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Is there one Criminal Code for politicians, and another for the rest of us? Print E-mail
Written by Link Byfield   
Monday, 10 May 2004

A month has gone by since Svend Robinson, the noted lower-mainland Member of Parliament, stole a very valuable ring from a Vancouver-area auction. He was soon caught. He then confessed.

Why was he not charged?

If it had been you or me, Richmond detachment Mounties would have appeared at our door on April 11 with a search warrant and a pair of handcuffs. The fact that they didn't in this case, and that weeks have gone by without a decision on prosecution, should concern us.

The Criminal Code says that EVERY one who commits theft where the value exceeds $5,000 is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years.

It doesn't say "everyone except Members of Parliament."

The MP was videotaped stealing the ring on April 9, a Friday. The auction service sent that tape to the RCMP on Sunday. On Tuesday the suspect privately confessed his guilt to the police and surrendered the ring. And on Thursday he disclosed at a national press conference what he had done.

We are left to wonder what happened in the 48 hours between the RCMP receiving the tape and Robinson returning the ring, and why the Mounties didn't report the crime themselves to the media and the public.

Since when have they started allowing the accused four days to consult lawyers, political friends and spin doctors, and set up their own press conferences?

An even better question is why the B.C. Attorney General's Ministry handed the case to a Special Prosecutor from outside the department, Len Doust.

They say that the decision whether or not to prosecute must not be tainted by the appearance of political considerations. Robinson is federal NDP, after all, and the B.C. attorney general is a provincial Liberal.

Which is ridiculous, when you think about it, and has tainted the process with a far worse political stench than if they had just charged him immediately. It tells the whole world politicians get all kinds of allowances Joe Citizen doesn't.

Not a good message to be sending out these days, what with the federal sponsorship scandal and all.

Assigning the decision to a Special Prosecutor makes sense only in cases like that of former B.C. premier Glen Clark, who held career-killing power over the individuals deciding whether or not to prosecute him.

Robinson holds no such power over anyone. So what if he's from a different party? He has said he knowingly committed an act that is a serious crime. What's to consider?

All the factors he mentioned in his statement about being under stress, and his sympathizers' kindly notion that he has "already suffered enough," are relevant only after a fair and open trial, if he is found guilty and when a judge passes sentence.

It's worth recalling that in November, 1989, MP Lorne Nystrom was caught allegedly shoplifting an item worth $8 from an Ottawa drug store.

He was immediately charged with theft. Less than two months later a judge agreed with his claim that he may have been guilty only of absent-mindedness when he pocketed two contact lens cleaners and returned the opened box to the shelf.

Has something changed since 1989 that now puts MPs in a special class of their own? This case is open and shut. Why drag it out with pointless posturing?

- Link Byfield

Link Byfield is chairman of the Edmonton-based Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy, and an Alberta senator-elect.
"Just Between Us" is a feature service of the Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy. The purpose of the Citizens Centre is to enhance freedom and democracy by enabling ordinary citizens to become active and effective on important issues outside the normal processes of party politics.

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