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Basi-Virk trial tussles with secrecy issue Add to ...

The prosecutors in a political corruption trial are asking the court not to disclose a large volume of documents on the grounds that releasing the material to the defence could identify several secret informants.

Janet Winteringham, a member of the special prosecutor's team, asserted "informant privilege" numerous times yesterday as she went through a binder containing more than 30 documents.

Ms. Winteringham also said much of the material stemmed from drug investigations that are not relevant to the charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting benefits against Dave Basi, Bob Virk and Aneal Basi.

The three former government employees are accused of allegedly trading in secret government information concerning the $1-billion sale of BC Rail to CN Rail in 2003.

British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Anne MacKenzie followed along with Ms. Winteringham, reading the material that identified the secret informants, but defence lawyers were left holding binders where any material the Crown felt was sensitive had been blacked out.

The procedure created an unusual atmosphere in the court - where only the judge and the prosecutors knew fully what was being discussed.

Judge MacKenzie is reviewing the documents - and will be asked to look at several hundred more - so the court can determine whether the material is covered by informant privilege.

The defence has been seeking the release of the material since 2007, but a court decision on whether it should be disclosed was delayed when the Crown went to the Supreme Court of Canada in an effort to protect the identity of an informant.

William Berardino, the special prosecutor, successfully argued before the Supreme Court of Canada that only the prosecution and the judge could hear the identity of the informant. That recent ruling cleared the way for yesterday's hearing in the Supreme Court of B.C. In a session from which defence lawyers and the public were barred, Mr. Berardino discussed that ruling with Judge MacKenzie and may have produced a secret informant.

None of the lawyers would discuss what happened in camera. When the court opened later, Judge MacKenzie made a statement.

"Having heard the evidence in camera … the Crown did appropriately assert informant privilege in respect to the redacted documents," she said.

As the session proceeded in open court, Ms. Winteringham repeatedly referred to the need to protect informants as she produced documents.

"We're talking about hundreds of documents here," complained Kevin McCullough, who is defending Mr. Virk.

Mr. McCullough also objected to the Crown's description of several documents as irrelevant, saying that is a matter only the judge can determine.

The court review of the documents is expected to continue most of this week.

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