Inside the Kash Heed scandal

Flyers devastated riding campaign

Michael Smyth, Vancouver Province, April 11, 2010


Kash Heed wins Vancouver-Fraserview riding in the provincial election last May.
Photo: Arlen Redekop, PNG, Vancouver Province.

Dwaine Martin has seen his share of cheap shots and below-the-belt punches in a rough-and-tumble 30-year political career.

But nothing registered higher on his personal slime-o-meter than the sleazy pamphlets mailed out in the dying days of last year’s election campaign — a dirty trick that triggered a police probe and Friday’s shocking resignation of Liberal cabinet minister Kash Heed.

Heed announced he was stepping down as solicitor-general after being contacted by the RCMP commercial crime squad, who told him he was a target of their investigation into possible campaign finance violations.

Heed won the riding of Vancouver-Fraserview last May by just 748 votes over NDP rival Gabriel Yiu, in one of the closest and most bitterly contested election battles in the province.

Martin was Yiu’s campaign manager. He told me the NDP had high hopes of winning the riding until five days before the election, when the New Democrats were hit with “the nastiest thing I’ve ever experienced in politics.”

The malodorous tactic was a single-page flyer — printed in English and Chinese — that was bulk-mailed to the riding’s large and politically crucial Chinese community.

The flyer accused the NDP of planning to legalize hard narcotics like heroin and cocaine, legalize prostitution, force senior citizens to live in slums and bring in a “death tax” that would drain the inheritances of children after their hard-working parents passed away.

The Chinese-language portion of the flyer showed a picture of a coffin and the text: “They won’t let go, even when you’re dead.”

Another part of the flyer showed pictures of prostitutes, cocaine, weapons and the notorious Betty Yan and Lai Changxing. Changxing is an accused smuggler who’s been called the most-wanted man in China; Yan was a suspected loan shark gunned down in a brutal gangland hit in Richmond.

“We must not allow these activities to happen near us,” warned the Chinese-language text.

Martin says the flyer preyed on the worst fears of the community.

“These criminals are disgraced figures in the Chinese community and the suggestion was the NDP somehow wanted to appease them and legalize their crimes,” says the veteran NDP political organizer.

The flyers contained a tag line: “Authorized. Registered sponsor under the Election Act.”

Elections B.C. declared the pamphlets illegal and issued a cease-and-desist order to Canada Post.

But Martin says “tens of thousands” of the flyers still found their way into the homes of Chinese voters, who make up 40 per cent of the riding. A few days after the Elections B.C. order, the flyers were still arriving at Chinese homes in plain brown envelopes in an apparent effort to skirt the distribution ban, Martin says.

“They quickly blanketed the entire riding,” Martin says. “It may not seem like a very sophisticated tactic, but many people bought into it. Our phone board immediately lit up with people who were furious at us for planning these things. Our office was paralyzed.”

It got worse two days before the election, when Chinese homes in the riding received recorded telephone messages. Yiu, the NDP candidate, says the Cantonese “voicemail broadcast” was captured on a telephone answering machine.

The translation reads: “Happy Mother’s Day. I’m calling because I’m very worried about members of my family. The NDP will bring in inheritance tax. The reason why we work so hard is for our next generation, but the NDP is taking away the money I’ve earned, so there is nothing left from me to my children. Please think very carefully before you cast your vote on May 12. We cannot let the NDP exploit us.”

“The voicemail repeated a theme in the flyers, which is very suspicious,” says Yiu, a high-profile Chinese journalist and community activist. “Of course, we had no plans for a ‘death tax’ or any of this nonsense, but the attacks came so late in the campaign, we had little opportunity to respond.”

Kash Heed’s campaign manager, Barinder Sall, vehemently denied at the time that the Liberals were behind the toxic flyers and voice-mails, and insisted he had no idea who was responsible.

“I was still furious and asked the Liberals to issue a statement condemning the flyers, but they did nothing,” Martin complained.

Heed, meanwhile, insists he’s innocent.

“I am absolutely confident that I have done nothing wrong,” Heed said Friday after his shocking resignation announcement.

Sall did not respond to repeated efforts to contact him for comment.

But now, sources say, police are investigating whether the Heed campaign had anything to do with the dirty tricks and whether the cost of the under-handed effort — estimated by Martin at $5,000 to $10,000 — was hidden from Elections B.C., a serious offence that could result in Heed being kicked out of office and losing his seat.

Martin says his complaint to Elections B.C. about the flyers was passed on to the RCMP, and police interviewed him last August.

“I don’t want to reveal what the police asked me, because I don’t want to compromise their investigation,” he says. “In some ways, I’m not surprised all this is happening now, because the one-year statute of limitations on all this was approaching.”

Yiu says he’s pleased to see the case is being treated seriously by the RCMP.

“This was a smear campaign that specifically targeted the fears of Chinese voters,” he says. “It was extremely troubling, because my polling numbers in the community had been very good prior to that. I hope this sends a strong message that the democratic rules must be respected.”

Martin says he thinks the dirty tricks may have cost Yiu and the NDP the election in Vancouver-Fraserview.

“You can’t win that riding without winning the Chinese vote,” he says. “We were even polling ahead of Kash Heed among Indo-Canadian voters, which make up 15 per cent of the riding. So it was obvious to us, and it must have been obvious to the Liberals, that the Chinese vote would be absolutely crucial.

“But these dirty tricks came so late in the campaign, that we had no time or money to respond. We had already spent our entire legal limit, so we couldn’t even buy ad time on Chinese radio to set the record straight.

“Whoever did this knew they would bootstrap us at precisely our most vulnerable moment. It was a precision sliming.”

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