March 2, 1999: As night fell on a quiet East Vancouver street, BCTV (later to become Global News) reporter John Daly was in a van with cameraman Karl Casselman, eating pizza, staring at a nearby car — and wondering whether he was sitting on the biggest scoop of his life, or just pissing off his girlfriend.
“We were supposed to be doing some sort of cleanup at my place, and she had ordered Nat’s Pizza…so she gets very angry and sends the Nat’s pizza to me in a taxi. That’s how ticked off she was.”
A reporter’s life is filled with moments when friends and loved ones are shunted aside because of a possible story. But this story was bigger than most.
Four undercover police officers were preparing to raid the home of then-B.C. Premier Glen Clark. A search warrant alleged breach of trust in relation to a controversial casino licence the province had approved in principle to Dimitrios Pilarinos. Pilarinos was a friend of Clark’s, and had done renovations on Clark’s home.
Over the next three-and-a-half years, Clark would resign, see his party decimated in the next provincial election, be criminally charged, and eventually acquitted. The scandal still plagues the NDP.
At the time, Daly didn’t know any of that. Now, recounting the night’s events for the first time in detail, he remembers the waiting more than anything else.
“It was very, very, very, very, weird,” he said.
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“Sitting in the back of a truck, eating pizza, waiting to see whether four guys in suits are going to run into the premier’s house or drive away. I remember saying to Casselman at the time, maybe it’s some sort of security detail, maybe there’s been a threat or something we don’t know about. We got to be careful here.”
After two hours of waiting, the “four guys in suits” got out of their car, and headed up the Clark’s stairs.
For months prior to the raid, the government and the City of Burnaby had been battling over a 20-table, 300-slot machine casino proposed at a seedy Burnaby hotel.
Steve Ng, owner of the North Burnaby Inn, had partnered with Pilarinos to apply for a casino charity licence at his establishment.
The city opposed the application, and said it wouldn’t approve rezoning to make the casino possible. The proposal only reached the 46 per cent mark under the government’s evaluation rubric for casinos, much lower than other licences they received at the time.
Despite all that, on December 17, 1998, the government announced approval in principle for Ng and Pilarinos’ proposal.
During that period, Daly received a tip that Dimitri Vrahnos, a Revenue Canada employee, had filed a complaint with the Burnaby RCMP and the then-opposition B.C. Liberal Party.
“The complaint said there might be some funny business with the casino licence, and it involved a group of people…at least one of them knew the premier,” Daly said.
“They had an inside track, and it was going ahead, and would make them a lot of money, and he had a friend on city council, and essentially it was going to be slid through and would be a little gold mine.”
Vrahnos made the complaint after Pilarinos — a friend of his in Vancouver’s tight-knit Greek community — asked for his help with paperwork connected to the application. And while damning in its allegations, the tip was no different in nature than dozens of others Daly had received in his years as an investigative reporter: massive in scope, but difficult to prove and impossible to broadcast without legal repercussions.
“It seemed preposterous, to be honest, really outrageous that you could even begin to think this could possibly be true,” Daly said.
Still, because of the controversy over the licence, Daly kept the tip in the back of his mind. Until March 2.
The day of the raid
The morning began with momentous news: Jack Webster, arguably the most famous journalist in the history of British Columbia, had passed away at the age of 80. So great his legacy, BCTV assignment editor Clive Jackson dedicated most of the 6 p.m. News Hour to Webster’s life.
“He said, ‘Look, whatever you want to work on, work on it, because the show is going to be filled with Webster memorials…and we don’t really need you to do anything,'” Daly said.
Later that afternoon, Jackson spoke with Daly again, and mentioned police were raiding the North Burnaby Inn. A light bulb went up over Daly’s head.
“I said, “Wait a minute, could this possibly be connected?’ It was really pretty kooky.”
Daly raced to the Inn to find police arresting people and searching the premises. The raid was related to allegations of illegal gambling at a social club inside the building, operated by Pilarinos.
But details were hard to come by, and police wouldn’t say who was involved.
“The cameraman shooting this was Gary Hanney, a very good, experienced cameraman, good with police procedures…he knew they had called a special safe squad to come in and crack the safe. He didn’t want to leave until that transpired, because he knew that if they couldn’t open the safe, they’d transport the safe, they’d break the safe out of the wall or whatever it was on and take it to RCMP headquarters. He wanted that picture,” Daly said.
But with more than enough shots from the Inn, Daly wanted to look deeper.
“I thought maybe we should go over to Pilarinos’ house, because in Vrahnos’ memo, he was the pivot guy, the key guy. Which also implied that Premier Clark had done something wrong, and there was a relationship between Pilarinos and Clark, and Pilarinos had been doing renovations on Clark’s house. It certainly implied they were close. So I thought we better go.”
Daly asked the newsroom for a camera to meet him at Pilarinos’ house and headed out.
