core of the Crown's successful prosecution.
Michael Bolton, a lawyer for Basi, cautioned that the material provides only a partial picture of a complex case.
"These are investigative materials that are created by the police with advise from the Crown," he said. "They necessarily contain one-sided information."