Solicitor General solicited (for answers)

On Friday, Finance Minister Gary Collins took questions about newly-released search warrants alleging senior legislative aides traded confidential information for promises of federal government jobs. But he wasn't the only cabinet member scrummed. Solicitor General Rich Coleman was also interviewed by reporters. The following is a rush transcript of that scrum.

Media What do you make of what you've seen so far?

Solicitor General Coleman Well, I've seen the documents that were released by the court and it doesn't really give me anymore than what we've talked about before - that there's an ongoing investigation and there's something before the courts. It's given a bit more detail to the reasons for the warrants - which have all been, frankly, speculated by you folks over the last number of months. And we'll wait and see when the special prosecutor makes his decision on the one file and when the federal drug prosecutors make their decision on the other file...

Media Christy Clark and Garry Collins are not under investigation but they were named in the information to obtain the search warrants. Did you know, before today, that two cabinet ministers were named in the documentation?

Solicitor General Coleman It's not unusual to name the offices and the people where you want to go in a search warrant. That was not a surprise.

Media You knew that then? Did Minister Collins and Minister Clark know that they were named in the documents?

Solicitor General Coleman I don't know what they may or may not know. And I certainly did not, at any time, discuss any details of the investigation with either of those members of cabinet as to the details. Certainly, when a search warrant might be executed on something like a minister's office they're going to name the minister in the documentation. So that is no surprise. That might be normal procedure.

Media Minister, no charges have been laid yet. Is this going to be considered the right of the accused - or not accused yet - to a speedy trial being infringed upon?

Solicitor General Coleman Well, I'm not in a position to actually give you a legal opinion on that sort of thing. The investigation is in the hands of the special prosecutor, as you know. Mr. Berardino said that he thought the file would be in his hands, in its totality, by the end of the month, today - that he would then be reviewing and making a decision before year end with regards to charges. I think it's really important that we continue to understand that this is not about an investigation into any elected official - that, at the same time, there have been no charges laid at this point in time. There's still an investigation out there. And we shall let the thing complete itself.

Media But, as a member of this government though, does it concern you that this could be dragging on? No charges laid until December. You're going into an election next spring. Will this thing continue to hang over your government?

Solicitor General Coleman Well, the reality is that there's an investigation ongoing. We're not going to interfere with it in any way whatsoever. And however long it takes to do it right is the time that should be taken to get it done.

Media What's Bob Virk's status now? Last we heard he was still under suspension with pay.

Solicitor General Coleman I haven't had any update on the status of Mr. Virk.

Media And has Mr. Basi had a severance deal yet?

Solicitor General Coleman That, I understand, may have taken place but I don't have any details on it.

Media What about Roberts Bank? Your government, at the time, when you cancelled that deal wouldn't say that it was connected to the investigation and now it clearly is.

Solicitor General Coleman Well, I think the minister of transportation dealt with that a while back when he pulled the bidding process of the table and said that he had been advised by someone that there may have been a concern over that tender and it's off the table. Obviously, we don't like any of this sort of thing to happen. But, at the same time, I'm not prepared to judge the outcome of an investigation that's still before the court.

Media Do you still have confidence in the B.C. Rail deal fairness report?

Solicitor General Coleman Yes I do. Yes I do.

Media The one thing that seems to be new is there's allegations that Mr. Virk and Mr. Basi fluffed up their resumes a little bit perhaps. Should there be some better screening of political aides in your government?

Solicitor General Coleman Well, I don't know the details of what may or may not have been fluffed up. I know that that comment was in the documentation that was released today. I don't think that you would know if somebody actually altered a resume that they gave to somebody else that you're not hiring at that point in time that's already working for you if they're looking for another job. I don't know how you'd control that or whether you'd know what the contents were of a document you never saw - which we didn't.

Media But, in the wake of this investigation, the premier gave you orders - we were told - to look at the hiring process. We haven't heard anything on that. Have you looked at government's hiring process?

Solicitor General Coleman Oh, absolutely. We've looked at how we can do better checks and that sort of thing. And we're working for a process to do that...

Media Yeah, but what is it?

Solicitor General Coleman Well, the process is obviously background checks that are a bit more stringent and what have you. The recommendations were to do that. And make sure references are checked properly - that sort of thing.

