Investigative process consigns Les to limbo, 'dangling in the wind'
- Investigative process consigns Les to limbo, 'dangling in the wind'
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
VICTORIA - For a politician who'd lost his seat at the cabinet table as well as the $50,000 ministerial salary, ex-solicitor-general John Les was as stoic as could reasonably be expected in meeting with reporters Monday.
"Frustrated beyond belief," to be sure. Impact on his family "what I hate about all this." But, "I'm not looking for sympathy."
He sounded bewildered more than anything. Repeated that the first he knew he was under investigation was Friday afternoon, when a question from the news media elicited the fact of the appointment of a special prosecutor from the criminal justice branch.
What about those stories of an investigation into dealings at Chilliwack city hall going back to the days when he was mayor? Reports that police were conducting interviews?
"I never made that link in my mind," Les said. "I had no reason to believe I was the subject of that investigation."
Les insisted all his dealings as mayor were above board. He has two brothers in the development business, and property interests of his own in the municipality.
But during his time as mayor, he recused himself any time those interests were being voted on at council meetings.
You could look it up. "That would be recorded in the minutes of council."
When reporters pressed on other speculative matters, Les backed away. Police investigation in progress, don't you know. And, in any event, "I don't know what story there is for me to respond to."
Police have told him nothing -- haven't even contacted him -- so "I don't feel at this point I need legal representation."
But "if they want to come and talk to me," they know where to find him.
There's the well-groomed home in his Fraser Valley riding, where he spent an idle weekend trimming hedges, mowing lawns and trying to keep his spirits up.
Or his ordinary (sigh) office among all the other run-of-the-mill (double sigh) government backbenchers.
His main hope is that the whole thing resolves itself quickly. "I'm certainly dangling in the wind out there."
Reporters refrained from recalling the case of Peter Dueck, who represented one of the Fraser Valley ridings during the Socred era.
He resigned from cabinet pending an investigation of his ministry. Then spent an entire year languishing on the backbench while police took their own sweet time on the case.
Les declined to comment on the process that consigns ministers to limbo pending outcomes that may not result in charges or any other finding of wrongdoing.
"I just haven't got my thoughts together on that," Les said. "I need some time to reflect on that."
He wasn't alone. The Opposition New Democratic Party seemed to be pushing the view that ministers should invariably resign when under investigation.
But one can readily think of instances where it didn't happen and shouldn't have happened.
Colin Gabelmann, attorney-general in the first NDP government, was accused of perjury by an anti-abortion protester. A special prosecutor was appointed to weigh the accusation and the Opposition B.C. Liberals of the day demanded Gabelmann's resignation.
He refused to do so, arguing that his mistake -- an error in detail in an affidavit filed in court -- was both honest and insignificant.
The special prosecutor agreed. The accusation of perjury "did not come close to being provable in a court of law."
The Liberals were circulating another instance with some glee Monday. When Jenny Kwan, one of John Les's accusers in the current house, was a minister in the last NDP government, she, too, was the target of a special prosecutor-headed police investigation.
The complaint, brought by a developer, was that she'd painted a daisy on the Woodward's building during a protest.
Kwan rightly declined to step down over such a trivial concern.
Or consider the recent accusations against the brother of Attorney-General Wally Oppal.
Special prosecutor appointed. Reviewed the police file. Concluded that "conviction is unlikely because the two primary witnesses for the prosecution lack all credibility and would not be believed."
A law that required a resignation in every instance where a special prosecutor is appointed would have forced Gabelmann and Kwan onto the backbench.
It would also make ministers, even premiers, ready target for witnesses of the kind who came forward in the case involving the attorney-general's brother.
None of which necessarily applies to the John Les case.
The nine-month duration of the investigation suggests that police are wrestling with a fairly substantive matter.
But the fact that they haven't got around to contacting Les raises the possibility that his involvement is only tangential.
We just don't know. But now that the story is out, one can only hope the police and the prosecutor can clear the air one way or the other.
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