Jun. 22, 2004. 06:16 AM

Ex-MP charged in theft
Svend Robinson earlier admitted stealing ring
'This has been weighing on him heavily,' aide says


VANCOUVER—Longtime MP Svend Robinson has been charged with theft over $5,000 more than two months after admitting he stole an expensive ring at a jewellery auction.

Robinson, 52, was charged yesterday following a recommendation by special prosecutor Len Doust, who was appointed on April 16 to review the RCMP investigation.

Robinson, who was first elected to the House of Commons in 1979 and won re-election six times, is to appear on July 8 in British Columbia Provincial Court in Richmond, where the incident occurred.

The maximum penalty is 10 years in prison.

Bill Siksay, Robinson's constituency assistant for the past 18 years, said his boss, who cleaned out his Ottawa office yesterday, "will be relieved" with the news of a charge.

"This has been weighing on him heavily," said Siksay, who is running to hold Robinson's Burnaby-Douglas seat for the New Democratic Party.

"At least we now know how this is going to proceed and I'm sure there's some relief in that."

Robinson, Canada's first openly gay MP who earned a reputation for generating controversy and headlines during 25 years in office, has been on medical leave since tearfully admitting he "just snapped" and stole a diamond ring on Good Friday.

"It hasn't been easy for him to be sitting on the sidelines when he cares so deeply about the issues," said Siksay, who has been in regular contact with Robinson. "But he says that he is making progress."

A spokesperson with the B.C. crown, which had been under fire for taking so long to make a decision on charges, said next Monday's election had no impact on the timing.

"There has been a significant amount of public attention paid to this case," said Geoffrey Gaul, a spokesperson with the criminal justice branch of the B.C. Attorney-General department.

"That public attention and any comments reported in the media played no role," Gaul said.

Earlier this month, an Alberta organization calling itself Citizens for Freedom and Democracy took out an ad in a Vancouver newspaper urging charges to be laid. "I'm very glad the crown has done this," said Link Byfield, chairman of the organization. "It seems, on the face of it, to be the appropriate charge, given what he admitted to doing, so I think justice has been served."

Robinson, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, has blamed "great inner turmoil" for his theft of a ring — reportedly worth $50,000 — in full view of staff and a security camera at a public auction at the Vancouver airport.

During an April 15 news conference, Robinson said that for some time he had "been suffering from severe stress and emotional pain" for reasons he refused to specify, except to say they are related to dealing with the consequences of a near fatal hiking accident on B.C.'s Galiano Island in late 1997.

Officials with the Brampton-based auction house said they turned over evidence of the theft to police two days before Robinson turned himself in.

After reviewing video surveillance, Federal Auction Services contacted the RCMP. They said they accepted the MP's apology and would not be pushing for charges to be laid in the case.

Bill Tieleman, a political consultant who served as an adviser to former B.C. NDP premier Glen Clark, called the laying of a charge "rather sad" and unnecessary. "He's attempting to recover under professional guidance and I don't think it does any good," Tieleman said.

NDP Leader Jack Layton said from the outset Robinson was prepared to take full responsibility for his actions.

And because of that, he doubted the charge would have any impact on the election. "People respect that he said right out that he did something terribly wrong, stepped down from running and will now go through this process," Layton said.

George Drazenovic, the Conservative candidate in Burnaby-Douglas, said he's "encouraged that the process has moved forward.

"I think we all need closure on this issue," he said. "I continue to wish Svend Robinson well."

A spokesperson for Bill Cunningham said the Liberal candidate had no comment. "It's not an election issue," said Marc Khouri. "It's not an issue for him to talk about at this point."

Additional articles by Daniel Girard