Ian Mulgrew: From activist to Artful Dodger, Eby defends dysfunctional status quo

A once-celebrated activist speaking truth to power, since taking office B.C. Attorney-General David Eby has performed more like the Artful Dodger, tap-dancing around the dysfunctional status quo.

His tactic is to concede there’s a problem, insist he’s working on it, and plead that it just takes time.

“On the legal aid front, I certainly wouldn’t want to be in the job of defending our current system,” he said in an interview, as if that wasn’t precisely his job. 

“It’s obviously underfunded, there are obviously serious issues around access to justice. … With the current budget, it’s important to know that we had the biggest increase in funding to (the Legal Services Society) in the last 16 years, which I recognize is a low bar, right?” 

Right.

The former B.C. Civil Liberties Association executive director, adjunct law professor at UBC, president of the HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Pivot Legal Society gadfly, Eby’s advocacy on behalf of the needy, the homeless and underclass was recognized by the UN Association in Canada and the B.C. Human Rights Coalition.

These days, there’s less urgency in his desire to change the world.

Aside from failing to address the underfunding of legal aid, Eby has also refused to provide special pre-sentencing documents — called Gladue reports — for all First Nations offenders, instead giving money to the Legal Services Society to provide a limited number.

“I don’t defend it because it’s not acceptable,” Eby said about the province’s approach. “We are woefully behind, I accept it. … I accept that we have work to do.”

Even though he acknowledged the province should be providing the reports — ordered by the Supreme Court of Canada to provide judges with context and unique First Nations’ cultural or historic factors that should be considered in sentencing — Eby added that Indigenous people who can afford it also must pay for their own.

“If they can afford to pay for them. But if they can’t, then it’s government’s responsibility. It’s something I hadn’t considered as a possibility that someone who can afford to pay for their own Gladue report shouldn’t have to.”

He thought non-Indigenous offenders should pay for their pre-sentencing reports, too, if they could afford it.

“The discussion is around limited government resources,” he said. “I think there is a reasonable discussion about whether that person should be paying for it themselves.”

The legal aid budget was slashed by more than 40 per cent in 2002 and the society has been scraping by on just over $80 million a year; $12 million was added to the budget for this year.

At an average cost of between $1,200 and $1,400, providing reports for all the Indigenous clients could require between $6.2 million and $7.2 million.

 

 

As for money laundering and the absence of a single conviction: “One of the problems on the prosecution side, as I understand it, also a federal responsibility, is you have to prove the connection to what’s called the index offence to get a money-laundering conviction. Law enforcement must prove that those $20 bills (stuffed in a hockey bag) are connected to a specific offence and that’s what generated the money, and therefore they can prove money laundering. It’s not enough to be willfully blind to the point of being directly involved.”

He hoped to release the much-anticipated report by former RCMP deputy commissioner Peter German by May 30, after vetting it for information that might compromise investigations or privacy rights.

“The problem was, it seems to me,” Eby said, “is there was nobody — the RCMP didn’t have resources and local police didn’t have resources — to pro-actively receive reports from FINTRAC (the federal ) and then start investigations based on those reports.”

That was exacerbated by no enforcement.

“In Ontario, they have a massive police force dedicated to casinos, and our casino police force was disbanded by the previous government,” Eby said. “Ontario has more than 100 police officers dedicated to their casinos. Here in B.C., we didn’t have any dedicated officers to casinos until 2016.”

Unfortunately, he noted, the federal government must change the criminal code, provide more money for the RCMP, and make FINTRAC more effective.

 

 

As for the Trans Mountain Pipeline protests, well … 

“Charges have been approved for a number of individuals and they are before the court. I won’t comment beyond that.”

Trouble is, many, many more are expected to be charged over the summer and they could swamp the B.C. Supreme Court. It will be difficult to process hundreds of cases within timely trial deadlines.

“It is a real threat to the public’s confidence in the justice system,” Eby agreed. “The … timing starts from the date the charges are laid, so the prosecutors are certainly ensuring now they have everything they need before the charge is laid, because an early laying of charges before all the disclosure has been made and these kinds of things has inadvertently to delay.”

That’s code for the ability of the criminal justice branch to delay laying charges behind a screen of prosecutorial discretion — which is how it dealt with the plethora of Vancouver riot charges.

“All of those decisions are made by prosecutors independently of government, and I would encourage you to the prosecutors about their strategy and ensuring adequate resources,” Eby emphasized.

Confronted with his plodding progress in spite of his urgent demands in opposition for change, Eby quipped: “I would hope that when I was on the other side of the fence I would give the new government more than nine months to solve all the problems created by the previous government.”

From a man advocating on these concerns for years, and in the Legislature chomping at the bit since 2013, that sounds unpersuasive.

Like every other AG, I think he just can’t convince cabinet to provide more money for lawyers, accused criminals, troubled First Nations, and screwed up families.

to report a typo.

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