RCMP Raid BC Premier's House
B.C. Premier Glen Clark lives in a modest, shingled home on Anzio Drive on Vancouver's east side, near the Burnaby boundary. Last Tuesday night, his wife, Dale, a public school teacher, was home as usual with the couple's two young children, Reid and Layne. Around 7 p.m., three RCMP officers from Vancouver's commercial crime section trudged up the stairs to the Clarks' home, followed by a reporter and cameraman from local station BCTV. The police produced a search warrant and slowly began to scour the house. One hour later, the premier returned home, entering through the back door to avoid the intrusive television camera. There was, however, a BCTV van parked in the lane at the rear of the house. The camera caught Clark in his kitchen, jacket still on, tie off, shirt unbuttoned at the neck, with a look of incredulity on his face, pacing back and forth with folded arms. At around 9 p.m., the police left.
The following morning, the RCMP issued a news release saying the search warrant was related to an investigation of an application for a charity casino licence. The application was from a 34-year-old man named Dimitrios Pilarinos, one of Clark's neighbours whose children played with the premier's kids; he was also a contractor who had done renovations on Clark's house. Just before the police raided the premier's home, they had charged Pilarinos with running an illegal gambling operation in the North Burnaby Inn - a place known for its strip joint where Hells Angels gang members like to gather, and the proposed site of the charity casino. Pilarinos's business partner in the licence application for the casino - which was approved in principle last December by the B.C. cabinet over the objections of local MLAs and Burnaby city council - was North Burnaby Inn owner Steve Ng, who once had an investment in an Internet strip-show site.
In its news release, the RCMP said its warrant to search Clark's house "did not allege any criminal activity" on the part of the premier. But as details of the case emerged, speculation increased about whether the savvy, street-smart Clark could hope to survive as leader - and, sources told Maclean's, some highly placed New Democrats were clamoring for his resignation. The mere fact that the RCMP searched a premier's home was shocking in itself. "That was a very powerful image," said Norman Ruff, a political scientist at the University of Victoria. Clark, he added, "can protest his innocence all he likes, but people saw the police at his house on television and there is this kind of notion that where there's smoke there's fire." Some observers publicly mused that the incident could prove to be the last straw for the New Democratic party government, which had already hit the cellar in the polls - barely 20 per cent, compared with more than 50 per cent for the opposition Liberals.
There was, at least, increasing public pressure on the premier to remove himself from office temporarily while the investigation continues. "Do the right thing, Glen," demanded Michael Smyth, the acerbic Victoria-based columnist for The Province newspaper. "Step aside." Liberal Leader Gordon Campbell echoed the demand. "The government," he said, "has become paralyzed." And some noted a parallel between Clark's present situation and that of his predecessor, Mike Harcourt. He resigned in 1995 over another scandal involving gambling - the Bingogate affair, in which party members diverted funds earned from charity bingo games into NDP coffers - although he was not involved.
The illegal gambling charges against Clark's neighbour, Pilarinos, were laid following a five-month investigation by the Burnaby RCMP into the operations of The Lumbermen's Social Club, an outfit run by Pilarinos and located in the North Burnaby Inn on Hastings Street. At the inn last week, police seized $40,000 in cash and arrested 50 patrons and seven employees. But the RCMP was quick to say that the search of Clark's home and the charges against Pilarinos stem from two separate investigations, one focused on the casino licence, the other on illegal gambling. "They are completely independent investigations," said Sgt. Derek Cooke of the Burnaby detachment.
The day after Pilarinos's arrest and the raid on the Clark home, the premier remained hunkered down with his aides in the government's Vancouver cabinet offices, and did not make a statement until late afternoon. "I am very troubled by yesterday's events, as is my family," Clark finally declared. Proclaiming his innocence, he said that last summer he "gave explicit instructions" to his staff to "ensure I was insulated from the decision-making process for this [North Burnaby Inn] licence application."
The premier's aides also distributed a memo, dated July 17, 1998, and written by Adrian Dix, Clark's principal secretary. Misspelling Pilarinos, the poorly punctuated memo said the premier "reported to me that a neighbour, a Mr. Pillarinoos was one of the applicants for a casino in Burnaby. Mr. Pillarinoos is a friend of the premier." Dix continued: "Given this relationship, the premier asked me to ensure that he take no part in any aspect of the decision on Burnaby casinos. Whatever, the decision, he wanted no part in the outcome." On Thursday afternoon, Clark's lawyer, David Gibbons, a pugnacious, sharp-tongued solicitor whose clients normally include drug dealers and murderers, lambasted the press for "scurrilous" reports and "gossip mongering" and criticized the RCMP for entering the premier's home in what he described as the dead of night. "It was terrifying in that house," Gibbons asserted. "You can imagine what Mrs. Clark felt like."
