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Bob Mackin

The all-party committee that manages British Columbia’s Legislative Assembly met July 2 and wasted no time to release one report budgeted for $100,000.

But it did not discuss the one that cost only $13,000 and recommended saving $1 million.

The latter report was finished almost seven months ago by Speaker Darryl Plecas’s chief of staff Alan Mullen, who toured assemblies on both sides of the border last summer. Mullen found B.C.’s $226,000-a-year sergeant-at-arms is overpaid and the Parliament Buildings’ police force should become a lower-cost security department.

Legislative Assembly Protective Services badges (Leg.BC.ca)

Legislative Assembly Protective Services cost $5 million in 2018-2019 to police the 12-acre precinct and charged $1.8 in overtime from 2013 to 2018. Meanwhile, it cost taxpayers in suburban Oak Bay $4.7 million for its full service municipal police department.

Inexplicably, the Legislative Assembly Management Committee kept Mullen’s January report secret and the house leaders of the three parties did not respond when theBreaker.news asked why. It took a leak for it to finally become public on June 22, the day the Legislature reconvened after a three-month pandemic hiatus.

During its 45-minute open session on July 2, LAMC only discussed the ADR Education workplace review. The workplace review stemmed from Plecas’s bombshell January 2019 report about corruption by the clerk and sergeant-at-arms.

LAMC hired ADR last fall. Its 27-page report, based on more than 150 interviews by a five-member team, described Legislature staff working in a “climate of fear.” Workers were afraid to speak out for fear of being fired, before what ADR called “the events of November 2018.”

That was when Clerk Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz were suspended by unanimous vote of MLAs and escorted from the building because of an RCMP corruption investigation.

“Perceptions of unfair employment practices were expressed, specifically that people could be summarily dismissed seemingly without cause,” the ADR report said. “Both current and former employees described situations where they perceived that decision-making was undertaken with little or no rationale, thereby creating uncertainty, suspicion and reducing trust.”

Anonymized comments included:

  • “Back in the day we were all just following orders, we couldn’t stick our heads up. People would get fired.”
  • “It felt like you couldn’t ask questions. Things were decided and you just kept your head down and did what you were told.”
  • “Abuse of authority at the top creates a climate of fear.”

ADR said conditions are improving since the Plecas report, but there continues to be a hangover effect, which causes some workers to “remain suspicious and a little fearful.”

Craig James (standing left) and Gary Lenz (back to camera) minutes before their suspension was announced in the B.C. Legislature (Hansard TV)

“Many were left feeling as if they were unfairly, ‘tarred with the same brush’ and that public perception shifted dramatically, making them feel somewhat ashamed to be affiliated with the organization. Moreover, people reported that they were shocked and dismayed at what was being revealed and as a result, lost confidence in the Legislative Assembly as a whole. The resulting investigations and reports have left some people feeling that confidentiality was breached and that they are being unfairly penalized for the actions of a few. All of this was compounded by a feeling of being ‘rudderless’ without a permanent Clerk and Sergeant at Arms in place.”

The report, however, does not explain that when James and Lenz were suspended Nov. 20, 2018, several veterans in the Press Gallery focused on the whistleblowers instead of the subjects of the police investigation. Several commentators sympathetic to James and Lenz sided with the opposition BC Liberals and suggested Plecas and Mullen be replaced.

James and Lenz held a news conference six days after they were suspended. They proclaimed their innocence and demanded their jobs back. However, in May 2019, James retired in disgrace after retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin found he committed misconduct. At the end of September 2019, Lenz did the same, when former Deputy Vancouver Police Chief Doug LePard found he violated the Police Act for lying to McLachlan and failing to investigate James.

The RCMP investigation is ongoing.

Retired-in-disgrace Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz (BC Leg)

The ADR report did not focus on the Speaker’s office, but instead the office of the clerk, now occupied by James’s former deputy Kate Ryan-Lloyd.

ADR concluded “too much power and management oversight [is] concentrated in the Clerk’s office.”

“The impact of the perception that, ‘all lanes lead to the Clerk’s Office’ creates a perceived decision-making ‘bottle-neck’ that contributes to delays, inefficiencies and can have a disempowering impact when people feel they are not trusted to exercise their authority and leadership. Many people expressed a concern that the disempowering effect was leading to lethargy and disengagement.”

The five reviewers also concluded the Legislative Assembly is a resilient workplace in transition, still recovering from “the events of 2018.” But there is growing confidence it is moving in the right direction.

“Trust is being re-established incrementally and most staff expressed being engaged, committed, and hopeful about the future of their workplace and its evolving culture.”

ADR recommended the Legislative Assembly should create an internal communications strategy, publish a virtual handbook of workplace policies and procedures, institute a performance appraisal system for all employees, expand professional development training, conduct a team building, leadership retreat for senior management and conduct a followup review in nine-to-12 months.

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Bob Mackin The all-party committee that manages

Bob Mackin

The bill to quarantine travellers and temporary foreign workers at a Richmond hotel could be as high as $12 million, theBreaker.news has learned.

On April 10, no-bid contracts worth $8.5 million and $3.5 million were awarded under emergency procurement rules to Richmond Inn Investments Inc., the company that owns the Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel.

Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel.

April 10 was also the day the B.C. government seconded some of its workers to Vancouver International Airport and land border crossings when it deemed federal government efforts to enforce quarantine laws insufficient. The secondment program ended June 20, but Service B.C. will continue compliance and wellness checks.

Emergency Management B.C. told theBreaker.news on June 30 that the B.C. government “funded the cost for any international travellers arriving in B.C. who were provided self-isolation accommodations by the province. This includes temporary foreign workers. Total costs for the program are not yet available.”

EMBC said it “drafted contracts to ensure returning travellers and temporary foreign workers had the supports they needed to keep themselves and others safe,” but it did not explain why it chose Richmond Inn Investments Inc., whose directors are Larco Investments’ partner Amin Lalji and Larco vice-president of taxation Tracy MacKinnon.

In 2016, Business in Vancouver reported that hotel workers’ union UNITE HERE discovered Larco-associated companies were in the Panama Papers database of offshore companies for registering assets in tax havens. The closely held West Vancouver-based company’s multi-billion-dollar real estate portfolio ranges from luxury hotels and casinos to buildings that house Canada Revenue Agency offices. 

As of June 5, NDP MLA Ravi Kahlon Tweeted that 31,276 travellers had been checked by B.C. government staff through land border crossings, 24,778 at airports and 137 quarantined.

The Canadian Red Cross was hired on a $493,000 no-bid contract for self-isolation support and Yellow Cabs received a $50,000 sole source gig to taxi quarantine subjects from the airport to the hotel. OXD Consulting, formerly OpenRoad Communications, was contracted for $90,000 to develop plans for temporary foreign workers entering B.C. and to establish silviculture camps.