Media So we know, from these documents, that Messrs. Basi and Virk may have padded their resumes. If, in fact, that is true might they have been hired by this government under false pretences? Maybe they didn't have the degrees they claimed they had?

Solicitor General Coleman I don't think so. Mr. Virk worked for us in Opposition before we became government. And Mr. Basi had worked in government before he came to work in the minister of finance's office. And I don't know that they would have needed to do anything with their resumes seeing as we had already seen their work history.

Media There's another issue - references in the documents to information being passed to Bruce Clark. I know that's not under investigation, from what we understand. But is your government looking into what kind of information he had in terms of tendering information that got to him?

Solicitor General Coleman Well, obviously, the person that did the review on the bid side did their thing. We're not going to do an investigation of any kind until a police investigation is completed. I think it would be inappropriate for us to interfere in any way whatsoever. If there's one thing that police have been very clear to me about, as I've come through this, at the senior management level is that they are very complimentary about how this government has professionally let them do their work and not interfere. And we'll continue to operate that way.

Media Is that something you might look into once this is all done though? Because it doesn't seem to be a line they're pursuing. It does reference documents being passed to Christy Clark's brother.

Solicitor General Coleman Yeah. I'm not in a position to make a comment on that today. But, certainly, once we have the investigation complete and whatever outcomes go through the court system with regards to charges or not charges, certainly - at that time - we're going to have to take a look at the file.

Media Is this damaging the government minister?

Solicitor General Coleman I don't think so. I think people, actually, in the public that I've talked over the last number of months understand that there's an investigation taking place - that this can happen in any business anywhere, whether it be somebody involved in some activity that was of concern to law enforcement that someone might not know about. (They know) that the responsibility of us, as government, is not to interfere in the investigation - not to pass judgement on what may or may not be evidence contained in the search warrant or in front of the public. Our responsibility is to allow the police to do their job, allow the courts to do their job and see what the outcome is for the fairness of everybody involved.

Media These court documents essentially connect the dots for a lot of British Columbians. A lot of this has been speculated on before. But these are documents that connect the dots. And what the average person would take from this, I would take, is that there's some dirty things happening - or allegations of some dirty things happening. Do you worry that that is going to rub off on your government - that people may take from these allegations that somehow your government wasn't playing fair, particularly with B.C. Rail?

Solicitor General Coleman Well, the government is the elected people. There's nobody in the elected offices that are involved in this situation. The reality is something has gone on that is under a police investigation. I think the public will pass their judgment based on that. I am not concerned about that side of it. I think the public's expectation would be that they would never see a government interfere in an investigation, the execution of a search warrant or the ability for the police to do their job or the course of their job. We're not doing that. That, I think, is the expectation of the public.

Media You talked a minute ago about the more stringent background checks for people seeking jobs as political aides. Just what exactly does that involve?

Solicitor General Coleman Well it involves a checking of references to double-check. We're also looking at now some proposals in front of us for some background check companies that we may want to also utilize some of their professional services in the future. But we haven't been in any hiring phase lately, so we haven't had a large turnover where it's been required.

Media Give the fact that this raid occured a number of months ago, why has it taken so long for this proceedure to be developed?

Solicitor General Coleman Well, the proceedure is in place. We're doing better background checks then we were before.

Media But you just said you've put out a tender...

Solicitor General Coleman No, I didn't say we've put out a tender. I said we'll look at, in the future, when we get into a larger hiring phase, we may need somebody to be contracted - like some of these background check companies that can do it, just like we do for professional personnel in Crown corps. We don't need that right now because we don't have the hiring going on that's necessary.

Media Will you be going back over existing staffers and taking a look at their background and making sure that everything is up to spec given the senior role that some of these people play?

Solicitor General Coleman I don't think it's appropriate to go and do investigations on people that have already proven their okay and capable in their jobs. And, frankly, I don't think a background check would have brought anything up in this case either that would have given us any flags to let us know that we should or shouldn't have hired these people.

Media What went wrong then? What happened?

Solicitor General Coleman I don't know. I guess that's for the courts to decide with regards to the investigation as to how this got to where it is. It's certainly not for me to speculate or judge the behaviour of people that hasn't been judged by the system or has even gone forward to a charge.

