A new report says the B.C. government should try to recover legal fees from public servants convicted of criminal charges, following widespread public outrage over the $6 million payout in the BC Rail case.
The report by UBC president Stephen Toope, which was released on Thursday morning, stops short of condemning the government's handling of the case.
But Toope did say it was highly unusual for the government to pay the huge legal bills of former political aides Dave Basi and Bob Virk after they pleaded guilty to breach of trust in the BC Rail corruption scandal.
"As I looked at the material I realized that Basi and Virk and a handful of other cases really are outliers in the practice. So in the roughly 95 cases since 1999 the average cost of the indemnity for a public servant was..roughly $27,000. So the large amounts associated with the Basi and Virk case are highly unusual," Toope said Thursday in Victoria.
Many taxpayers were furious when they learned the public was on the hook for the pair's $6-million legal bill. Basi and Virk were accused of leaking information related to the 2002 privatization sale of Crown-owned BC Rail.
No automatic entitlements
Toope's report focused on employees, members of cabinet and political appointees not covered by collective agreements.
He concludes the practice of covering the legal expenses of public servants to protect them from lawsuits for actions committed during the course of their employment is in the public interest, but should not be an automatic entitlement.
"I don't think there's any reason for the government to still cover their expenses once they're found guilty or once they've pleaded guilty," Toope said.
His report makes several recommendations to help ensure massive payouts like the one in the BC Rail case do not happen again in the future, including changes in transparency of the policies, the scope under which they are applied and how high cost criminal cases are managed.
Government adopts recommendations
B.C.'s Attorney General Shirley Bond said the government would take immediate action to adopt all of the recommendations in the report.
"We'll take immediate action to change the current policy to reflect all of these recommendations, since it's essential we have a consistent and fair approach that protects public servants and the interests of taxpayers," said Bond in a statement released by her office.
But NDP MLA Leonard Krog says the report still doesn't clearly answer why the government decided to pay that the $6 million dollar legal bill, and called on the premier to get to the bottom of the controversy.
"I would like to think the premier still has that natural curiosity to determine for the public what this government did when they kissed off six million in legal fees for two convicted Liberal insiders," said Krog.