A marathon political corruption trial that has been before the Supreme Court of British Columbia for nearly five years got a new judge Wednesday - and a new sense of urgency.
In making her first appearance, Madam Justice Anne MacKenzie left no doubt that she wants the case against Dave Basi, Bob Virk and Aneal Basi to get moving.
"You can anticipate the trial will start in early January," she told the assembled teams of lawyers, most of whom have been on the case since the three former government employees were charged in 2004 with fraud, breach of trust and money laundering.
The defence had been anticipating a much later start to the trial, and Mr. Virk's lawyer, Kevin McCullough, rose to suggest January might be too optimistic a target.
"I don't want to start off on the wrong foot … [but]I don't anticipate disclosure will be complete," he said, referring to an ongoing and much-argued process that has seen the defence win access to thousands of cabinet documents.
There are several outstanding applications to do with disclosure issues, the admissibility of search warrants and wiretap evidence. And there is an appeal before the Supreme Court of Canada regarding a secret informant whose identity the Crown is seeking to protect.
But Judge MacKenzie, who is taking over because Madam Justice Elizabeth Bennett has been promoted to the B.C. Court of Appeal, said she is familiar with the case files and feels confident disclosure issues will be wrapped up by January. "I have read every decision and I have read mountains of transcripts [from this case]" she said.
When Mr. McCullough objected that the original trial date - November, 2005 - had also seemed reasonable at one point, Judge MacKenzie cut him off.
"I understand your position," she said, indicating he should sit down and stop talking.
She then proceeded to run through a series of dates with Crown and defence counsel, setting out the schedule she expects to see followed throughout October, November and December.
Among other things, she pushed up the timing of an application the defence is expected to make in which it will argue that the right of the accused to have a trial within a reasonable time has been violated.
When Michael Bolton, who is defending Dave Basi, said more time was needed to prepare medical and economic reports from experts on the impact that delays have had on the accused, Judge MacKenzie granted a bit more time, but set firm dates.
"I want to set them so you can tell your medical people those are the court dates," she said.
"You'll have to … explain [to medical and financial experts]the court's urgency on this matter, because sometimes these things can get dragged out."
William Berardino, the special prosecutor, said the Crown is ready to go to trial now and has been since last spring.
Judge MacKenzie told the lawyers to return to court on Oct. 13, when she'll hear an application related to the disclosure of BC Rail documents.
"We've accomplished a significant amount and I'm satisfied," she said before standing down.
Outside court, Leonard Krog, a lawyer and justice critic for the NDP, said he was impressed with the judge's take-charge attitude.
"The train has a new engineer and she wants more coal in the fire box. She's taken over the case … and I think she intends to drive this [to trial] She wants it done," he said.
Mr. Krog said defence lawyers have in effect been put on notice that "if they are going to delay any of this, they are going to have to have some pretty good excuses."
The case came to public attention on Dec. 28, 2003, when police investigators searched the offices of Dave Basi and Mr. Virk, both high-level ministerial aides who were involved with the government's $1-billion sale of BC Rail to CN Rail.Report Typo/Error