Media Is there any precedent of seeing a raid occuring and ten months after no charges have been laid?

Solicitor General Coleman I don't think so because the complexity of the investigation takes time. And, because it attaches to the legislature, a special prosecutor had to be selected and hired so it's completely arms-length from any involvement from even the prosecutors that would be hired by government. So that process, I don't think, is unprecedented.

Media I just want to be clear though: when you go to the polls next May, and this thing is still churning away in process, you'd don't think that any of this is going to rub off on your government?

Solicitor General Coleman No, I don't think so. I think that we will stand before the public in British Columbia and let them judge us on our record. And our record is that we didn't interfere in an investigation that was important to the public interest. And that we've done a very good job as a government on their behalf.

Media Given some of these very serious allegations, have you had a chance to go back over any of Basi or Virk's other files to see whether everything is up to spec there?

Solicitor General Coleman I'm not going to comment on anything that may have taken place that may be germaine to the investigation or have any impact on it.

Media But seperate files...

Solicitor General Coleman I can't comment on that?

Media Why can't you comment on that?

Solicitor General Coleman Because I'm not involved in that. So I have no information that would lead me to believe that one way or another.

Media Who would be involved with that?

Solicitor General Coleman I don't know. From my standpoint, there's an ongoing police investigation. We're going to allow that investigation and what's before the courts to take place. And we're not going to comment on that.

Media Your party was very critical of the previous government when things like this happened. Doesn't this same criticism accrue to the Liberals when they're in government.

Solicitor General Coleman Well, the NDP have their comments with regard to this file. I think, actually, if you look at it, most of what they've said hasn't been a lot different from us. Let's let the police investigation carry its way through. And I think, when we were questioning things in the house, I think once you stepped into the realm where it was into something before the courts or a police investigation we stepped back as well and let the police investigation take place.

Media You're basically saying your not responsible for the actions of political appointments. You're saying that this does not come at the politicians.

Solicitor General Coleman Well, sure we're responsible. But, at the same time, they're responsible for their actions if they've had any actions that take them before the courts. And nobody knew that this was going on, obviously, because it came as a complete surprise when the warrants were issued in December for this government. And the investigation is ongoing. And I'm not going to judge the outcome of that investigation.

Media Are you reasonably confident that this is a blip - that there isn't any more of this kind of thing going on in your government?

Solicitor General Coleman Yes I am.

Media Why do you say that?

Solicitor General Coleman I just feel that, if I look at the overall operations of government and the professionalism I see our people display every day - and I see this particular file - there's nothing that would lead me to believe there's anything else in our government to be concerned about.

Media Clearly though, Basi and Virk appeared to be doing a very professional job prior to this point. So one could say you wouldn't know whether or not things were going wrong until they actually do go wrong. So are there any measures that you're taking...?

Solicitor General Coleman I don't think it's possible to know what every person does 24 hours a day, 365 days a year - whether they work in this legislature or they're your neighbour or they're across the street from you. We try to manage government in a professional manner and our expectation is that our staff do the same. And, at this point in time, there is nothing that tells me there's any reason to expect any of this is going on.

2 Comments

The SG's refusal to comment on other unrelated files just confirms what the rumour mill has known for months - that there are other deals that Basi and Virk had access to that are now in question as well.

Hint. Look at some of the other partnerships and projects that the BC Govt has quietly dumped in the past 9 months.

I've got two thoughts on this subject, one springing from some conversations at work today, another from the SG's comments. First, the SG's comment:

"Solicitor General Coleman: I don't think it's appropriate to go and do investigations on people that have already proven their okay and capable in their jobs. And, frankly, I don't think a background check would have brought anything up in this case either that would have given us any flags to let us know that we should or shouldn't have hired these people."

So, what Mr.Coleman is saying is that the new background check system put in place isn't going to catch things like this? Then what are they doing that WILL stop things like this from happening in the future?

Second, while discussing this topic at work today, we sort of boiled down what has happened is that the Martin government's representatives in BC offered a benefit to BC government employees to turn over protected information to them. The proper term for one government doing this to another government isn't "breach of trust", the proper term is espionage.

Why is the Canadian government spying on the BC government?

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