The total for the above no-bid contracts: $13.35 million.

Meanwhile, EMBC hired KPMG for $500,000 on a no-bid contract to “plan, allocate and distribute” critical supplies to healthcare institutions. That was for the COVID-19 Supply Hub program website for health authorities to buy medical supplies and personal protective equipment.

Amin Lalji (right) in 2013 with Premier Christy Clark (BC Gov)

In related projects, the government contracted 18 Wheels Logistics Inc. for $150,000 for warehousing, distribution and logistics for the COVID-19 response and $74,000 to 7 Consulting Inc. of Victoria to “develop process to engage the vendor community in aiding with technology-related challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The latter contract may be the biggest eyebrow-raiser of them all.

Lucky 7 

A corporate records search by theBreaker.news found that 7 Consulting’s only director is Nicola “Nikki” Sieben, a former 20-year veteran of the B.C. Public Service and wife of Deputy Solicitor General Mark Sieben.

Nikki Sieben (whose last name is the German word for seven) established her consultancy at home near Victoria’s Beacon Hill Park in 2018 after almost three years as IBM Canada’s associate partner for B.C. public sector contracts and a year as the chief transformation officer in the Provincial Health Services Authority.

Mark Sieben has been Deputy Solicitor General since June 2016.

The Ministry of Citizens’ Services’ digital platforms and data division “sought to increase internal capacity,” said a ministry statement to theBreaker.news. “7 Consulting Inc.’s prior experience working with DPD set it out as singularly qualified and available to do this work on the timelines called for in the circumstances.

“Further, as an independent contractor, and one not seeking to sell COVID-related solutions into government, 7 Consulting Inc. could provide the independence and objectivity of analysis required to fulfil the work contemplated in the present contract.”

Normally, any service contract between $25,000 and $75,000 must be awarded under a competitive process by posting to the B.C. Bid procurement website or by obtaining at least three quotes.

But B.C. government procurement rules also allow for emergency contract awards. B.C. has been under an official state of emergency since March 18, as declared by Mark Sieben’s superior, Solicitor General Mike Farnworth. Mark Sieben is part of a committee of deputy ministers that is coordinating the government response to the pandemic.

Mark and Nikki Sieben

“Ministries may directly acquire goods and services when an unforeseen emergency exists,” reads the core policy. “Emergency Purchase Orders must only be used to meet extraordinary deadlines that have pre-empted the ability to access the normal acquisition processes for goods and services.”

Government policy also states that “employees who find themselves in an actual, perceived or potential conflict of interest must disclose the matter to their supervisor or manager.”

It is not clear whether Mark Sieben did any of that. Neither Mark Sieben nor Farnworth responded to theBreaker.news for comment.

Meanwhile, Hooper Access and Privacy Consulting was contracted to process an FOI request “involving employees at Information Access Operations,” the office in the Citizens’ Services ministry that processes FOI requests across government.

But the ministry would not comment on specifics of Bev Hooper’s contract, citing privacy and confidentiality.

“This was an exceptional situation requiring an impartial individual to process the request. This step was taken to protect privacy/confidentiality and ensure a level of comfort for current employees.”   

Figures compiled by the late Dermod Travis of IntegrityBC show that between 2013 and 2018, Hooper billed the B.C. government and Crown corporations PartnershipsBC, Transportation Investment Corp., BC Rail and B.C. Pavilion Corporation a combined total of more than $1.5 million.

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Bob Mackin The bill to quarantine travellers

Bob Mackin (Updated June 30)

Documents filed June 29 with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal allege the former CEO of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics got special treatment from the RCMP and that the force discriminated against the indigenous men and women who claimed to be childhood victims of John Furlong.

Six members of the Lake Babine Nation are accusing the RCMP of racism and bias in a case that the Canadian Human Rights Commission decided in January would proceed to the tribunal. Hearing dates are pending.

In the complainants’ statement of particulars, Cathy Woodgate, Richard Perry, Dorothy Williams, Ann Tom, Maurice Joseph and Emma Williams claim they suffered discrimination by the RCMP contrary to the Canadian Human Rights Act. They also claim the RCMP protected Furlong because the Mounties were assigned the $900 million task of securing the Games.

John Furlong (left) and RCMP Olympic security head Bud Mercer in 2010 (BudMercer.ca)

“The complainants’ claim is about the RCMP’s investigation into their experiences of childhood abuse in Northern British Columbia, but it represents the experiences of many other indigenous people nationwide,” said the filing from London, Ont. human-rights lawyer Karen Bellehumeur.

“This case also demonstrates how the protection of powerful individuals serves to exacerbate the discrimination of oppressed groups.”

The filing explains how Beverley Abraham gave a statement to a constable in July 2012 at the Burns Lake detachment, but the file was transferred to Cpl. Quinton Mackie at Prince George because Burns Lake was short-staffed. Abraham was a former student at Immaculata Elementary School in Burns Lake when Furlong first came to Canada from Ireland, as a volunteer gym teacher with a Catholic lay group called the Frontier Apostles.

“Ms. Abraham had alleged the abuse occurred in 1969-70, but the Olympic CEO had written a biography and given many speeches in which he said he arrived in Canada in 1974,” the filing says. “Sgt. Beson reported back that there had been no security clearance done on the CEO. RCMP files show Cpl. Mackie did not ever ask the VANOC CEO why he said he came to Canada in 1974, five years after he had actually arrived, which was 1969.”

Abraham was among 22 former Immaculata and/or Prince George College students interviewed by Ontario journalist Laura Robinson for her Sept. 27, 2012 expose on Furlong in the Georgia Straight (“John Furlong biography omits secret past in Burns Lake”). Robinson found numerous omissions and inconsistencies in Furlong’s 2011-published memoir, Patriot Hearts.

Laura Robinson’s expose in the Georgia Straight, Sept. 27, 2012.

Furlong has always denied the abuse allegations. None of the allegations has been tested in a criminal or civil court. He filed defamation lawsuits in B.C. Supreme Court against the Georgia Straight and Robinson in late 2012, but later withdrew them. Robinson lost her defamation case against Furlong in 2015.

The filing mentions that The Tyee reported Sept. 27, 2012 that Furlong’s co-writer, Globe and Mail columnist Gary Mason, said he had never been told about Furlong’s time in Burns Lake. According to documents obtained by the complainants, Mackie met on Oct. 23, 2012 with Furlong, his lawyer Marvin Storrow and Andrea Shaw, a former VANOC vice-president and founder of the TwentyTen Group sports marketing firm.

“Cpl. Mackie’s notes show that the VANOC CEO mentioned that 35,000 words had to be cut out of his book, and that’s why there was no mention of his earlier arrival to Canada. An RCMP Witness List shows Cpl. Mackie was to obtain a Production Order for the first draft of his book, Patriot Hearts. He did not obtain one.”

