A former politician with vivid experience of what happens when police start investigating politicians recounted his expectations Friday of what could arise from NDP Leader Adrian Dix’s complaint.
Former solicitor general Kash Heed said people can expect two things. First: “Everybody is going to lawyer up.” And second, the conclusion could be a long way in the future, because these political cases move slowly.
Dix stunned the political world Thursday by revealing he complained in August to RCMP about matters related to the B.C. Liberals’ ethnic-outreach scandal and other issues. That came moments after the criminal justice branch announced that a special prosecutor has been working with police since Aug. 29 on the case.
Heed is personally familiar with the experience of having his political affairs subject to an RCMP investigation. A questionable brochure produced by some of his workers in the 2009 campaign prompted a police investigation. He stepped down immediately. A special prosecutor quickly cleared him and he resumed his portfolio. Then the special prosecutor was found to be a B.C. Liberal donor. It threw the findings in doubt, and Heed had to resign again.
A new investigation eventually charged some campaign staff and exonerated Heed, although he was dinged for over-spending. He never made it back into cabinet and resigned at the last election.
One of the offshoots of that case was a tightening of the checking process for lawyers eligible to be special prosecutors. It’s safe to assume David Butcher, QC was triple-checked before he was named special prosecutor in this case.
Heed, a former police chief, said the RCMP handle all Election Act investigations under a protocol established several years ago. He said they will have likely set up a project team and given it a name.
In Dix’s complaint, the link between the planned ethnic-outreach program, in 2011, and alleged Election Act violations is not clear.
That act describes many things that are offences, such as vote-buying, intimidation, subversion, and using false or misleading information. There are also lengthy restrictions about campaign financing, spending limits and record-keeping.
There are hints that Dix’s complaint relies partly on evidence compiled by the deputy ministers who investigated the ethnic-outreach issue and partly on new information that emerged after the election.
Heed said the case could be a straightforward Election Act violation or evolve into a breach-of-trust case, which would be a more serious Criminal Code matter.
“If the case is contained to Election Act violations, the consequences will be minimal compared to the legal costs that will be incurred.”
“If it crosses that line (between the Election Act and the Criminal Code) it’s different.”
The number of lawyers, the political involvement and the stakes involved will drag the issue out.
Although the case is loaded to the brim with politics, Dix said his complaint has nothing to do with the election results.
“This is about serious misconduct, in my view, over time, that the Liberal party engaged in.”
Les Leyne writes for the Victoria Times Colonist.