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Les Leyne: Five years later, special prosecutor closes ‘quick-win’ election case

As one of the special prosecutors appointed by the Criminal Justice Branch, Vancouver lawyer David Butcher is a key figure in the mysterious investigation that led to the suspension of the legislature clerk and sergeant-at-arms.
Photo - B.C. legislature buildings generic
B.C. legislature in downtown Victoria.

Les Leyne mugshot genericAs one of the special prosecutors appointed by the Criminal Justice Branch, Vancouver lawyer David Butcher is a key figure in the mysterious investigation that led to the suspension of the legislature clerk and sergeant-at-arms.

He took a time-out from that role on Monday to report on another political case he handled — the criminal investigation into the B.C. Liberals’ “multicultural strategic outreach plan,” also known as the quick-wins scandal.

His final report was interesting in its own right, but also for the timing. He closed the case more than five years after he was appointed. No two cases are alike, but anyone eager to learn more about the circumstances behind the abrupt departure of legislature clerk Craig James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz will shudder at the implications. Police investigations into political matters under special prosecutors don’t often wrap up quickly.

The quick-wins scandal dated back to before the 2013 election, when the B.C. Liberals drafted a shabby plan to knit government and party workers together into a team that would co-ordinate policies and activities tailored to appeal to ethnic voters.

The nickname stemmed from a note that said they could get quick political wins from things such as issuing apologies for historical wrongs.

The draft outline put the Liberals miles offside on all the usual protocols separating government policies from partisan political activities.

It was leaked to the NDP early in 2013 and caused a furor. Then-premier Christy Clark’s deputy minister launched an investigation that found serious breaches of the standards of conduct by several individuals.

But then-NDP leader Adrian Dix dropped the issue as the election neared. After Clark won, he filed a complaint to the RCMP based on a leak about the original scandal and other issues related to the Liberal leadership campaign won by Clark.

That led to Butcher’s appointment. One official, Brian Bonney, eventually pleaded guilty to breach of trust and last January was handed a nine-month conditional sentence to be served in the community.

Butcher filled in more details on Monday. He said during the Liberal leadership election in 2012, one individual phoned an MLA to pass along 110 personal ID numbers used in voting. The MLA forwarded them to one of the candidates.

Butcher said the police did not recommend criminal charges, but they did recommend charges under the Election Act, which he declined to approve because of insufficient evidence.

He said the multicultural-outreach aspect was a lengthy and challenging investigation. They had to search Gmail servers in California for evidence. Some of the accounts were empty when searched. Some key witnesses never provided statements to police.

Butcher noted that although several witnesses asserted that the draft plan was never carried out, the evidence gathered by the RCMP established that certain parts of it were executed.

“Community liaisons” were hired, and one of them was employed by a numbered company that was controlled by Bonney and a Liberal Party colleague.

That individual was told to keep the employment contract private and “never say that they worked for a minister, MLA or political party.”

“Their business card described their position as ‘honorary community liaison.’ ”

Butcher said that as a government official, Bonney worked for nine months supervising three people doing partisan work such as radio call-in shows, writing letters to the editor and arranging meetings.

“Bonney knew that his involvement was inappropriate,” said Butcher. He once sent a group email stating: “Remember, you still don’t know me!!!”

Butcher also cited the remarks at sentencing by Judge David St. Pierre, who said: “I find that the misuse of government power or resources for other purposes, such as gaining an unfair advantage on political opponents, is properly characterized as a kind of political corruption.”

Butcher had asked for a 12- to 23-month sentence for Bonney, but the judge imposed nine months, noting he was not the architect and the plan was developed by people higher up the chain of command.

Bonney had pleaded guilty to separate charges that arose after police started investigating him.

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