At a news conference the same day as Robinson’s story hit the streets, Furlong conceded that he did live in Burns Lake in 1969, but called his time in the community “brief” and “uneventful.” He also called his book a memoir, not a biography. When a Chinese version of Patriot Hearts was published in 2018, the chapter that led to complaints to the RCMP and Robinson’s story was substantially the same as the 2011 version.

Mason stands behind his original statement from September 2012.
“I really can’t add anything beyond my original comments to you several years ago when this whole thing broke,” Mason said by email. “John did not mention his time in B.C. to me prior to arriving as a landed immigrant in 1974 during the writing of the book.”
Shaw has not responded for comment.

The commission filing also says that the investigation into abuse at Immaculata continued into late 2013 and was split in two separate investigations, one for the allegations by Abraham and the other for all abuse at Immaculata. No file was assigned to the allegations at Prince George College.

By May 2014, a concluding report on both files determined that ‘all individuals interviewed had recollections that were devoid of “details for time, place, identity of suspect, and any corroborating events that could possibly overcome these deficiencies.”

Other than for Abraham, none of the complainants was offered support services or translation services (English was not the first language of several complainants).

Covers of Furlong’s 2011 book and 2018 Chinese translation.

The concluding report said of the 18 interviews conducted, only six had been recorded. No charges were laid.

“Those findings were made even though witnesses interviewed had been asked very few questions about details and no follow-up interviews had been conducted.”

Except for Abraham, none of the individuals interviewed was told of the outcome or reasons for the lack of charges.

“Ms. Abraham received a letter saying there was not enough evidence for Crown counsel to recommend charges, however a RCMP file indicates: ‘In the end the Crown made no recommendations because they did not have intimate file knowledge but did say that there is a threshold that needs to be met for charge approval’.”

The filing alleged that Furlong was friendly with then Premier-Christy Clark and then-Attorney General Suzanne Anton, and that the RCMP afforded him special treatment because he had been the head of an Olympics that resulted in the biggest, most-expensive peacetime operation in Canadian history.

Two senior officers overseeing the investigation, Paul Richards and Rod Booth, were also senior officers in the Olympic security operation, the Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit, but did not recuse themselves. Instead, the senior officers had significant influence over officers conducting the investigation, under their command. 

The filing also said the complainants against Furlong were not treated the same as those who had complained against convicted junior hockey coach Graham James. The complainants against Furlong were indigenous and James’s victims were not.

“The complainants in the Graham James investigation did not experience the kind of adverse impacts experienced by the complainants in this case. Once identified, witnesses were interviewed promptly and thoroughly and were also supported. Those that reported abuse were kept informed about the investigation and the results.”

A June 29 statement from Lake Babine Nation Hereditary Chief Ronnie West said he gave an affidavit in May 2012 alleging he witnessed abuse by Furlong, but was never interviewed by the RCMP. 

“We were characterized as liars. We are not liars,” West said. “What we said happened, happened and the RCMP didn’t investigate.”

During February’s 10th anniversary celebrations of Vancouver 2010, Furlong suggested the city bid for the 2030 Winter Olympics.

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Canadian Human Rights Tribunal Woodgate Et Al v RCMP by Bob Mackin on Scribd

Bob Mackin (Updated June 30) Documents filed June

For the week of June 28, 2020.

Last summer, the BC Liberals were ridiculing Alan Mullen for spending $13,000 on a tour of legislatures on both sides of the border. They called it his excellent summer road trip.  

In the wake of the corruption scandal and RCMP investigation that rocked the Legislature, Speaker Darryl Plecas sent his chief of staff on a fact-finding mission to learn how B.C. could save money at the seat of government.

Mullen tabled a report in January that recommends how to save at least $1 million.

Alan Mullen, chief of staff to Speaker Darryl Plecas. (Mackin)

But the all-party Legislative Assembly Management Committee chose to keep the report secret for six months. It finally leaked out last week, when lawmakers reconvened after a three-month pandemic hiatus. 

“Why did you go silent?” Mullen asks. “Because if you were so concerned back in August and September that this was a gross waste of money, why, when you received it in January, did you not give it to the British Columbia taxpayer and say ‘here’s what you got for your $13,000, you tell us, is it worth it or or is it not?'” 

It turns out Mullen’s report was prescient, because he advocated defunding the Legislative Assembly Protective Services and replacing the Parliament Buildings’ police force with a security department.

It costs more for LAPS to police 12 acres than what Victoria suburbs Oak Bay and Central Saanich pay for their full-service police departments. LAPS is over-staffed and prone to charging overtime, even though it has to call-in the Victoria Police to deal with protests.

Mullen also proposed phasing out the $226,000-a-year, full-time sergeant-at-arms position.

Read a copy of the Mullen Report, click here. Click below to listen to Alan Mullen, this week’s featured guest on theBreaker.news Podcast with host Bob Mackin

Plus Pacific Rim and Pacific Northwest headlines and commentary, including Mackin’s proposal for how Canada can achieve freedom for Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor without returning Meng Wanzhou to China.

CLICK BELOW to listen or go to TuneIn or Apple Podcasts.

Have you missed an edition of theBreaker.news Podcast? Go to the archive.

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theBreaker.news Podcast
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theBreaker.news Podcast: MLAs hid report that recommends cutting waste at B.C. Legislature
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For the week of June 28, 2020.

Bob Mackin

(Editor’s note: This is part two of a joint investigation with CTV News Vancouver. Click here for part one. )

On April 19, a month and a day after he declared British Columbia’s pandemic state of emergency, Solicitor General Mike Farnworth stood at the podium in the Vancouver cabinet office at Canada Place.

The province was struggling with overlapping health and economic crises. On the first Sunday morning after Easter, Farnworth was finally getting tough on profiteering and hoarding.

“Effective immediately, the province is enabling police to issue $2,000 violation tickets for these shameful practices, for price gouging and the reselling of medical supplies and other essential goods during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” Farnworth said.

Mike Farnworth announces $2,000 fines on April 19 for price gouging and reselling essential goods. (BC Gov)

All law enforcement officers, even park rangers, were empowered to write tickets. Consumer Protection B.C., an agency spun-off from government in 2004, was tasked to investigate and refer evidence of wrongdoing to the Solicitor General’s ministry.

Social media scenes of panic-buying for toilet paper and cleaning supplies at big box stores in February had given way to images of empty shelves in March.

Now it was the latter half of April and unemployment was setting records. What took Farnworth so long?

On April 19, he said he was concerned “over the worst segments of society taking advantage of the most vulnerable.”

“I can assure you, we will not allow these practices to continue,” Farnworth vowed. 

Through a freedom of information request, theBreaker.news obtained details of 2,065 complaints received by CPBC from March 1 to May 14. 