Pilarinos lived in the neighbourhood northeast of Rupert Street and East 22nd Avenue, and when Daly arrived at the house shortly before 6 p.m., no one was home.
Knowing Clark lived blocks away, Daly drove by there as well. Again, nobody home.
The story might have ended there if not for the fact cameraman Karl Casselman arrived and saw Daly. More importantly, Casselman saw undercover police officers waiting at the corner.
“I got out of my car, got my stuff, and sat in Casselman’s truck, and we sat in the truck for a long, long time.”
Eventually, the police moved in. Daly and Casselman got out of the car and followed them to the house. Now that the story seemed to be real, a decision had to be made — to film, or not to film?
“They’re up on the porch, and we’re down on the street. I’m looking at Casselman, he’s looking at me, and I’m thinking this could be history in the making,” said Daly.
“We’re the only witnesses here. There doesn’t seem to be anyone around except for us and the cops, and they’re banging on the door. Casselman says what do we do? I thought…”
Daly leans back, breathes through his mouth, and clenches his teeth.
“It’s dicey, but we better get up there.”
The video shot over the next few hours was played over and over on BCTV in the following months. RCMP officers knocking on the door. Dale Clark, the premier’s wife, letting them inside. The premier and his communications director, Geoff Meggs, entering his home from the back. Clark pacing around his kitchen. Officers searching the home and investigating the back deck.
“At one point, the cops came out, went to the car, they were getting legal boxes and so forth, and I said, ‘May I have a copy of the warrant,’ and they said no,” Daly said.
“I said, ‘Well, that’s interesting, it’s kind of like a backhanded search warrant. It’s not a positive confirmation, but it’s a powerful inference. I thought to myself, what are the odds that you’re actually going to go and just do a consent search of the premier’s house? It’s possible, but it’s unlikely.”
During the raid, Meggs came outside and asked Casselman and Hanney, who had joined the story after finishing at the North Burnaby Inn, to stop filming.
“He says, ‘You gotta get out of here,’ and I said, ‘Well why?’ He says ‘Well, Glen’s son is coming home from hockey, we don’t want you to be here, it’s going to be awkward and stressful.’ I said, ‘OK, fine,'” recounts Daly.
The crew went to a nearby McDonald’s, where Daly phoned Meggs and said they would eventually need an explanation from Clark himself that night.
“We’re going to need a clip from Glen when the cops are gone. We’ve got to understand what are they after, and why are they doing this?” Daly remembers saying.
But while Meggs initially agreed, he never phoned Daly back. With time ticking before the 11:30 p.m. newscast, they went back to Clark’s home, knocked on the door and were told by Meggs the premier wouldn’t be commenting.
The story ran that night.
WATCH: BCTV’s News Hour Final coverage of the raid on August 2, 1999
“Good evening, we begin tonight with a BCTV news exclusive. The private residence of Premier Glen Clark has been searched by police. That’s right, the premier has been served a search warrant and for a good part of this evening, police have been poring through documents in the premier’s home. John Daly has been on this story right from the start, and breaks it for you tonight” — Ted Chernecki, opening the 11:30 p.m. newscast
Viewers saw RCMP searching Clark’s home, Daly mentioning the North Burnaby Inn raid earlier that day, and the premier refusing to comment. Even though Daly told viewers “at this point, there is no indication that the premier himself is suspected of any wrongdoing,” it was a defensive stance Clark never recovered from politically.
“In reflection, it’s very sad,” said Daly, lamenting the fact Clark stayed silent that night.
“I can probably understand that Glen and Geoff and all those guys had legal advice not to say anything…but it might have had a somewhat different outcome had Glen come out and told everybody what had happened and how cooperative he had been.
“Because he and his wife went to the basement, they got their old financial papers, they gave the cops the cheques and copies of cancelled cheques on the renos for their house. They were pretty forthcoming, it was just that nobody knew that. The mystery got bigger and bigger and bigger, because nobody knew why the cops had raided Glen Clark’s house.”
WATCH: BCTV’s News Hour coverage of the raid on March 3, 4, and 5, 1999
As Daly’s story sent shockwaves across the province, more pieces of the puzzle fell into place the next day.
“It’s been an astounding day in B.C.’s halls of power, and it all began with this unprecedented image captured exclusively by BCTV cameras last night. A team of investigators climbing the steps of Glen Clark’s home,” said Tony Parsons, as he began his heavy coverage on the next day’s 6 p.m. News Hour.
“I am very troubled by yesterday’s events, as is my family, in particular,” said Clark during the News Hour, in his first public comments.
“Out of my respect and concern for the integrity of the legal process, I am obliged to limit my comments on this matter. As many of you know, I would much rather take questions and talk at length on this subject, but at the moment I cannot.”
He also released a document he hoped would exonerate him — a memo written by his Chief of Staff Adrian Dix, stating the premier recused himself from any decisions about the Inn’s licence application.
