A heartfelt plea left on an answering machine could scuttle all that the missing women inquiry's commissioner had hoped to accomplish
BY IAN MULGREW, VANCOUVER SUN AUGUST 31, 2011 2:11 AM
Missing Women Inquiry Commissioner Wally Oppal made a serious mistake leaving a compassionate phone message for former attorney-general Barry Penner.
It may have doomed his mission.
Oppal's attempt-to-head-offtrouble-before-it-arrives mea culpa on Monday served only to reveal the depth of the wound he has sustained.
It did not staunch the bleeding.
We should not be surprised if someone now tries to kill the inquiry that has always promised to be a house of pain for police and prosecutors.
It's one thing to be generally criticized as a collective for failing to prevent the murder of a hellishly long list of women; it's another to be named publicly, to have personal culpability exposed and institutional failings itemized.
The Liberals, the cops and especially the criminal justice branch do not want that.
Frank Paul, Robert Dziekanski, Ian Bush, Willie Pickton - the growing list of serious cases that have been mishandled in this province is an indictment of the branch.
For two decades, it has ignored flawed and inadequate law-enforcement investigations and at the same time fought tooth and nail to prevent any outside scrutiny of its own failings.
Sadly, deputy attorney-general David Loukidelis has become the government's legal hatchet man, the black-hooded bearer of bad news.
In spite of a stellar 11-year career as an independent watchdog, the former privacy commissioner became immediately controversial with his unexpected defection to the administration in February last year.
He had been offered the plum post two months earlier by erstwhile premier Gordon Campbell.
Yet while mulling the job Loukidelis continued dealing with a pile of sensitive files involving the Liberals.
The optics stank given he and the government were supposedly battling each other.
More so given that he was being portrayed as proudly preparing to take on an expanded and more aggressive role as Liberal antagonist in his dual capacity as registrar of lobbyists.
(Back in 2008, Loukidelis was instrumental in exposing the lobbyist registration act as an ineffective sham.) More recently, he was the brains behind the decision to forgive more than $6 million in legal fees run up by disgraced Liberal insiders David Basi and Bob Virk in the BC Rail fraud case.
Earlier this year, he was also the man who told Oppal the province couldn't afford roughly $1.5 million for groups the former attorney-general thought should participate in his inquiry.
It was an appalling decision that threatened to damage the commission's credibility, so Oppal asked the government to reconsider.
Problem was, he overstepped the line.
Here's part of the heartfelt plea he left for Penner: "These are the women who complained to the police about women being missing. ... and the government is now being seen as funding the people who allegedly [did] everything wrong and ignored the women, ignored the victims but ... will not go and fund the victims, and not fund the women, the poor aboriginal women."
This was considered so awful that Penner prodded Loukidelis to spring into action, send a copy over to the cops' lawyer with a nudge-nudge, wink-wink, between-the-lines hint that maybe Oppal was displaying bias, maybe he'd already made up his mind cops and prosecutors screwed up.
Oppal - who spent 23 years on the bench as a respected jurist and who was considered by some critics to be too much of a Liberal insider to produce anything but a whitewash? Hmmm.
Nevertheless, I get it. As right-on as Oppal's message sounds, it's a call he shouldn't have made while sitting as commissioner.
He sounds like an advocate rather than a disinterested trier of facts. No question.
His right-hand man could have delivered the message - but Oppal should have known better than to leave loaded ammunition on a tape machine for the enemies of this inquiry.
You can understand the paranoia in Victoria. It sounded like Oppal had gone native, got Stockholm Syndrome or something, ruining the best laid plans.
The bright lights in the criminal justice branch already had slyly circumscribed the inquiry by writing terms of reference that restricted it to examining only Crown decisions from the last century (never mind the final screwedup prosecution that produced a head-scratching six guilty verdicts of second-degree murder against Pickton).
The Crown, the police and the government wanted an investigation that was tailored in its scope and ability to find fault.
Oppal sounded like he was threatening that.
I guess they needed to remind him to play well with others or he would get bogged down in legal challenges from police and his former colleagues, In short: They would throw him under the bus if he stepped out of line.
Oppal got it; that's why he was grovelling.
Still, it's not the kind of message that inspires fearless inquiry or public confidence.
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