In a joint investigation, theBreaker.news and David Molko of CTV News Vancouver have learned that more than two months since Farnworth’s order, CPBC had referred only 52 complaints to a bureaucrat in Victoria, who is refusing to talk to reporters.

A Richmond WeChat user advertised N95 masks, goggles, gloves and clothing while supplies were low at B.C. hospitals in April. (Consumer Protection BC)

A ministry spokesman said on June 22 that no violation tickets had been issued so far and information regarding the number of violation tickets issued by other agencies was unavailable. Jason Watson said some of the cases are still active, but the government’s COVID-19 Provincial Orders Support Team “has achieved compliance through education and verbal warnings” on some files.

Looking back, Farnworth said the objective was to educate the public and industry that there is an avenue to make complaints and that there are consequences for profiteering in a pandemic.

He deflected a question about the lack of violation tickets.

“It’s not something that I, as minister, [say] you shall do this, or you shall not do that,” Farnworth said June 22. “In terms of whether someone is prosecuted — that is done independently.” 

Farnworth’s ministerial order was titled a “Prohibition on Unconscionable Prices for Essential Goods and Supplies.”

What is an unconscionable price? The official NDP government definition is a price that grossly exceeds the price at which similar essential goods and supplies are available in similar transactions to similar consumers.

Farnworth opted for that vague definition, rather than use a clause of the Emergency Program Act to fix prices and set rations.

By contrast, California’s law is clear.

Its statewide, anti-price gouging statute bans hiking prices of many consumer goods and services by more than 10% during a declared emergency. It applies to food, lodging and emergency supplies, including water, toiletries and medical supplies.

Clorox wipes for $18.99 at Dank Mart on Main Street in Vancouver (Consumer Protection BC)

David Hardisty, a marketing and behavioural science professor at the University of B.C., told CTV News Vancouver reporter David Molko that price gouging is not always black and white.

“It’ll feel like price gouging whenever you think you’re paying too much for something that may not actually always be price gouging though,” Hardisty said. “Maybe masks are in short supply for everyone, so they had to pay a lot more to get those masks. Price gouging only technically applies to necessities.”

If only a small number of stores face enforcement, Hardisty said, “it tells you, one, people are upset about the increase in prices, but, two, they’re not clear on what the rules or expectations are — what the laws are about price gouging. If people are complaining and it’s not being upheld, it’d say maybe the government hasn’t done a good job about being clear about what is what isn’t price gouging.”

In Alberta, officials had forwarded 351 of 458 complaints to investigators by May 8, the same day the government announced that its consumer investigations unit charged a Calgary business, CCA Logistics Ltd. (doing business as Newsway) for price gouging.

After a tip to the “report a ripoff” line, investigators initially ordered CCA on April 15 to drop its prices for 3M masks, hand sanitizer and Lysol spray. Some of the goods were allegedly marked up 200% to 400%.

CCA now faces a court hearing on Aug. 19. Alberta’s maximum fine is $300,000. CCA owner Yan Gong, who is also president of the Chinese Real Estate Professionals Association of Alberta, has vowed to fight the charges.

Jug of milk for $12.48 at the Real Canadian Superstore in Kamloops (Consumer Protection B.C.)

In Washington, Attorney General spokeswoman Brionna Aho said 1,214 complaints were received. Officials made 80 calls and 396 visits to businesses, sent eight warning letters and 14 cease and desist letters. Courts can impose penalties up to $2,000 per violation of the Consumer Protection Act.

“We have a longstanding policy against commenting on pending investigations, including confirming whether or not they exist,” Aho said.

By June 17, Ontario’s government had forwarded 900 of the most-egregious cases of price gouging to police around the province. Government and Consumer Services spokeswoman Barbara Hanson said the government received more than 26,000 complaints and inquiries.

B.C. is an outlier, where the government trusts consumer protection to an arm’s length agency where compliance, not enforcement, is job one.

Says the Consumer Protection B.C. website: “Our goal is not to punish a business, but rather to correct marketplace behaviour.”

Price gouging became a sudden priority for CPBC with the pandemic.

CPBC was spun out of government in 2004. It is responsible for administering the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act and regulating the funeral industry, movie exhibitors and event ticket sellers. CPBC also licenses companies involved in payday loans, telemarketing, travel agencies and home inspectors. 

At the end of 2019, CPBC had 45 full-time staff and ran on a $6.8 million budget, funded mainly by licensing fees. The five-member board is chaired by ex-BC Ferries chair Rod Dewar.

Spokeswoman Tatiana Chabeaux-Smith conceded CPBC is a small organization with relatively low public awareness, but the pandemic is an opportunity to change that. She said CPBC received 1,500 complaints before Farnworth’s order and more than 800 since.

Logo for the B.C. government’s 2004-created not-for-profit retail regulator.

“With the announcement of the ministerial order on April 19, that also elevated our profile as the place to come,” Chabeaux-Smith said.

Bruce Cran, president of the Consumers’ Association of Canada, told theBreaker.news that it has “been really horrific” since the BC Liberals got rid of the consumer protection office in the government and created CPBC 16 years ago.

“Why do they call themselves the Consumer Protection branch? The way they operate, it’s a business structure that keeps businesses from getting too many complaints,” Cran said. “They must have a giant rug somewhere where they sweep all these things underneath.”

Consumers Association of Canada president Bruce Cran (CAC)

He said unhappy consumers have even contacted him upon referral from CPBC.

“We are not the enforcement arm,” said Chabeaux-Smith. “But that our job is to intake and assess and try to get that voluntary compliance, and then when we can’t we provide a referral to government and they take that and review it and assess it and one of their enforcement officers takes it from there.”

The deregulation-minded BC Liberals came to power in 2001 by winning all but two seats in the Legislature. Their platform promised to cut B.C.’s red tape and regulatory burden by one-third within three years.

In early 2003, the Gordon Campbell-led government consulted public and industry about overhauling consumer laws.

The Consumer Protection Authority’s enabling legislation was tabled in March 2004, before the third anniversary of  Campbell’s mandate.

Then-Solicitor General Rich Coleman promised the new agency would have improved inspection and enforcement powers and would seize assets from lawbreaking businesses. The new authority would be governed by a board of directors as a non-profit corporation under an administrative agreement with government.

In March 2004, then-solicitor general Rich Coleman (left) faced questions from NDP leader Joy MacPhail about spinning-off consumer protection from the government. (Hansard B.C.)

“The creation of a new authority will ensure better consumer protection in the province by increasing industry and consumer involvement in consumer protection activities,” Coleman said in the Legislature.

Then-NDP opposition leader Joy MacPhail said the new authority would “allow this government to avoid its consumer protection responsibilities and off-load the costs associated with those activities on to the private sector.

“Where will the private sector get the money to pay for all of this? You guessed it — the consumer,” MacPhail said.

