A woman who might have been in her eighties approaches Prince George city Councillor Brian Skakun at the grocery store. She hands him $10. "Go get 'em," she says and walks away.
Mr. Skakun, who is on trial for violating B.C.'s privacy laws, was taken aback by the unexpected contribution. The woman at the store was really fired up, he recalled in a recent interview.
"If anyone had heard what she said to me, they would have just dropped their groceries," Mr. Skakun said. "For people to say, 'Hey, here's some money. If you need some more, let me know.' I do not know if I ever heard of that before, people donating to a politician's legal fund."
In an unprecedented court case, Provincial Court Judge Ken Bell is to issue a ruling Tuesday on whether Mr. Skakun violated B.C.'s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The case is believed to be the first time in B.C. that a politician has been prosecuted under the privacy act for disclosing confidential information.
The court case, which stretched over nine days this winter, heard from 21 witnesses, including Mr. Skakun. The current and a former mayor, eight city councillors, four senior city administrators and several city employees provided evidence in court or by affidavit.
Mr. Skakun readily admitted that he provided a confidential report to the local CBC radio station. "I disclosed the documents because I thought the public had a right to know," Mr. Skakun said in the interview. "Ever since I got on council, I have been willing to stand up for the people on many issues."
Crown counsel Judith Doulis argued that Mr. Skakun violated the privacy legislation by releasing the report. Mr. Skakun's lawyer argued that he was a whistleblower with protection under the legislation, and the provision of the privacy act under which he was charged did not apply to him in this case.
The lawyerly arguments over the interpretation of the regulatory act were often mingled in court with testimony about the internal report and personal relationships. "People had no idea what was going on at city hall," Mr. Skakun said.
The confidential documents related to complaints of harassment by civilian employees at the Prince George RCMP detachment. In August, 2008, CBC posted a report by labour lawyer Kitty Heller that reviewed the conduct of Ann Bailey, the top civilian employee in the detachment at that time, the Prince George Citizen has said.
The report dismissed the complaints of harassment, but stated that Ms. Bailey was in a conflict of interest as a result of her personal relationship with Prince George RCMP Superintendent Dahl Chambers, the newspaper reported.
Another city councillor, Debora Munoz, told the city that Mr. Skakun gave the documents to CBC. Ms. Munoz lived with Mr. Skakun for eight months before the 2005 municipal election. The newspaper reported that Ms. Munoz denied in court that a bitter breakup spurred her to reveal Mr. Skakun as the leak.
Mr. Skakun said in the interview he had no regrets about what he did. "If I had not done what I did, then people in the community would never have known that municipal employees were getting harassed by the police superintendent, they would never know that three people who were harassed were terminated, all that stuff," he said. "There would have been nothing mentioned publicly at all."
The case has cast a shadow over everything he has done on city council over the past 2 1/2 years, he said. "It undermines everything you do as a councillor. It just hangs in the air," he said.
But Mr. Skakun, who is now serving his third term as a city councilor, said he will likely run for re-election this fall. "I have a lot of community support," he said. He has received about $15,000 from individuals and community organizations, he said, adding that his legal bills are expected to be around $35,000. If convicted, Mr. Skakun could face a penalty of up to $2,000.