Sunday, March 30, 2008

A rocky patch for justice on the westward side of the Rockies

"I have no details. I have never been questioned by the RCMP. I only became aware today that I am part of that investigation," John Les after stepping down as the Solicitor General for the Province of British Columbia on Friday.

It's been a rough couple of days for the justice system in British Columbia this week, there was the refusal of the RCMP to release details into a report into the use of Tasers, a fair portion of which took place in the province. It's a refusal that is apparently being given a second thought by the Mounties, in the light of a bit of protest to their decision.

Mid week came news that a BC Judge had decided that the RCMP had not provided enough proof that a full patch member of the notorious Hells Angels had been acting on behalf of a criminal organization. Acquitting him of charges of drug trafficking.

Madam Justice Anne MacKenzie of B.C. Supreme Court in her decision, suggested that the Crown had prosecuted David Francis Giles, based far too much on speculation and not enough on fact.

The decision sidelined a two year investigation, that cost more than 10 million dollars to conduct, and while it didn't quite declare the Hells Angels to be in the league of the Boy Scouts, it did seem to lift the burden of guilt on them in this instance. While it is described as merely a setback in the pursuit of justice when it comes to organized crime, it's none the less and expensive one both in financial terms and in image.

The decision by Madam Justice MacKenzie has been greeted with chagrin by many British Columbians and has once again caused Canadians to wonder about what the courts are doing on the far side of those Rocky Mountains.

So while the province digested a cone of silence on Tasers and an expensive bit of frustration in prosecuting reputed criminals, the week ended with the province's top cop John Les stepping down from his position. This after it became public that he had been under investigation for nine months now, over a controversial land deal back when he was mayor of Chilliwack.

The CBC reported on Friday that a special prosecutor Robin McFee had been appointed on June 28, 2007, to oversee the RCMP investigation involving Les and an undisclosed number of former municipal officials in the Fraser Valley community. Les said that he was unaware of the investigation until the CBC advised him of it on Friday.

The Premier issued his own take to the press on Saturday advising that he was not aware that his Solicitor General had been placed under investigation until 5:30 on Friday afternoon. He did however support Les' position that he must withdraw from his position until the investigation runs its course.

It makes for an interesting scenario as pointed out by the Vancouver Sun's Vaughn Palmer, "of Les overseeing the police for almost a full year while he was under investigation by the police."

Clearly the issue should have been brought out into the open in June of 2007, at which time the Solicitor General could have resigned his office until the investigation was complete.

While he has done the right thing by stepping down once the issue was made public, the proper thing would have been to have this brought out into the open when it began, avoiding any semblance of potential political interference.

Les is confident that his name will be cleared and at that time he will be free of course to return to his duties. Perhaps his first duty if and when he is reinstated, will be to provide less fuzzy guidelines for the special prosecutor on these high profile cases. Especially when it comes to investigating high political office holders and making sure that the goal of transparency is the main operating procedure in place.

In a week which saw the justice system take a few hits, having its top law administrator step down hasn't exactly been the kind of reassuring move that is required for an increasingly cynical public.

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