The maximum fine under CPBC’s legislation is $50,000 against a corporation and $5,000 for a person. Figures for 2018, the most-recent year available, show CPBC concluded 245 enforcement files and counted more than $414,000 in fines and restitution, up from $185,872 in 2017 and $100,078 in 2016.

A footnote in the report said the 154% increase in restitution for 2018 was due to refunds obtained from payday loan companies.

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Bob Mackin (Editor's note: This is part

Bob Mackin 

(Editor’s note: This is part one of a joint investigation with CTV News Vancouver. See part two on June 24.) 

During the early days of British Columbia’s coronavirus pandemic, when toilet paper was such a hot commodity, a gas station in South Surrey and a grocery store in Chilliwack were accused multiple times of price gouging.

One store was allegedly gouging more than the other, according to complaints to Consumer Protection B.C. (CPBC), the agency that regulates retail sales in the province on behalf of the province.

Chevron Town Pump in South Surrey (Google Streetview)

Documents obtained by theBreaker.news, and jointly investigated with David Molko of CTV News Vancouver, show the Chevron Town Pump in South Surrey, formerly the Campbell River Store, was the subject of 10 complaints for selling toilet paper at $10 per roll. None of the complainants reported buying a roll, the kind of jumbo roll normally found in a gas station washroom. 

“You ask them for toilet paper and they pull it out from behind the counter and tell you it’s $10 per roll. Ridiculous,” said one complaint.

Wrote another: “Entered the gas station to pay for gas and check on their stock of household items. They are selling rolls of toilet paper for $10 each. I left. Did not buy anything as I am utterly disgusted. There was one gentleman at the counter working. I told him why I was leaving, he had no reaction at all.”

Leroy McKinnon, the spokesman for Chevron owner Parkland, said the company was not notified of the complaints by CPBC, but its customer service team.

“The retailer acted out of bad judgment and against our company values. Any individuals who purchased the single rolls are welcomed to return to the site for a full refund,” McKinnon said by email.

Mike Farnworth (Ina Mitchell)

The Young Street Supermarket in Chilliwack was cited in eight complaints for selling toilet paper rolls at $2.49 each and up. One angry Facebook user called it “selfish, greedy, ignorant.”

“Unwrapped (originally from a large package) toilet paper with no wrap at all — some rolls starting to unwind, sitting on the shelf and selling for $2.99 per roll,” said one complaint.

“They are charging $2.49 for a single roll of toilet paper. It is being sold in a baggie,” said another.

The market’s owner, Mohit Sukhija, told CTV that he got a couple of calls from government departments.

After it went on Facebook, he stopped selling for $2.49 per roll. It is now $7.99 plus tax for a six-roll pack.

“I gotta live in this same community, can’t make ‘em mad,”  Sukhjija said.

“I don’t think it was price gouging anyway.”

The complaints were made to CPBC, before Solicitor General Mike Farnworth took a get-tough stance a month after the NDP government declared a state of emergency.

Farnworth promised consequences for “the worst segments of society taking advantage of the most vulnerable.”

On April 19, he announced fines for price gouging and reselling essential supplies would be doubled to $2,000. All law enforcement officers would be empowered to write tickets and CPBC was tasked with being the “first and main point of contact” for price gouging and supplies resale complaints during B.C.’s state of emergency.

Fraser Shipping and Variety Store (Consumer Protection B.C.)

“They will ensure those complaints are resolved appropriately in coordination with the police and other enforcement officers,” Farnworth said.

But, just over two months later, it appears no fines have been issued under the April 19-announced order.

Asked on June 22, Farnworth said that is not his call.

“It’s not something that I, as minister, [say] you shall do this, or you shall not do that,” Farnworth said. “In terms of whether someone is prosecuted — that is done independently.”

Farnworth’s order prohibited “unconscionable prices for essential goods and supplies,” such as food, water, gasoline, pharmaceuticals and medical supplies and personal hygiene, sanitation and cleaning goods.

Just what is an unconscionable price?

That was left up to interpretation. Farnworth’s definition is “any price that grossly exceeds the price at which similar essential goods and supplies are available in similar transactions to similar consumers.”

“It’s similar to legislation that’s in place in Ontario and Saskatchewan,” Farnworth said in April. “Is the price of a good similar to the prices of goods in a community or province that regular people would expect to pay in comparison to other people? Yes, there is a recognition that prices increase on goods, that’s not what this is about.

“This is when you look at a product and, we’ve all seen examples of it, protective or safety gear is charged 10 times the normal price… or is being sold online at exorbitant prices.”

CPBC said it received 1,500 complaints before Farnworth’s order. Between April 19 and June 21, CPBC opened 448 investigations from 882 complaints received. Prices of medical products (381), hygiene (230) and food and beverage and gasoline (92 each) attracted most of the complaints.

Investigations were launched into 221 medical equipment price complaints, 110 hygiene and 62 food and beverage. CPBC found 332 lacked evidence or did not meet the definition of price gouging and 32 were resolved with the subject businesses.

H Mart Robson’s $39.99 toilet paper, which was eventually marked down (Consumer Protection B.C.)

Only 52 files were referred to the Solicitor General’s ministry for further investigation, and possible enforcement.

Most complaints after April 19 came from Vancouver (100), Surrey (33), Burnaby (30), and Victoria (28) and Richmond (18). Vancouver city hall’s bylaw department and Surrey RCMP told theBreaker.news that they issued no violation tickets.

Was the NDP government slow to react? 

The Solicitor General has a dozen primary powers under the Emergency Program Act, which he activated on March 18. The last on the list is to: “procure, fix prices for or ration food, clothing, fuel, equipment, medical supplies or other essential supplies and the use of any property, services, resources or equipment within any part of British Columbia for the duration of the state of emergency.”

Farnworth chose not to fix prices or ration supplies. Unlike B.C., where price gouging is up to interpretation, California law sets a 10% ceiling on prices of essential goods during a declared emergency.

Experts also warn that there is often a fine line between a price hike and price gouge.

“Not all large price increases are tantamount to price gouging,” said Assoc. Professor Werner Antweiler of the University of B.C.’s Sauder School of Business. “It does not apply to non-essential goods and outside an emergency. In some cases production costs can change radically and thus have nothing to do with inflated mark-ups. If demand suddenly increases while supply is fixed, increased prices can help direct goods to those who most need them and are thus willing to pay a higher price. However, during an emergency this raises concerns about fairness and equity, as essential goods need to be provided to everybody in society.”

Miniso surgical masks (Consumer Protection B.C.)

CPBC spokeswoman Tatiana Chabeaux-Smith said in an interview that the agency’s investigators use their discretion and seek to educate retailers and resolve complaints rather than punish.

“The role that we have to play around price gouging is very much around that term voluntary compliance, and educating and trying to get businesses to comply voluntarily which mirrors how we normally approach things,” Chabeaux-Smith said.

