Though the room erupted in laughter, no one was fooled. They needed only to look at the tense, pinched face of Clark's wife Dale to see the stakes were enormous for the combative former NDP premier, and for his family. For three years he faced the prospect of being the first premier convicted of criminal breach of trust, as well as a charge that he received benefits from a friend who hoped it would buy him a casino licence. The charges forced Clark's resignation as premier in August, 1999. After Bennett's exhaustive 131-page ruling acquitted him of both charges, Clark made good on his promise, delivering to reporters a speech fluctuating between relief and frustration. "Today is a day for me and my family to celebrate and to be free of this anvil that's been carrying me down," said Clark, 44, who now works as a manager at a sign company owned by Vancouver billionaire Jim Pattison.
Clark had faced up to five years in prison, and financial ruin. If convicted, he'd have had to pay legal bills estimated at $1 million (the costs are now borne by the provincial taxpayer). While saying the charges should never have been laid, he insisted he was not bitter. Yet Clark again raised the possibility of a political agenda behind the RCMP investigation - a line of defence his lawyers failed to substantiate and one the judge condemned as "unacceptable." He estimates police spent $5 million on the investigation. "All of that money could have gone to finding missing women in the Downtown Eastside or something like that," he said.
While Clark celebrated, his former neighbour, contractor Dimitrios Pilarinos, was convicted of six of nine charges against him. He provided free labour - estimated by the judge to be worth $1,800 - while renovating a bedroom of the Clarks' east Vancouver home, and helped build a deck on a family cabin near Penticton. Pilarinos, who will be sentenced on Sept. 27, was also a partner in a numbered company pursuing a lucrative casino licence. Bennett found no evidence that Clark influenced the bid, which ultimately failed, but she found Pilarinos tried to gain an advantage from his relationship with the premier. "These things don't happen," he'd told his casino partners, "if you don't have pull."
That dim view of government proved his downfall. Clark, Bennett concluded, was guilty only of "poor judgment" in hiring a neighbour with ulterior motives. There is a line in Canada's anti-corruption laws, she noted, between "folly" and crime. It ran through her courtroom last week between two former friends.
Maclean's September 9, 2002
Author KEN MACQUEEN