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Re: the Somalia Inquiry

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Unpublished letter to the editor submitted to the Vancouver Sun, April 18, 1997

By Kay Stockholder

The reason given by Doug Young, and supported in the Vancouver Sun by Southam columnists Jim Bronskill and Joan Bryden (Thursday, April 17) for aborting the Somalia inquiry is the enormous cost of lawyers provided for every witness, as well as for the Commission. While the costs of such inquiries are staggering under the present conditions, it is also staggering to conclude that there should be no inquiries to look into malfeasance in government, and no way to ensure government accountability. We may not be able to afford the inquiries, but we cannot afford to do without them.

Private citizens who are charged with crimes that carry severe punishments must themselves bear the burden of legal expenses. If found innocent of the charges, they are not compensated for their expenses, and it is a common occurrence for people to be financially ruined by expenses incurred in defending their innocence.

Inquiries are not judicial procedures: no charges emerge as a direct consequence of the evidence produced. They are quasi-judicial procedures because charges might later be laid as a consequence of the findings. There are two possible ways to go. One could simply not provide legal counsel at government expense, and leave it to the witnesses to hire lawyers at their own expense of do without them. Or the government could appoint something analogous to a defense counsel who would protect the interests of all witnesses called.

It is hard to see the rationale for covering the legal expenses government employees who are suspected of wrongdoing from the public purse, when private citizens must reach into their own, often shallow, pockets. But if there is an issue of due process here, it could be avoided by strictly separating an investigative inquiry from legal proceedings. That is, one could conduct inquiries without prejudice, so that any incriminating findings could not be used as evidence in a court of law.

In that way, though wrong doing might not be punished, it would be known. That may be unjust, but it is less unjust, and more in the public interest, than it never being known at all, leaving corruption to flourish undisturbed under the cloak of secrecy.