When it is unable to achieve voluntary compliance, she said, CPBC then refers complaints to government “and their enforcement officers take it from there.”

CPBC initially referred theBreaker.news to Les Sylven, the deputy director of police services in the Solicitor General’s ministry. But Sylven refused to return phone and email messages. Instead, ministry spokesman Jason Watson told theBreaker.news to file a freedom of information request to learn more about the CPBC files referred to government.

The turnaround time for FOI requests is generally supposed to be 30 business days, but often takes longer and there is no guarantee information will be provided.

Unsworth Store in Chilliwack (Consumer Protection B.C.)

From the case files

When CPBC provided price gouging reports to theBreaker.news, it said between March 1 and May 14 that it received 2,065 complaints.

Of those, 265 were deemed complaint unfounded, 25 categorized as “consumer alert” — meaning the business voluntary corrected the price — and 22 files remained open.

Complaints included:

  • Unsworth Market in Chilliwack selling surgical masks for $2.69 each or five for $11.99.

CPBC notes indicate the owner “was informed of the ministerial order, consumer protection laws, and the penalties associated with non-compliance.”

The price was reduced to $1.79 each or $8.49 for a five-pack and file closed.

  • H Mart on Robson Street in downtown Vancouver selling 30 rolls of toilet paper for $39.99.

After CPBC spoke to an account manager, the price was lowered to $20.99. Since the amdended price was “within marketplace norms (70 cents/roll)” the file was recommended for closure.

The Coquitlam location was selling surgical masks at $2.99 each.

“Based on what I’ve observed thus far mask are sold anywhere as low as 65 cents to as high as $1.50 per mask. $2 is on the high side,” said the inspector’s notes.

H Mart said the wholesale cost was $1.50 per mask, but dropped the retail price tag to $2.29 each.

The price “isn’t horrendously above the range,” so the file was closed.

  • The Pharmasave in West Vancouver’s Caulfeild Village was reportedly selling 250 mL bottles of hand sanitizer for $25.99.

Pharmasave Caulfeild (Consumer Protection B.C.)

A CPBC inspector called the manager twice before finally reaching him.

“He confirmed they are selling a 500 mL hand sanitizer for $19.99 and a 240 mL hand sanitizer for $24.99. He purchased from Victory and paid $17.95 for the 240 mL. (I saw a quote from another file for that same price from Victory.)”

The manager said the markup was 41%, but “I explained his markup is irrelevant, it all comes down to retail price in the marketplace. He argued it’s not available anywhere else. Explained the law, he understands that if his price is much higher than other stores selling hand sani, that he could receive a fine.”

The inspector noted that regular hand sanitizer was selling for 6 cents per mL, but the store was selling an all-natural brand for 10 cents/mL.

“Can’t find a similar comparison in the marketplace. File to be closed.”

  • A Shopper’s Drug Mart in Fort St. John arbitrarily chose to split prescriptions into small lots, forcing customers to pay dispensing fees that often exceeded the cost of the medications.

The pharmacy allegedly claimed it was due to a government directive.

Senior Inspector Jason McColl’s warning letter to proprietor Irvin Tang said that while pharmacies can control allotments based on professional judgment, the customer was misled.

McColl’s letter said Tang violated the law against using unclear and ambiguous language during a consumer transaction. The maximum fine under CPBC’s legislation (not Farnworth’s order) is $50,000 against a corporation and $5,000 for a person.

McColl elected not to escalate the matter to a formal hearing, because Tang set the record straight with the complainant. 

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Bob Mackin  (Editor's note: This is part one

Bob Mackin

The first police force in British Columbia that could be disbanded in the pandemic era is the one at the Parliament Buildings.

The $13,000 review of security at the British Columbia Legislative Assembly that bothered the opposition BC Liberals last summer recommends saving $1 million by transforming the Legislative Assembly Protective Services (LAPS) into a security department.

Alan Mullen, special advisor to Speaker Darryl Plecas, with the damning report on the suspended officials (Mackin)

Alan Mullen, chief of staff to Speaker Darryl Plecas, took a fact-finding road trip to nine other legislatures in North America and came back to write a 55-page report to the Legislative Assembly Management Committee (LAMC) called “Review of the Sergeant-at-Arms Department and Proposals for Reform.”

Mullen submitted the report in January — 51 weeks after Plecas’s bombshell report about corruption in the offices of the clerk and sergeant-at-arms. It was presented to LAMC at a closed-door meeting, but has yet to be made public. The all-party committee most-recently met on June 16.

Mullen’s report was ahead of its time. Protests against police brutality that erupted last month after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis have led to a campaign to defund police forces. In B.C., solicitor general and NDP house leader Mike Farnworth has pledged to review and reform the 45-year-old Police Act.

theBreaker.news has seen a copy of Mullen’s review and it recommends the position of sergeant-at-arms be downgraded to a ceremonial role, with security and facilities maintenance overseen by others. Mullen also recommends the LAPS become a security department.

“Legislative Assembly Protective Services officers are generally overqualified for the vast majority of the work they do,” Mullen wrote. “That department has grown according to a ‘police force’ model, which is not necessary when compared to operational requirements.”

LAPS has 38 uniformed special constables, who are armed with pistols, 26 sessional officers and seven unarmed civilian screeners. The force with jurisdiction over just 5.9 hectares near Victoria’s Inner Harbour cost $5 million of the $5.7 million sergeant-at-arms budget in 2018-2019. Last year, the Sergeant-at-Arms office cost $6.13 million.

Legislative Assembly Protective Services badges (Leg.BC.ca)

By comparison, Oak Bay taxpayers spent $4.7 million for 23 officers to police the community of 19,228 in 2018. Central Saanich had a slightly smaller population, but its 23-member force cost just over $5 million that year.

LAPS officers work rotating 12-hour shifts, on a four days on, four days off regime, but collectively pocket hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime wages annually. Since 2014, total LAPS overtime costs have exceeded $1.8 million. In 2018-19, total salaries and benefits cost $4.66 million.

“In addition to the financial consequences of high staff overtime, there is of course a human consequence: regular overtime by definition represents a greater burden on employees than their role is designed to entail,” Mullen wrote. “Where that becomes the norm, it may lead to higher risk of burnout or other adverse consequences for the individual. Particularly in security roles, it is important to ensure staff are having adequate time off.”

The report said not all staff need to be armed, or even need to be special provincial constables. Policing could be handled by external partner agencies, while security handled in-house. Overtime pay could be reduced by staffing according to need, “as appropriate for when the House is or is not in session, as well as for day and night shifts.”

The result, the report said, would save British Columbia taxpayers $1 million a year without compromising security.

Mullen also recommended that an external consultant should be hired to help the transition to an optimal, as opposed to constant, staffing model.