Snapping at reporters, the well-known criminal lawyer said the premier had paid for "every single invoice" Pilarinos had presented for renovations on the Anzio Drive house. And, he repeated incessantly, Clark "did not participate in any decision-making on this licence." In fact, a government news release last December said "the results of the [North Burnaby Inn licence] evaluation were presented to cabinet for decision" on Dec. 15, and records indicate Clark was at that cabinet meeting. But Gibbon claimed the cabinet did not, in fact, make the decision. That responsibility, he said, was handed to Minister of Employment and Investment Mike Farnworth.
Farnworth, returning from a trade mission to Central and South America late last Thursday, concurred, saying he was the only one responsible for the North Burnaby Inn licence approval. "It was my decision," the minister told reporters. He also said he was unaware the RCMP was looking into illegal gambling at the North Burnaby Inn. "If I had been aware there was a criminal investigation going on," he said, "I would not have granted any conditional approval." (Farnworth, too, has hired a criminal lawyer.) Then, at week's end, Clark asked British Columbia's conflict of interest commissioner, H. A. D. Oliver, to conduct a review and added: "I am fully confident this review will show that I have conducted myself appropriately in this matter." Still, the Liberals' Campbell declared that the waffling about whether the licence approval was a cabinet decision made last December or one made later by Farnworth alone "smacks of a coverup."
The North Burnaby Inn saga has been watched with disbelief by members of the Burnaby City Council - the majority of whom are members of the NDP. They had strongly opposed granting a casino licence to the inn. So had the local MLA, NDP backbencher Pietro Calendino. The municipal politicians - as well as people in the community - wanted to maintain a low-density residential area around Hastings Street and felt a casino would jeopardize efforts to revitalize the neighbourhood. Letter after letter was sent to government officials and to Farnworth underlining the council's concerns. "We told him there was no possible way we were going to consider that kind of development on Hastings Street," said Burnaby councillor Derek Corrigan. And when approval in principle was granted by the provincial government, council was incredulous. "We couldn't understand why a casino would get approval when the council opposed it," Corrigan said. "Our view on it was, 'What part of the word no do you not understand?' " According to its own guidelines, the B.C. government is supposed to respect municipalities' wishes before any casino licence is granted.
Equally disturbing was the revelation by Steve Letts, the director of the Gaming Audit and Investigation Office, that his office did not complete the requisite background investigation on the licence application before it was given the nod by Farnworth. "It is still not completed," Letts admitted. But last October, the Gaming Audit office joined in the RCMP investigation. "I'm not going to say anything more," Letts allowed. "As you can appreciate with events of the last few days, we are sorting out a lot of details now."
Even if Clark is completely exonerated, the question remains: why would the province approve a casino application that was opposed by local politicians and had not been audited to check if the men behind the scheme would be appropriate casino operators? In fact, Malaysian-born Ng, Pilarinos's business partner, had an investment in Starnet Communications International Inc., which operated online gambling and live broadcasts of strip shows from a club called No. Five Orange in Vancouver's seedy Downtown Eastside. "The guys behind this seem like a pretty shady bunch," said Patrick Smith, professor of political science at Simon Fraser University. "From sex on the Internet to whatever, they are not what I would call pillars of the business community." Liberal Leader Campbell concluded that the events of the past week reinforce the need to approve licence applications in a more transparent way. "These kinds of decisions," he said, "should stop being made behind closed doors."
Before the shocking scene of the police raid on Clark's house, there had been whispers about dissatisfaction within the NDP over the premier's leadership. Those grew to a roar in some quarters of the party last week, as some NDP stalwarts described what happened as "disgusting." If push came to shove, the party might turn to Finance Minister Joy MacPhail or Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh. Still, Clark has supporters who believe the police must clarify what they have done and, his friends hope, clear his name. "This is a terrible position to put the premier in," said Bill Tieleman, Clark's former communications director. During the coming weeks, the 14 search warrants obtained by the RCMP to investigate the granting of the casino licence - including the warrant for the search of Clark's house - may be unsealed and questions about what the police were actually looking for could be answered.
Some predict Clark will survive this crisis because he is so deft at maintaining political authority within the party and controlling his caucus. "He is a scrapper," said political scientist Smith. "When he gets into a corner he fights his way out." But even if he does get off the ropes this time, his party's future looks dim - and will not be helped by the enduring image of a nighttime raid on the premier's house.
Maclean's March 15, 1999