Special Prosecutor for BC Political Donations and Legal Aid Funds Diverted on Legally Speaking
Victoria Lawyer Michael Mulligan on CFAX 1070 – Legally Speaking – discussing the appointment of a special prosecutor, at the request of the RCMP, to deal with the investigation of political donations in BC. In addition, new information reveals the diversion of $135.2 million from the provision of legal aid in 2016.
In British Columbia there are no limits on the amount of money that can be donated to a political party. Donations are permitted from corporations, unions and even foreign corporations.
One of the few legal requirements for political donations in BC is that they not be indirect. A person may not make a donation in their name only to be reimbursed by someone else. The reason for this rule is that while donations are unlimited, it is supposed to be possible to look up who gave how much to which party so that there can be some scrutiny of improper influence or government decisions that benefit donors.
You can search BC political donations here.
When lobbyists, or others, make substantial donations in their own name and are then secretly reimbursed by their clients it becomes much more difficult to determine if the donations resulted in some improper benefit. When you search the database of donations, only the name of the lobbyist would be revealed. Since it was uncovered that donations were being made and recorded in this way by a Globe and Mail investigation, Elections BC asked the RCMP to investigate the matter.
Pursuant to an RCMP request the special prosecutor was appointed to provide legal advice during the investigation, decide if charges should be approved, and then prosecute any charges.
In other legal news, a freedom of information request just revealed the amount of money that was diverted from the legal aid system in British Columbia in 2016.
British Columbia has a special tax on legal services that is supposed to pay for legal aid in the province. The tax was originally introduced by the NDP when they last formed government. Soon after the tax was introduced is began collecting slightly more money than the NDP was providing to the Legal Services Society, which administers legal aid in BC. As a result, when in opposition, the BC Liberal party was extremely critical of the NDP calling it wrong that money collected for the purpose of providing legal aid for the poor would be spent on other things.
Once in government, however, the BC Liberals dramatically cut the legal aid budget but retained the special tax on legal services. The amount of money being collected but not used for legal aid increased every year since.
A Freedom of Information request just revealed how much money was collected pursuant to the special tax in 2016: $193.1 million.
In 2016, the BC Government only provided $72.6 million to the Legal Services Society. Of the $72.6 million, $14.7 million of this was actually a transfer from the federal government to the province of BC to help pay for legal aid.
As a result, in 2016, the BC Government collected $135.2 million more from the special tax on legal services than it spent on legal aid.
As a result, thousands of people in need to legal assistance received no help.
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Michael Mulligan is a lawyer at Mulligan Tam Pearson in Victoria. Legally Speaking is live on CFAX1070 Thursdays at 2:00pm.