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

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

Former communications director Brian Bonney’s sentencing hearing for breach of trust is underway

The sentencing hearing for a former BC Liberal Party communications director who pleaded guilty in the province’s “quick wins” scandal began Tuesday in provincial court in Vancouver.

Brian Bonney pleaded guilty last fall to breach of trust in relation to the party’s efforts to target ethnic communities for votes in the run-up to the 2013 provincial election.

In his opening arguments, special prosecutor David Butcher said Bonney used his position, tools and connections as a government communications director at the time to help organize his party’s ethnic vote strategy, called the Multicultural Strategic Outreach Plan, between 2007 and 2012.

“Bonney’s role in this and the use of government resources was completely inappropriate,” Butcher said. “Had the party set out to do this [instead], there would be no criticism of this.”

Butcher said the Liberal government’s apologies for the province’s handling of the Komagata Maru incident in 1914 and the Chinese head-tax were part of a “cynical” political plan to appeal to those groups.

Some witnesses in the criminal investigation had said the ethnic vote plan had been merely a draft, he said, but that then-premier Christy Clark received at least one update from Bonney where he laid out vote recruitment activities similar to those in the plan.

And while he didn’t come up with the scheme himself, Butcher continued, Bonney was “a very experienced political operative” and “not a naive man,” and thus should have known that he was doing something untoward.

Crown is asking for a sentence of 12-23 months, to be served in the community and preferably with punitive conditions such as house arrest.

Bonney’s counsel, Ian Donaldson, acknowledged his client’s guilty plea, but said he would argue Bonney did not act dishonestly, corruptly, or in a way to get money. He was set to begin his arguments in full on Wednesday.

RELATED COLUMN: Ethnic strategy is nothing new

Butcher’s arguments centred around three community liaison workers and four government contractors that Bonney hired.

The three community liaisons – Sepideh Sarrafpour, Pato Chan and Bill Yuen – were also paid by a numbered company that Bonney headed, Butcher said, but provided business cards from then-minister of state for multiculturalism Harry Bloy, who resigned from cabinet in 2012 over an email leak.

Butcher alleged that all three liaisons were expected to reach out and integrate themselves within their ethnic communities.

However, internal communication read out by Butcher in court revealed they were only sent to focus on swing ridings with winnable ethnic populations.

A document obtained during the investigation laid out 18 swing ridings, Butcher explained: 12 where the Liberals had won by a small margin, and six where the party barely lost.

“The number of people from each of those [ethnic] communities could easily determine the outcome in those swing ridings,” Butcher said.

Bonney met his three liaisons in government offices, he said, and worked on their recruitment plans on government time.

Only favourable ethnic communities were targeted, Butcher said, citing an email from Sarrafpour to Bloy, with Bonney CC’ed, where she’d reported an “ethnic group in the Persian community” whose president was a suspected NDP supporter.

The response? “These are the people we will stay away from.”

Sarrafpour got a similar response when she looked at recruiting Tanzanian and Swahili voters, Butcher said, who were again seen as not likely to be swayed.

Chan and Yuen were tasked with targeting Korean and Chinese communities, he added, including a Korean community in Surrey-Tynehead deemed big enough to turn that riding Liberal.

Government contractors doing partisan work

In the afternoon session, Butcher laid out what he called the “inappropriate” hiring of four contractors for the government’s multicultural branch in 2012.

The contractors were meant to be public servants, Butcher said, citing a hiring process that began as a standard request for hire on a government jobs site.

However, Butcher said Bonney and then-minister of state for multiculturalism John Yap, who had replaced Bloy earlier that year, were involved in their hiring process in what Butcher called a “serious breach of government policy.”

Three of the four contractors all had personal connections to either Yap or other BC Liberals. The fourth resigned, with Butcher saying the contractor felt the partisan work he was asked to do was “shady.”

Bonney and now-former party staffer Mike Lee helped three of the four contractors fill out their applications, tailoring them with inside knowledge.

In later statements to Crown, Lee said the work he and Bonney had done was “not kosher by any standards.”

Mark Seeley, a director within the multiculturalism branch, said the application help was “completely inappropriate and breaks the financial code.” The four contractors would have officially reported to Seeley once their hiring process was complete.

However, Butcher said it was Bonney who directed the foursome and held a clandestine August 2012 meeting to describe their work.

Bonney, Yap, the four contractors, Sarrafpour and another of the community liaison workers met to discuss the proposed ethnic vote recruiting work the contractors would be carrying out.

Butcher said emails from Bonney to the contractors followed, reminding them that at this point, Bonney had not yet publicly met the contractors.

“Remember, you still don’t know me :)” read one email.

Ethnic votes scandal goes public

The August meeting was documented in pictures by Sarrafpour, who resigned in September 2012.

After her departure, Bonney characterized her as “difficult to work with,” Butcher said, but said she had useful, “high profile” contacts in ethnic communities, especially the Persian community.

Butcher said after Sarrafpour left, Bonney was concerned she might say the wrong thing and reveal the plan to outsiders.

He allegedly concocted a plan where Bloy was to meet Sarrafpour, a longtime Liberal supporter, and “explain how doing anything would damage the premier and the party,” as well as promise her work with the party.

“If need be, offer her ‘X’ dollars per month to do non-public work up to election,” the internal communication from Bonney read.

According to Butcher, Bonney believed the intimidation efforts were successful, saying Sarrafpour was “warned and scared, she was crying and saying she hasn’t talked to anyone.”

The BC Liberals “quick wins” plan was revealed by then-MLA John Horgan in spring 2013. When questioned about it at the time, Yap did not respond, but stepped aside from his multiculturalism role that same spring.

Clark later apologized for the creation of the plan. However, during the internal investigation carried out by then Deputy Minister to the Premier John Dryble, she denied ever having seen it before the NDP revealed it in the Legislature.

The hearing is set to run until Jan. 18.

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