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The Peak

January 20, 2003

Features

StickySituatio Inside the premier’s first press conference since his drunk driving arrest Stephen Hui

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photos by Josh Devins

s we lined up in front of Canada Place, anticipation was high and the crowd of journalists was buzzing. This was the press event of the year — a year just 12 days old. How often does one get to ask questions of a premier freshly returned from spending the night in a Hawaii jail after his arrest for drunk driving? I had only just received an email with the location of the press conference — the premier’s Vancouver office — about two hours earlier. If their goal was to prevent activists from messing with their agenda, organisers succeeded. There was one protestor outside the venue. “I think I’m the only one,” said Braeden Caley, a grade 11 student at

Richmond Secondary School, “because it’s supposed to be a top secret press conference here.” Officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police guarded the doors as the premier’s staff let four journalists enter the building at a time — highly unusual, according to a reporter from the CBC. There were many familiar faces in line. Reporters from the six o’clock news and columnists from the local dailies traded greetings and barbs with each other as if they all belonged to the same club. Finally, it was my turn to enter the building. I flashed my amateurish-looking media credentials at a member of the premier’s staff and they escorted us to the elevator and down the hall to the press conference. I left Peak photo editor Josh Devins outside to be in the next round of journalists let in. “He’ll join you up there,” a security guard assured me, although Devins later had to tell them he had 70 papers waiting for his photos to get in. A few reporters were not so lucky. The conference room was packed and climatically similar to Hawaii. I quickly shed my jacket, ditched my backpack in a corner and got into position behind the TV cameras. Premier’s staff responding to journalists’ complaints about the cramped and hot conditions said they chose the small room because of “short notice.” One journalist had a better explanation: “It’s the one they’ve got the keys for.”

Reporters milled about the conference room, setting up equipment and cracking jokes in anticipation of Campbell’s entrance. Soon after 3 p.m., the premier took the stage, with wife Nancy Campbell by his side. In addition, Deputy Premier and Minister of Education Christy Clark, Liberal Party caucus whip Kevin Krueger, caucus chair John Les, and Minister of Finance Gary Collins stood by their leader in a show of support. I, however, only managed to attain brief sightings of the premier. With a Fairchild TV camera operator’s butt in my face, I waited for those few moments when I could peer between someone’s elbow and another’s legs to get a glimpse of Campbell’s face as he read his statement. His voice was quavering. Campbell was most emotional when he talked about his family’s history with alcohol. He lost his father, an alcoholic, to suicide when he was 13. “Over the last two days, I have asked myself time and again, how could I make such a terrible mistake,” Campbell said, wiping away tears. “I can tell you with my family background, this is frightening. I will be seeking professional help to determine if I have an alcohol problem. While I do not believe I have a problem, I recognise that I have a responsibility. I will not drink again.” As is often the case with politicians, what Campbell said was less important than what he did not say. When his statement was over, reporters hammered him for a good 20 minutes looking for answers. A well-prepped Campbell said he did not know what his breathalyser reading was. He was driving over the speed limit but, to his recollection, was not driving erratically.


features editor email phone

Ian Rocksborough Smith features@mail.peak.sfu.ca 604-291-4560

January 20, 2003

n Reporters pressed the premier to admit that he had committed a criminal act but he repeatedly avoided admitting to actions he would consider criminal. “I consider what I did a terrible mistake,” Campbell said. Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer, nonchalantly leaning against a wall, asked, “Premier, how often have you been drinking and driving in the past?” “I have never,” Campbell answered, “broken the laws of British Columbia to my knowledge and I don’t intend to.” “Is this because you’ve never been caught, premier?” asked Palmer. “I have never,” the premier said, “been driving under the influence of alcohol to my knowledge.” “Do you think it’s an incredible coincidence,” Palmer asked, “that the very first time you did it, you were caught?” “I think I made a terrible mistake and I’ve said that,” replied Campbell. “How often have you made that terrible mistake, premier, in the past?” Palmer enquired. “To my knowledge, I have never made that mistake,” Campbell said. A journalist beside me joked: “They’ll ask him about marijuana next.”

The premier’s mug shot, plastered across newspapers, TV screens and even T-shirts since his arrest, shows him bearing a facial expression many have described as a smile. Campbell, however, told reporters he was grimacing. One reporter asked the premier if his arrest had damaged his credibility. “That’s up to other people to decide,” Campbell said. “Thank you everybody” — one of the premier’s staff cut off reporters’ questions and the premier, his spouse and the four MLAs quickly exited the room. Grabbing my possessions, I headed down the hall, where several minutes later, Krueger, Clark and Les — “Where’s Gary?” someone asked — took reporters’ questions in a press scrum. Soon, I found myself trapped between journalists — an arm’s length away from the action, but barely able to move, let alone focus my camera while holding my microcassette recorder. Reporters unmercifully peppered Clark with questions, but she refused to concede any ground, parroting the statements of the premier and her party like a robot. “Christy,” a reporter asked, “if Glen Clark had been charged with drunk driving when he was premier, do you think the Liberals would have asked him to step aside?” “This didn’t have anything to do with the premier’s public duties…” Clark began. “That wasn’t my question,” the same reporter interrupted. “He’s been entirely forthright in dealing with it,” the deputy premier continued unfased. “He doesn’t intend to contest it and he has asked for the public’s forgiveness.” “It’s okay for the premier to commit criminal acts?” an angrysounding reporter chimed in. “Is that what you’re saying?” “The premier has made a terrible personal mistake,” Clark said

slowly, “and he has been entirely forthright about that.” “Christy, seriously, you didn’t address my first question,” the first reporter said. “The question was can you imagine any circumstances where the Liberal’s would not have called for Glen Clark’s resignation if he was convicted of drunk driving. Can you seriously imagine that?” “The premier,” Clark said, “has today admitted that he made a terrible, terrible mistake…” “Not answering the question Christy,” the reporter interrupted her again. “And he has said he will not ever make that mistake again,” the deputy premier finished. Next, a different reporter made another attempt to get an answer from Clark: “Why are the premier and his colleagues so reluctant to acknowledge that this is a criminal infraction under Canadian, B.C. law? Why are you so reluctant to use that word?” “Christy, are you or any of the Liberals aware,” another asked, “that drunk driving is a criminal action in Canada? Do you agree that it is a criminal action in Canada?” “It is wrong,” Clark replied to much laughter from reporters, “and it is against the law in British Columbia. The premier has been entirely forthright and he has asked for British Columbians’ forgiveness.”

About an hour after it began, it was all over. The politicians disappeared down the hall and the reporters squished into the elevators for the ride down. We now knew the premier would not be resigning today, but then again, none of us really expected him to. An hour covering the biggest story in the country — there are worse ways to spend a Sunday afternoon. However, as one journalist commented as we left the building: “Next time why don’t they hold it in a fucking sauna.”

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Sticky situation  

The Peak, January 20, 2003

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