“I am sharing with you a copy of the memo to file prepared by my staff confirming this fact. As a result, I am very confident that I have conducted myself entirely appropriately,” Clark said.
However, cabinet meeting documents didn’t show Clark recusing himself from any discussions. Two weeks later, RCMP seized Dix’s computer, and Dix subsequently resigned, admitting the memo was false.
The public also learned that 14 search warrants in total had been approved for two separate investigations: one into the illegal activities at the North Burnaby Inn, and one into the government’s preliminary approval of the casino licence—which was rescinded weeks after the RCMP began investigating the matter.
But as questions swirled around Clark’s conduct, they also hovered over this news station. How did Daly happen to be at Clark’s home when the raid took place? Had BCTV been tipped off?
“When three RCMP officers show up on the premier’s doorstep, accompanied by two BCTV journalists, the obvious conclusion is…the RCMP tipped off BCTV, and that’s why they were there,” said NDP MP Svend Robinson in Ottawa on March 3.
“I think there’s got to be a full independent inquiry into the circumstances here. It is simply incredible, literally incredible, to believe that BCTV journalists just happened to be around Glen Clark’s home.”
But Daly, then and now, was steadfast that his only information came from Vrahnos’ allegations.
“Absolutely it bugged me. Because it made it seem like somehow we were not doing a good job, and maybe being played by somebody. Which wasn’t the case at all,” he said.
However, there were those in the RCMP who suspected otherwise.
“Hello, give me internal affairs. Sgt Lunn? Yeah, it’s John Daly from BCTV,” he continued, miming the exchange.
“I just saw on the news, I’m supposed to be under investigation. Am I under investigation? Yeah. Great, do you have a pencil? She said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘Good, write this down.'”
Here, Daly leans into his imaginary phone.
“THERE WAS NO TIP,” he shouts. The imaginary phone is slammed down.
“I was concerned for the people I knew inside the RCMP who undoubtedly were going to be under suspicion as a result of us doing this story, but there was no tip. It was really quite bizarre to find out…you’re under investigation. It’s like, hey, I’m just doing my job, man. You raided his house, I didn’t raid it. You have suspicions, I didn’t have them.”
“It’s been nearly six months since the search of my house on the evening of March 2, 1999, and of course, I’ve known right from that date that it was likely I would be having to do this.” – Glen Clark, on August 21, 1999, announcing he was stepping down.
On August 20, the majority of the warrant against Clark was released to the public, and Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh announced the premier was under criminal investigation. The next day, Clark stepped down, maintaining his innocence.
“Even though I’m convinced I will be completely exonerated and cleared, and that no premier should be driven from office by the existence of an investigation which remains incomplete and much of which has already been disproved, I’ve concluded it would be wrong to continue…I like being the underdog, but this is getting ridiculous,” he said in a press conference that afternoon.
WATCH: BCTV’s News Hour coverage the day Dosanjh announced Clark was under investigation
Breaking a story that results in the resignation of a premier would be a career highlight for most reporters. But for Daly, after hearing Clark’s side of the story in full, there was sadness.
“I wasn’t at all pleased to see that, and to this day I still think it’s too bad that somehow David Gibbons (Clark’s lawyer) and Meggs and those guys didn’t just say, ‘OK, let’s get in front of this thing, let’s just tell everybody, show them the documents, show them what we’ve given the RCMP, and tell them we didn’t do anything wrong.’ Would he have had to step down? Probably still, if they were going to charge him. But who knows?”
“It was very, very sad.”
Seventeen years later, he’s still ambiguous over the role his hunch played in shaping B.C.’s political future.
“What can you say? I guess on one level, if it wasn’t me, it might have been somebody else. If a tree falls in the forest, and nobody sees it or hears it, did the tree fall? Well, yeah. Would Glen Clark have been charged had we not been outside and gotten those pictures? I suspect so. I suspect the police would have done what they were going to do, and the crown would have approved or not approved, and it would have been what it is,” he said.
“As it turned out, it was a bigger story, and probably the story may have accelerated the resignation.
“Only in British Columbia do you get stuff like this happening. It’s mind-boggling, really.”
“There is no question Mr. Clark exercised poor judgement in hiring Mr. Pilarinos to do renovations for him when Mr. Pilarinos had an application for a casino licence before the government. However, there is nothing in his conduct that crosses the line from an act of folly to behaviour calling for criminal sanctions” – Justice Elizabeth Bennett, acquitting Clark in 2002, two years after charges were laid.
Postscript: Clark is now president of the Jim Pattison Group. Pilarinos was found guilty of six charges, including fraud and breach of trust, but served no jail time. Meggs became Chief of Staff to Vancouver Mayor Larry Campbell, and has served as a Vancouver city councillor since 2008. Daly continues to report for Global News.