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Auditor loses bid for BC Rail bills

B.C. Auditor General John Doyle - Black Press files
B.C. Auditor General John Doyle
— image credit: Black Press files

Auditor General John Doyle has lost his bid for detailed defence lawyer billings in the case of two ministerial assistants convicted for their role in the sale of B.C. Rail operations in 2002.

In a ruling released Tuesday, B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Bauman found that Doyle was seeking a "sweeping invasion of solicitor-client privilege" in the case and dismissed his petition to see the documents.

Doyle went to court in an effort to complete his review of the BC Rail sale, in which Dave Basi and Bobby Virk pleaded guilty to breach of trust and accepting a benefit for their role in bidding for BC Rail assets.

Seven years of pre-trail manoeuvring came to a sudden end in October 2010, when Basi and Virk pleaded guilty to providing bid information to a Colorado-based railway company, in exchange for a trip to Denver for a football game and other rewards.

The B.C. government's decision to abandon efforts to recover $6 million in legal fees for the pair sparked a political battle. Two deputy ministers said they made the decision to overrule the policy to recover legal defence fees from government employees if they are found guilty. They concluded it would have added more to legal costs than their assets were worth.

Bauman states in his ruling that current B.C. legislation does not give the Auditor General access to privileged materials such as lawyer bills, and his assurance that they would not be widely shared makes no difference.

Bauman also found that the government's voluntary disclosure of privileged cabinet documents in the case is not relevant to the confidentiality of lawyer bills.

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