Imagine the scenario
Someone steals your car from your driveway. A few days later you get it back, but there is a bad smell that just won't go away. You root around under the back seat, and what do you find? A couple of small fish rotting to high heaven. You throw them away and scrub out the interior like crazy. But the smell persists.
Your attention focuses on the trunk of the car. An even worse smell is coming from it. You suspect some very big fish might be tucked away inside. But you can't open up the trunk. The government authorities who returned your car have the key, and won't give it back. You wind down the car windows. Wrap a scarf around your face. Hang deodorizers from the rear view mirror. Nothing works. The stench remains.
And so it is with the BC Rail trial. This Fall, some explosive issues were looming. A number of "big fish" witnesses in the trial - including cabinet ministers and perhaps even the Premier himself - were scheduled to testify and be cross-examined by a razor sharp defence team. In addition, the trial appeared to be moving beyond David Basi's and Bobby Virk's dealings with Omnitrax, and towards further exploring the Campbell government's murky dealings with CN, the eventual successful bidder for BC Rail.
Who knows what nooks and crannies would be peered into or which trunks were to be unlatched? Testifying under oath can have a sobering effect on witnesses, especially since perjury can mean major jail time. Indeed, things were about to get even more interesting.
But that is not what transpired. The trial was cut short. Yesterday, we learned that the "small fry", i.e. Basi and Virk, were taking a plea agreement under which they will serve two years of "house arrest" in exchange for pleading guilty to breach of trust. Their legal bills, which are extensive, will be paid for by the government, and they will apparently enjoy considerable leeway and freedom under the house arrest agreement.
This “deal" stinks. When government officials engage in corruption, penalties must be severe if public trust is to be maintained in both the justice system and government.
As a blogger on one of the news sites put it, if you are convicted for drug dealing, you can have your house and car confiscated. If you get caught for speeding, you can have your car seized and impounded. But, if you are a government official convicted for corruption in a $1 billion sale of a publicly owned railway, what do you get? Just two years of "house arrest". As a jailbird might say, "I can do that time standing on my head".
Clearly, the prosecution needs to answer some questions about agreeing to this plea. Was it because, as some are suggesting, that the trial was getting into "sensitive areas" that could embarrass the government or implicate other officials including elected ones? At this point, we don’t know.
In any case, such a sentence is sending a message out that, if you are a government or public official, don't worry if you get caught with your hand in the "cookie jar". After all, what's a bit of "house arrest" when you calculate what the potential gains might be? The prospect is tantalizing given all of the business the provincial government conducts each year.
And then there is the issue of the trunk. Whatever is in there will continue to rot and stink, fouling the air from top to bottom, from Vancouver to Fort Nelson.
It needs to be opened up. To clear the air once and for all, we need a public inquiry into the entire sale of BC Rail.
The worst thing about unchecked government corruption is that people have no choice but to get used to the smell. We must not let this happen to our beautiful province.Peter Ewart is a writer, columnist and community activist based in Prince George, British Columbia. He is a regular contributor to www.opinion250.com