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

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