Last week, as Nigel Wright took the stand in the interminable trial of disgraced former Senator Mike Duffy, there was one glaring contradiction in the process which was impossible to ignore. Duffy stands accused of multiple charges, one of which is accepting a bribe; this charge stems from a $90 000 cheque he received from Wright, then the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, which went towards repaying dubious expense claims. The cheque was given with a lot of conditions – Duffy had to follow the strict messaging program that the Prime Minister’s Office had laid out, had to abandon his insistent claims of innocence in the ongoing expense scandal, had to in fact stop advocating his case and leave things in the capable hands of the Conservative Party of Canada.
It takes two to tango, and one can’t accept a bribe which isn’t offered, which is why it’s so strikingly odd that while Duffy’s on trial in large part for accepting the $90 000 cheque from Wright, the private equity banker and titan of finance stands accused of no crimes at all.
It’s not just bribery charges that Wright dodged. It’s well-documented that the PMO and a handful of influential Conservative senators were actively seeking to manipulate the findings of an independent audit of Senate expenses by Deloitte, and yet none of them – not one – was charged with any wrongdoing. We know that the RCMP was well aware of these efforts because transcripts of their interviews with multiple senior staffers in the PMO during a criminal probe into the whole affair are now a matter of public record, entered into evidence at the Duffy trial.
Wright also stands accused in some quarters of taking a fall for the PMO team. His highly equivocal testimony seemed to shield not only Stephen Harper, but also the PM’s current Chief of Staff, Ray Novak, who was cc’d on an email which revealed Wright was behind the payment and who was in on a conference call wherein the payment was discussed. Novak, Wright insisted, was in and out of the room during the call, and Wright himself never saw fit to discuss the payment details with the PM, though it seems they discussed literally every other aspect of the case. (As for the email, the CPC says that Novak simply never read it.)
That testimony was flatly contradicted this week by former PMO lawyer Benjamin Perrin, who insists that he was in the room with Novak when Wright revealed his role in the payment. Perrin, stunned at the impropriety of this, turned to Novak for a reaction, and saw only a blank face.
The testimony of these two high-ranking insiders has reopened long-standing questions about the decision to not charge any of the Prime Minister’s staff. This past week, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair called on the RCMP to reopen the investigation into the PM’s senior staffers, particularly Nigel Wright.
The National Observer has a fantastic interview up with Lori Shenher, an experienced investigator who has taken on multiple large-scale cases of financial fraud and led the investigation of the Robert Pickton case, who questions why in the hell the RCMP never charged any of these folks in the first place (SG is Sandy Garossino, the article’s author and a former Crown prosecutor):
SG: Are you concerned that the public is being confronted with disturbing new evidence and has no answer from authorities?
LS: Absolutely. By not speaking to this, in even the most muted terms, the RCMP could be interpreted as helping the current government, and that’s troubling. If this were any other organization in Canada where the public was getting daily concerning evidence of corruption, there would be comment or assurance to the public that this matter’s being investigated.
Has there been pressure on the RCMP not to comment on any investigation because we’re in the middle of an election? I worry about that. I don’t have a great deal of confidence that the RCMP are not under pressure from the PMO on this.
The bottom line here is that if the RCMP doesn’t pursue new investigations into this, that should also be grounds for a public inquiry into the entire thing. [my bold italics]
Which sounds like an interesting and plausible, albeit unsubstantiated, theory.
And I want to be clear that there is no slam-dunk case here, nor is there even a well-diagrammed mechanism proposed. I’m not saying that it’s a fact that the RCMP is explicitly aiding the Conservative Party.
But I would like to look at a few examples of some, shall we say, reciprocal backscratching between the Mounties and the CPC.
