Written by Robin Mathews
Alberta energy specialist Andrew Nikiforuk (Tyee, Feb. 22, 2013) reports the involvement of the federal Minister of Justice in what may be called direct interference with the rule of law in Alberta. The story Nikiforuk tells leaves the trail of malfeasance clear and examinable.
In “a stunning move the Harper government” - through the Department of Justice (reports Andrew Nikiforuk) - has promoted a key judge (in a landmark fracking case) from the Court of Queen’s Bench to the Alberta Court of Appeal. As Andrew Nikiforuk puts it, the move was made in order to remove Justice Barbara L. Veldhuis, presiding judge, from “the multi-million dollar ($33 million) lawsuit” being pressed by Jessica Ernst in the matter of fracking pollution and those responsible for it.
Madam Justice Veldhuis will be replaced. Her replacement will automatically be questionable – suspected of being a “plant” to prejudice the case in favour of Stephen Harper and Encana, one of Canada’s largest natural gas producers.
Readers need to know that the judge on a case is usually – for very obvious reasons – bound to that case. The judge is said to be “seized” with the case – meaning responsible for all aspects of it from beginning to end. Being “seized” usually means not to be interfered with, not unnecessarily delayed, NOT REPLACED without very sound reason – because the judge knows most about the complications of the case.
The judge is “seized” also because law and courts have a long history of powers of all kinds wanting to get rid of judges in order to tamper with, change, and/or redirect the judgement in cases. That is one of the reasons a judge is “seized” – so that any meddling by power can be seen for what it is, an action intended to violate the fair administration of justice.
Jessica Ernst is fighting Encana. and was close to getting a ruling from Madam Justice Veldhuis that she could sue “Alberta’s energy regulator … for failing to uphold provincial rules, protect groundwater, and respect the constitutional rights of Canadians”.
That ruling would have placed a burden of responsibility upon frackers that they have been doing everything they can to avoid [with the full support of Stephen Harper, anti-environmentalist].
The Harper Junta interference is, I suggest, mischievous, prejudicial, scandalous, and stunning in its obviousness.
But we have been there before.
In the trial of Dave Basi, Bobby Virk, and Aneal Basi (part of the corrupt transfer of BC Rail to the CNR by the Gordon Campbell group) the judge “seized” with the matter was Madam Justice Elizabeth Bennett. The pre-trial and trial ran from after the laying of charges in December 2004 to the outrageous explosive-ending of the trial in October 2010.
But that ending happened without Elizabeth Bennett presiding.
For – like Justice Barbara L. Veldhuis in the fracking case – Bennett was removed in what many believe was a Stephen Harper decision to protect his ‘friends’ - Gordon Campbell and others.
In order to defend the accused, Defence lawyers had to call for RCMP officers’ notebooks, for investigation records, for materials in BC Rail headquarters, for government records of pre-sale manipulations, and much more. At almost every call, RCMP delayed. The Special Crown Prosecutor fudged and fumbled. Almost every time, Madam Justice Bennett upheld the Defence request as a reasonable part of the rights of the accused to defend against the charges against them.
Out of the blue Madam Justice Elizabeth Bennett – by the power that only resides in the Minister of Justice in Ottawa - was raised to the B.C. Appeal Court. Would she leave the matter that she was seized with? In theory, she didn’t have to.
Then a nightmare event happened in the B.C. Supreme Court. Out of nowhere the bulldog Associate Chief Justice of the day Patrick Dohm appeared to preside at a process.
The apparent reason for the event was for the Special Prosecutor William Berardino to make a motion that Madam Justice Elizabeth Bennett be removed from the case. He gave two reasons. The first and completely ridiculous reason was that she couldn’t be in two places at once – and so must go. The second reason he evinced was that she had incorrectly employed process. That I believe was a wholly false assertion.
Associate Chief Justice Patrick Dohm received the motion with enthusiasm … and with such approval that he admitted he had already chosen the person to succeed Elizabeth Bennett. That meant he had to have chosen Bennett’s replacement before there was a motion to have a replacement made!
The Special Prosecutor, incidentally, had been appointed in flagrant violation of the legislation governing the appointment of Special Prosecutors. William Berardino was not noted for experience in criminal prosecutions. But he had been partner and colleague for seven years of the sitting Attorney General Geoff Plant. And he had been partner and colleague for eleven years of the sitting Deputy Attorney General Allan Seckel. Because of those connections he was completely unqualified for the appointment he received.
It seems he was to focus on the three men, to get a judgement against them, and to show to British Columbians that there had been real wrongdoers in the “sale” of BC Rail, three of them, three (lower level) Sikh employees, and they were all charged and were all convicted. Justice triumphs! End of story.
It didn’t work. Mr. Berardino was confronted by excellent Defence counsel. They made a strong and fair case that defence of the accused could only be made by examining the actions of their highly dubious superiors…who gave orders.
Madam Justice Bennett permitted that reasonable defence.
Madam Justice Bennett was removed.
She was replaced by Madam Justice Anne MacKenzie who was very soon elevated – a few weeks later - to Associate Chief Justice upon the retirement of Patrick Dohm. Quite soon after the end of the Basi, Virk, and Basi trial, she was elevated to the British Columbia Appeal Court.
Her role, it seemed to me sitting in the courtroom, was to get the case back to the three men only. But it didn’t work.
The trial became a hilarious display of amnesia ... almost of general Altzheimers Disease. Gordon Campbell’s decade-long chief of staff, Martyn Brown, could remember almost nothing. A member of the BC Rail Board, Brian G. Kenning, could hardly remember his own name, and didn’t even finish his testimony before the trial ended. And there were to be about twenty-five more of the same to come.
If the cross-examination had continued in the same way – and it might have grown worse – the cover-up of major wrongdoers would, I am sure, have exploded. Something had to be done to end it. Backroom dealing went into high gear. The three accused agreed to what might be called charges reduced to almost nothing. The government of Gordon Campbell agreed to pay all of the ($6 million) costs of Defence.
The $6 million (that might be called a bribe by some) to avoid criminal charges against top politicians and corporate ‘leaders’ (and perhaps some years behind bars for them) was cheap. It was a breach of procedure and was paid out of the pockets of the taxpayers of British Columbia – but what the hell! It worked.
Stephen Harper’s ‘friends’ got out of it all unscathed – and without paying a penny - by the simple action of the Minister of Justice in Ottawa stepping in (on Stephen Harper’s orders?), and promoting Madam Justice Elizabeth Bennett from the B.C. Supreme Court to the B.C Appeal Court. To prove his prowess in the matter, Stephen Harper then appointed Gordon Campbell to what is perhaps the highest diplomatic position a Canadian can hold – Canadian High Commissioner in London.
In both cases, in B.C. and Alberta, the Stephen Harper Junta has used the courts and the administration of justice, I believe, to violate trust, to support alleged wrongdoers who might be found to be in serious fault or even criminally responsible, and to make justice in Canada a plaything of corrupt power.
I suggest that only a government powered by a psychopath could so viciously and openly attack the rule of law in Canada.
Written by Robin Mathews
The Straight Goods
Cheers Eyes Wide Open