Former BC LIberals communications director Brian Bonney. (File photo)

Lawyer says former B.C. government aide ‘barely guilty’ in ethnic vote scandal

Brian Bonney pleaded guilty to a breach of trust charge

A government communications director who pleaded guilty to breach of trust in connection with a plan to win votes from ethnic groups was ”an instrument of others” including ministers in former premier Christy Clark’s cabinet, a defence lawyer told a sentencing hearing Wednesday.

Ian Donaldson said Brian Bonney has admitted to some missteps as part of a so-called quick wins scandal that embroiled the B.C. Liberal party before the 2013 election but he mostly did what he was told, so his behaviour wasn’t subversive to the democratic process as the Crown maintains.

READ: Ex-BC Liberal staffer focused on ‘favourable’ ethnic communities in scandal: Crown

Donaldson told provincial court that while Bonney lost his job after Clark appointed her deputy minister to conduct a review into allegations of the partisan use of taxpayers’ money to target minority groups, others involved in creating the strategy remained employed and received “fat severance cheques.”

Bonney pleaded guilty last October before the start of a trial, though Donaldson said his client is “barely guilty” for blurring the lines between his public service employment and his partisan political activities.

“This case isn’t about corruption or personal gain,” he said, adding Bonney had been on the job for seven weeks before attending a meeting in December 2011 to discuss a strategy he wasn’t involved in drafting.

Donaldson has asked for a suspended sentence for what he described as a breach of employment terms. The Crown wants a conditional sentence of 12 to 23 months that would include house arrest.

Court has heard Bonney supervised seven people who were tasked with building a list of ethnic organizations and individuals who would support the Liberal party.

Donaldson said it’s not unusual for governments to have an agenda to engage ethnic minorities.

However, Judge David St. Pierre said the evidence from the Crown has suggested only voters who supported the Liberal party were targeted.

“There are people there who have partisan objectives, not good-for-the-people objectives,” he said of those involved in the outreach plan.

Donaldson said no rules around the conduct of appointed and government employees existed, adding that changed in 2014 when the Liberals put procedures in place following a scathing review of the allegations.

Special prosecutor David Butcher read Bonney’s private emails to the court directing community liaison workers to dial into radio shows to push the Liberals’ position on various topics, saying it was a clear example of the partisanship he tried to keep hidden.

“This is a case that goes to the heart of the democratic process, which I say is an assault on all of our values,” Butcher said, adding Bonney did not display a one time lapse in judgment after decades of work as a political operative who lost a riding nomination bid to Clark in 1995.

Butcher noted that in 2011, an Ontario judge handed a nine month jail sentence to a man for his part in the so-called robocalls scandal before the federal election in 2011, when up to 200 voters were sent to the wrong polling stations in a bid to favour the Conservative party.

“Mr. Bonney’s conduct sought to manipulate the election results across the whole province,” he said.

Butcher was appointed special prosecutor in 2013 after then NDP leader Adrian Dix filed a complaint to the RCMP about the Liberals’ conduct involving a multicultural outreach plan during a byelection campaign in 2012.

A report in 2013 by Clark’s deputy minister, John Dyble, said public officials misused government resources and Bonney was among those who spent a considerable amount of time doing party work and using private emails.

Clark apologized and the Liberals returned $70,000 of taxpayer money, though Butcher said there was never a full accounting of how the party arrived at that figure. He said it appears to have been half of Bonney’s salary.

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Potential for Greater Victoria sewage project to go over budget

“Our confidence [in meeting budget] is not high”

City of Victoria endorses potential class action lawsuit against fossil fuel giants

Data will be gathered to quantify how much environmental damage the city has faced

Residents push back on downtown Victoria tree removal

The birch tree at the Wharf-Government intersection will be removed to make way for bike lanes

Braves host 2019 Prospects Game, Sunday at Pearkes

- This story was updated to correct the date of the Prospects… Continue reading

Toronto Arrows players take aim at youth rugby clinic

Juan de Fuca team offers get acquainted clinics

UPDATE: B.C. legislature managers accused of excessive travel, personal expense claims

Clerk Craig James, security chief Gary Lenz call allegations ‘completely false’

B.C. man fined $10,000 after leaving moose to suffer before death

Surrey man was convicted last week on three Wildlife Act charges

Anti-pipeline group wants NEB to consider impact of emissions, climate change

Stand.earth filed NEB motion asking to apply same standard to the project as it did with Energy East pipeline

B.C. man charged in 2014 snake venom death of toddler

Henry Thomas was taking care of the North Vancouver girl the day before she died

B.C.’s largest public-sector union wants inquiry into money laundering, drugs

Union officials say Premier John Horgan and Attorney General David Eby have not ruled out the possibility of a public inquiry

Teen in confrontation with Native American: I didn’t provoke

Nick Sandmann of Covington Catholic High School said he was trying to defuse the situation

Suspect allegedly armed with handgun robs Island gas station

Incident occurred Sunday night in Nanaimo

MARS seeing influx of sick, injured eagles from north part of Vancouver Island

Factors for increase in eagle cases can be anything from lead poisoning to vehicle strikes

Kamala Harris opens U.S. presidential bid in challenge to Trump

The 54-year old portrayed herself as a fighter for justice, decency and equality in a video distributed by her campaign

Most Read