An investigation into donations to B.C. political parties that started in 2017 has ended with the RCMP recommending no charges be laid.
Special Prosecutor David Butcher wrote in a statement released Monday that he received the concluding report from the RCMP in August.
“The RCMP believes that there is no substantial likelihood of conviction for any of the violations of the Election Act that were examined during the course of this investigation,” his statement said.
“Furthermore, where violations have occurred the RCMP has determined that is not in the public interest to pursue a prosecution, as the cost of doing so would be disproportionate to the value of the donations under investigation.”
The RCMP’s investigation and Butcher’s appointment followed reports in the Globe and Mail that lobbyists made political donations to the BC Liberals under their own names and then were reimbursed by clients, hiding the real source of the contributions.
By May 2017 the BC Liberal Party had returned nearly $250,000 to multiple donors, saying it shouldn’t have accepted the money. It had also changed the contributor information for $109,715 worth of donations from dozens of people, but kept the money.
The NDP also reviewed the donations it had received and found a much smaller amount that needed to be returned.
Under the province’s Election Act, political parties and individuals have 30 days to file a supplementary financial report when information has changed or “the original report did not completely or accurately disclose the required information.”
Butcher’s statement said the RCMP’s initial review of information from Elections BC, whistleblowers and media “suggested the scope of the problem was both significant and systemic,” but that view changed with further investigation.
“Upon more detailed analysis there was no information found to support the broad allegations made in the media,” it said. “Both statistical and individual analysis of the donation data failed to identify a significant volume or pattern of donations.”
The RCMP found many of the lobbyists identified in reports quickly filed corrections with Elections BC, that in most cases it was clear who the true donors were and that employees interviewed by the police said breaches of election rules were inadvertant.
“Evidence of criminality was difficult to gather because there were structural flaws in regulatory accounting systems,” the statement added.
Butcher wrote that after considerable time reviewing the RCMP’s report he believed their conclusion was correct that there wasn’t enough evidence to justify laying charges.
He also noted that changes to the Election Act passed after the NDP formed government in 2017 banned corporate and union donations and capped individual donations. The cap in 2020 after adjustments for inflation is $1,253.
“These amendments should squarely address the concerns expressed by the media and the complainants in this case,” Butcher wrote.
The advocacy group Democracy Watch called on Butcher to reverse his decision.
“By failing to prosecute anyone, the special prosecutor has let all the alleged violators off the hook without even identifying them, and blocked the courts from ruling on their very questionable and likely illegal actions,” co-founder Duff Conacher said in a news release Tuesday.
Noting the BC Liberals had returned some donations, Conacher said “Mr. Butcher should drop his weak excuses and reverse his unjustifiable decision and prosecute the people who violated this key democracy law.”