Police enter the Parliament Buildings on March 5 (Mackin)

The vast majority of incidents requiring LAPS to respond did not require specialized training. In 2018, the report said, there were 72 Criminal Code incidents, but 2,140 general occurrence incidents, including protests and demonstrations (135), consumption of drugs or liquor (129) and urinating in public (9).

A majority of LAPS members are 55 or older and 31 of 38 members are male. The civilian staff work closely with LAPS, but are not part of the special provincial constables group.

LAPS already has a memorandum of understanding with the Victoria Police department, that makes the local municipal force responsible for criminal investigations and it pays $50,000-a-year to the VicPD. LAPS has agreements with the RCMP, Policing and Security Branch of the Solicitor General and Independent Investigations Office.

LAPS called-in VicPD officers during Shut Down Canada anti-pipeline protests in February and March. On March 5, VicPD arrested five protesters when they reneged on a promise to leave after meeting inside the Parliament Buildings with NDP indigenous relations minister Scott Fraser and Green interim leader Adam Olsen. The Indigenous Youth for Wet’suwet’en protest camp, in defiance of a court injunction, packed up the next day.

“The Legislative Assembly already accesses intelligence, specialized assistance and advice that allow it to save the high costs of developing and maintaining those functions internally. For a precinct that is located within a major city, that makes a great deal of sense financially and functionally, and it would be a relatively small step to further strengthen those relationships and functionalities to allow for a realignment of LAPS back to a Government Security Service as opposed to being modelled along the lines of a police force.”

Washington State Capitol in Olympia (State of Washington)

Mullen visited capitols in seven U.S. states (Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin), Parliament Hill in Ottawa and the Saskatchewan legislature in Regina.

The sergeant-at-arms roles in the U.S. were found to be largely ceremonial. For instance, Washington has a director of security who, while the state house is in session, takes on the role of sergeant-at-arms including ceremonial duties. The role in Washington does not include facilities maintenance. The position is hired, as opposed to elected or appointed.

Greg Nelson is the second acting sergeant-at-arms since Gary Lenz was suspended in November 2018 along with Clerk Craig James. James and Lenz both retired in disgrace last year and are under investigation by the RCMP.

B.C.’s sergeant-at-arms was paid $226,467 in 2018-19, the highest-known in Canada (excluding Quebec, P.E.I. and Yukon, which do not publish public sector salaries). By comparison, the chief of police in Victoria, with 245 officers, was paid $218,000 in 2017 and the chief in Oak Bay $170,596 in 2018.

Retired-in-disgrace Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz (BC Leg)

“There is no reason for the ceremonial, security, and facilities responsibilities at the Legislative Assembly to be assigned to the same person,” Mullen wrote. “British Columbia should follow the lead of Quebec and some of the American jurisdictions surveyed, and divide the roles to allow better specialization and expertise within each.”

Mullen’s report was reviewed by the government’s chief security officer Paul Stanley and Doug LePard, the former deputy chief of the Vancouver Police who wrote the damning Police Act investigation that sparked Lenz’s resignation last fall.

Except for recent protests, the Legislature grounds have seen few major crime incidents. The Canada Day 2013 pressure cooker bomb plot was actually an RCMP sting operation in which the two suspects, John Nuttall and Amanda Korody, were entrapped and their addictions and mental health exploited by police. Their convictions were overturned and B.C. Court of Appeal called it a “travesty of justice.”

Victoria Police officers famously hauled away bankers boxes of documents from the Parliament Buildings in late December 2003 as part of a police raid in the early days of the investigation of the BC Rail bribery scandal.

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Bob Mackin The first police force in

Bob Mackin

Training for municipal police officers in British Columbia is inadequate, according to a pair of reports obtained by theBreaker.news that were submitted to the provincial government.

Cover of the 2018 German/Rolls report.

The Needs Assessment report to the Municipal Chiefs of Police Association (MCPA) in 2017 deemed the province’s police academy at the New Westminster-headquartered Justice Institute of B.C. “not adequately financed for today’s policing environment, considering the challenges of mental health, other social issues, and the current drug crisis.”

At the time, JIBC was chaired by a B.C. Lottery Corporation executive who was fired in 2019 after the NDP government green-lit the Cullen Commission into money laundering.

“In no way are we preparing our recruits adequately,” said the Needs Assessment report co-written by Peter German, the former head of the RCMP in Western Canada, and Bob Rolls, the former Vancouver Police deputy chief and founding member of the Surrey Police board.

The report recommended a followup to examine governance, funding and best practices. In 2018, Rolls and German co-wrote We Must Do Better after reviewing eight police academies including Washington State, Toronto and the RCMP Academy, Canada’s largest.

Justice Institute of B.C.’s New Westminster headquarters campus (JIBC)

They found “each of the academies visited is better able to provide the training required for police recruits than is currently available at the BCPA” and they found governance for municipal police training in B.C. to be “convoluted and ineffective.”

“Policing is an increasingly complex profession, with officers on the front line dealing with the current overdose epidemic, mental illness, homelessness and other difficult societal issues,” they wrote. “Police officers are expected to respond with sensitivity and restraint. There is an expectation that they will have the knowledge, skills and tools available to provide the very best possible outcome, while minimizing the risk to the public. There is no tolerance for excessive force.”

The report cited the 2014 shooting deaths of three RCMP officers in Moncton, N.B. and the finding that the RCMP violated the labour code for failing to adequately outfit and train officers.

“British Columbia must never allow its police or its citizens to be unsafe due to inadequate police training,” said the We Must Do Better report.

Anti-money laundering expert Peter German.

The reports did achieve some action, as the NDP government granted the police academy a one-time infusion of $500,000 from the Solicitor General’s ministry and $300,000 from the Ministry of Advanced Education for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. A working group was struck to explore a new long-term funding model.

The police academy is a core program at the JIBC, which ran a $52.68 million budget in 2018-2019, including $21.58 million from B.C. taxpayers and $13.85 million from tuition fees. The provincial government, municipalities and recruits contribute to training costs at the academy.

JIBC also took in $1.77 million in international tuition and contracts, such as the hosting of 280 students from nine People’s Republic of China police colleges over two terms at the Chilliwack campus. 

Ex-Justice Institute of B.C. chair Robert Kroeker, 2nd from left, flanked by BC Liberal MLAs. (JIBC)

The province’s contribution included $2.27 million from the police services budget. 

There were 146 full time equivalent police academy students of the 3,507 enrolled during the year. 

In October 2018, Kroeker resigned as chair. Kroeker was vice-president of security at B.C. Lottery Corporation after holding a similar position at River Rock Casino Resort in Richmond, the epicentre of the province’s money laundering scandal.

Langley lawyer Sukhminder Singh Virk took over as chair. Kroeker was fired by BCLC in July 2019 and was granted participant status in the Cullen Commission on money laundering to allow his lawyer to cross-examine witnesses.

