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NDP demand investigation into missing BC Rail emails

VANCOUVER - The BC New Democratic Party is demanding Premier Gordon Campbell launch an independent and public investigation after it was revealed in B.C. Supreme Court that cabinet ministers’ emails related to the $1 billion sale of B.C. Rail have been erased or disappeared.

NDP MLA Leonard Krog said Wednesday the emails could potentially prove the innocence of David Basi, Bob Virk and Aneal Basi – three ex-B.C. government aides facing corruption charges connected to the 2003 B.C. Rail privatization.

“There has to be an investigation – you can’t just show up in court one day and say the records are gone,” Krog said. “If they are truly gone, who gave that order, when and why?”

“This is important to the conduct of the trial,” he said. “There is nothing stopping an appropriate investigation.”

Krog said the defence filed an application to obtain emails between cabinet ministers, MLAs and senior government staff two years ago but no one has told defence lawyers until now that the emails and backups are either erased or have disappeared.

“Under the government’s own rules and protocol, the premier and cabinet ministers had an obligation to preserve their files,” Krog said, pointing out that the B.C. Document Disposal Act requires documents be kept for seven years unless a disposal order is granted.

Campbell told reporters Tuesday that: "The records that should be kept under the law have been kept," without going into detail.

Krog said he is not alleging wrongdoing on the part of the government but that only an independent public investigation - not an inquiry - will determine what happened.

"I don't know if something dishonest has gone on but there are a lot of questions," Krog said. "The premier has to respond - he needs to respond."

Krog also pointed to another issue raised by the defence on Tuesday - one first revealed exclusively by 24 hours newspaper two years ago.

That came when I discovered that a junior Public Affairs Bureau employee named Stuart Chase was sitting in B.C. Supreme Court taking notes that were being reported back to the Attorney-General's ministry.

Then-Attorney-General Wally Oppal wrongly told the B.C. Legislature that Chase was in court to "assist the media" with the case "that's all he's there for" - when in fact, Chase had not spoken to any media covering the hearings until I approached him to find out who he was.

A subsequent Freedom Of Information request I filed and received in 2007, and an appeal to get several withheld portions of Chase's notes, showed that Chase was in fact politically monitoring the case, including reporting on who was in attendance.

In court Tuesday, defence lawyer Kevin McCullough raised the Chase monitoring and said he wants to know who the reports went to within the government.

Krog said today it's obvious that the government has monitored the case for political reasons but didn't keep records of BC Rail emails that may have been helpful to the defence.

"Clearly the government has been paying very close attention to this case - they had a staff person there taking notes," Krog said, referring to Chase.

Bill Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in Vancouver 24 hours. E-mail him at weststar@telus.net or visit his blog at http://billtieleman.blogspot.com.

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