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'Black cloud' could be hanging over BC Rail case Add to ...

The wheels of justice are often said to grind slowly, but rarely have they ground as slowly as the excruciating, tortoise-like pace that has befallen British Columbia's high-stakes, political corruption trial.

More on than going, proceedings against former Liberal political aides Dave Basi, Bob Virk, and Aneal Basi have become a poster child for the catchphrase, "one damn thing after another."

"You start to wonder whether there's a black cloud hanging over this case," said one observer close to the proceedings, after yet another postponement on Monday.

Since opening May 18, the trial, once set for six weeks but now scheduled to run until next March at the earliest, has heard from only two witnesses.

Meanwhile, the trial, itself, did not begin until more than five years after corruption charges were first laid against the accused back in 2005.

This seemingly interminable gestation of a case that reaches high into the ranks of the Liberal government and its controversial decision to sell BC Rail has been manna from heaven for the ruling Liberals.

For years, through elections in 2005 and 2009, Liberal cabinet ministers, from Premier Gordon Campbell on down, have refused to answer a single question about their involvement in the $1-billion BC Rail sale, arguing they can say nothing because the matter is before the courts.

"It's my belief that all these delays have probably saved the Liberals' bacon in two elections, at least," complains NDP MLA Leonard Krog, who has spearheaded his party's efforts to get to the bottom of the controversy.

And many believe proceedings have dragged on so long that the public interest is dwindling, even with the case finally at trial.

Recent damaging revelations in court about high-rolling BC Rail executives and their lucrative severance payouts when the government followed their recommendations to sell the railway have elicited little public outrage.

But Mr. Krog remains convinced that a day of reckoning for the Liberals over BC Rail is still at hand.

"It's death from a thousand cuts. Every week there are new revelations, and the completion of this trial will, I feel, seal their fate."

The railway was sold to CN Rail in 2003, despite Mr. Campbell's pre-election promise to keep it in public hands.

Dave Basi and Mr. Virk are charged with receiving benefits in exchange for disclosing confidential information to one of the bidders for BC Rail, while Aneal Basi, Mr. Basi's cousin, is facing a charge of money laundering.

The accused contend they were acting under government orders.

Even Mr. Krog, however, can't help but wonder where the trial is bound, given its bizarre history, with delays becoming as commonplace as Lindsay Lohan court appearances.

"You do sort of start to think someone's maybe got a horseshoe turned the wrong way, or something," he said.

The latest hiccup in proceedings was prompted by Dave Basi falling victim to the flu.

That follows hard on the struggles of last week, when various juror mishaps, including illness and a broken hand, caused the court to stop and start like cars at a traffic light.

The trial was also put on hold for a few days early on to allow Madam Justice Anne MacKenzie to consider the implications, if any, of an unusual incident involving a father of one of the prosecutors, who approached and spoke to two of the jurors.

The judge subsequently instructed jurors to draw no negative influences from the encounter.

There followed a two-month summer break, and long before that, a change in judges, and a two-year fight to resolve a matter before the Supreme Court of Canada.

"You really do start to seriously consider whether this whole thing is cursed," said political consultant Bill Tieleman, who has covered and blogged about the Basi-Virk case from the beginning.

Long since lost in the distant past is the bold proclamation of then associate chief justice Patrick Dohm who declared the trial would begin on Nov. 28, 2005, "no matter what."

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