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Bob Mackin Training for municipal police officers in

Bob Mackin

While U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping held a lengthy dinner in Buenos Aires at the G-20 summit in 2018, Canadian authorities in Vancouver arrested Meng Wanzhou, writes former national security adviser John Bolton.

In his book, “The Room Where it Happened: A White House Memoir” [Simon and Schuster], Bolton recounts that he had heard the day before that Meng might be arrested when she landed in Vancouver.

“Because this arrest was based on our case of financial fraud against Huawei for, among other things, concealing massive violations of our Iran sanctions, it struck me as straightforward. Things were busy in Buenos Aires, to say the least, and I had learned enough watching Trump with [Turkey’s] Erdogan to understand I needed to have all the facts in hand before I briefed Trump.”

According to Bolton, Trump raised Meng’s arrest at the Dec. 7 White House Christmas dinner and mentioned the pressure now on China.

Trump, always fond of nicknames, even had one for Meng, the daughter of Huawei founder and former People’s Liberation Army engineer Ren Zhengfei.

“He said to me across the table that we had just arrested ‘the Ivanka Trump of China.’ I came within an inch of saying, ‘I never knew Ivanka was a spy and a fraudster,’ but my automatic tongue-biting mechanism kicked in just in time. What Wall Street financier had given Trump that line? Or was it Kushner, who had been engaged in a mutual courtship on China matters with Henry Kissinger since the transition?” Bolton wrote.

Bolton also mentioned the hostage-taking of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor by China in retaliation for the Meng arrest and Canada’s weak response.

Meng Wanzhou leaves her Vancouver mansion on May 27. (@InaMitchellFilm)

“We had to admit we were all late to realize the full extent of Huawei’s strategy, but that was not an excuse to compound our earlier mistakes. Even as we discussed these issues, China was showing its teeth, unlawfully detaining Canadian citizens in China, just to show they could. Canada was under great domestic pressure, which [Justin] Trudeau was having difficulty resisting. Former Prime Minister Jean Chretien, never a friend of the U.S., was arguing that Canada should simply not abide by our extradition treaty. Pence, Pompeo, and I all urged Canada to stand firm, stressing we would support them every way we could, including directly raising with China the mistreatment of Canadian citizens. As we pointed out, this was the way China behaved even as some people continued to praise its ‘peaceful rise’ as a ‘responsible stakeholder.’ How would China act as it became dominant, if we let it? This is a national-security debate that will go on well into the future. Tying it to trade degrades our position both in trade and in national security.”

Bolton further wrote that he disagreed with Trump about Huawei. While Trump called it China’s biggest telecom, Bolton considered it arm of Chinese intelligence services. He complained that Trump was appeasing China and wondered what it would take to get him back on a more aggressive approach.

John Bolton, beside Donald Trump. (The Room Where It Happened/Simon & Schuster)

“Trump made matters worse on several occasions by implying that Huawei also could be simply another U.S. bargaining chip in the trade negotiations, ignoring both the significance of the criminal case and also the far larger threat Huawei posed to the security of fifth-generation (or 5G) telecom systems worldwide. This is what the black-hole-of-trade phenomenon did in twisting all other issues around Trump’s fascination with a big trade deal. Huawei posed enormous national-security issues, many of which we could only allude to in public statements.”

Bolton alluded to friction inside the administration, with economic policy advisers considering Huawei a competitor, not a security threat. He said he also warned Trump of the debt trap of Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative, which aimed to hook Third World Nations with attractive credit for major infrastructure projects.

Other world leaders, such as Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, took a hawkish view of China, Bolton wrote.

“Abe encouraged Trump to maintain U.S. -Japan unity against China, and much more. This was how to conduct a strategic dialogue with a close ally. Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison was also clear-eyed, seeing Huawei pretty much the way I did, and New Zealand also took a surprisingly but gratifyingly hard line.”

When Xi and Trump spoke by phone on June 18, 2019, Bolton wrote that “Xi pressed hard on Huawei.”

“Trump repeated his point that Huawei could be part of the trade deal, along with all of the other factors being discussed. Xi warned that, if not handled properly, Huawei would harm the overall bilateral relationship. In an amazing display of chutzpah, Xi described Huawei as an outstanding private Chinese company, having important relations with Qualcomm and Intel. Xi wanted the ban on Huawei lifted, and said he wanted to work jointly with Trump personally on the issue, and Trump seemed amenable. He tweeted his delight at the call shortly after the two leaders hung up.”

Bolton wrote that he briefed Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin later and that Mnuchin said the president needed to be protected “on the Huawei stuff.”

Trump’s post-call Tweet.

“People thought he was trading national security for trade on ZTE, and if we allow him to do it again on Huawei, we’ll get the same kind of backlash, or worse.’ That was true then and remains true today.”

Bolton was Trump’s national security advisor for almost a year-and-a-half until last September. On June 20, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth rejected the White House bid to stop publication of Bolton’s book on national security grounds. The Trump administration argued it contains classified information.

Meng lost her first bid to thwart U.S. extradition proceedings on May 27, when a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled that the U.S. fraud charges are compatible with Canadian law, also known as double-criminality. A case management conference on June 23 in Vancouver is expected to set the schedule for the next phase of the extradition process.

Bolton’s book could become part of the proceedings, because Meng’s lawyers claim she is the victim of political interference by the White House.

Meng lives under a court-ordered curfew with round-the-clock security guards at a $13 million mansion on the same block as the U.S. Consul mansion.

 

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Bob Mackin While U.S. President Donald Trump

For the week of June 21, 2020.

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed even bigger problems with Canada’s broken access to information system.

Canada’s Information Commissioner Caroline Maynard (OGGO)

Information Commissioner Caroline Maynard told the House of Commons committee on government operations that most offices responsible for processing freedom of information requests are closed. Public servants are working from home without access to secure networks, scanners and photocopiers.

“Let’s not forget, that access delayed is access denied,” Maynard told the all-party committee on a June 19 web conference.

Journalism professor Sean Holman (OGGO)

Listen to her presentation on this week’s edition of theBreaker.news Podcast, along with Sean Holman, a former B.C. investigative reporter who is now a professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary. Holman is part of the ad hoc Canadian COVID-19 Accountability Group. It wants reforms to whistleblower protection and FOI laws within the context of the pandemic.

“During an emergency, the need for information accelerates,” Holman said.

The group wants the government to release government contracts and health and scientific reports unredacted within 15 days of creation. It also wants protection for those who report wrongdoing.

“We need to stop treating this as a partisan issue,” Holman said. “We need to treat this as an issue of democracy that should unify us all so that we can better serve the public and make better decisions as a country about some of the most pressing problems of our time.”

Plus commentary and Pacific Rim and Pacific Northwest headlines.

CLICK BELOW to listen or go to TuneIn or Apple Podcasts.

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For the week of June 21, 2020. The