We can look back, for instance, to 2006, when the Conservatives were first elected. The RCMP’s decision to publicly announce during that election campaign that they had launched a criminal probe into Liberal Finance Minister Ralph Goodale, a probe that ultimately led to no charges being laid, was later blasted by none other than the RCMP’s own public complaints commission as being inappropriate. Furthermore, the commission found that the announcement of the probe likely influenced the extremely close election:
There is no evidence that [former RCMP top cop Giuliano] Zaccardelli was intentionally meddling in the election, Paul Kennedy[, chair of the commission,] said, releasing a report into his 13-month inquiry into the affair.
But beyond that, “I haven’t got the slightest idea what was going through the commissioner’s mind,” he said.
Kennedy said the Mounties should refrain from disclosing politically sensitive investigations during election campaigns. There could be exceptions to that rule, he said, and the commissioner should make the final call.
Goodale, the MP for the Saskatchewan riding of Wascana, said that based on Kennedy’s report, “the conclusion that the events of December 2005 eventually had an adverse impact on the result of the election in January 2006 seems to be inescapable.”
“It appeared to be a premeditated and calculated course of conduct,” he said.
And then there’s this impressive political doublespeak from the RCMP’s commish at the time the story broke:
To Kennedy’s proposal that the Mounties not disclose politically sensitive investigations during election campaigns, RCMP Commissioner William Elliott was non-committal yesterday, saying it “is a sometimes difficult balance to be struck between public disclosure and other important interests.”
No mention of what those important interests are, of course.
Although it must have been delightful for the Conservative Party to be able to say, in the wake of the still-warm sponsorship scandal, that the Liberal Party’s finance minister was currently under criminal investigation. I bet they mentioned it as often as possible.
On the other hand, when reports of the biggest political scandal of the decade began filtering into the RCMP’s office during the last election, they apparently did exactly nothing:
Staff at a Thunder Bay call centre tasked with making scripted calls claiming to be on behalf of the Conservative Party about voting locations during the 2011 federal election knew they were giving out incorrect information, say former employees.
“We would call these (voters) and they would say ‘we went there and that’s not a real place,’” said a woman, who worked for Responsive Marketing Group Inc. as a call operator, and asked not to be named.
“The whole call centre (noticed it was happening).”
“We called the RCMP,” she said. “We actually also told our supervisor about it.”
But no action was taken at the call centre and employees were told to stick to the script, the woman said.
And this time around the Mounties were none too eager to comment:
The RCMP in Thunder Bay deferred inquiries to their Ottawa headquarters.
Cpl. Laurence Trottier in Ottawa then referred questions to Elections Canada.
A spokeswoman from Elections Canada said she could not confirm or deny any current investigations, which is the policy of the federal agency.
In the end, the Mounties implausibly laid the blame for the entire scandal on one junior CPC staffer in Guelph – this despite the fact that voters in dozens of ridings reported receiving misleading calls about where they should vote.
In both of these cases, it seems as though the RCMP were doing the Conservatives a favour, first by aggressively and publicly pursuing an ultimately baseless case against one of their prominent opponents during an election, and then by soft-pedalling their investigation and looking the other way when the CPC faced allegations of massive voter fraud. Allowing staffers close to the Prime Minister to walk away without charges in a high-level bribery and audit-tampering scandal would certainly fit into such a pattern.
But what would the Mounties get out of such an arrangement?
Well, in the few brief months that The Alfalfafield has been up, I’ve written on numerous occasions about the police force, and several examples spring to mind:
- Over the past few years, the HarperCons have been tripping over themselves to give the Mounties more money to play catch-the-terrorist. Under Harper’s watch, a post-9/11 program called INSET (Integrated National Security Enforcement Team) has radically expanded its activities, infiltrating suspected terror organizations in big cities across Canada. Harper gave the Mounties a bunch of cash to throw into the program after they stopped ten teenagers from flying out of a Montreal airport, allegedly to try to join ISIS. (No charges were laid in that case.) As I wrote at the time, the whole hype was a win-win situation: the government got to portray itself as being tough on terrorism, while the Mounties got promotions all around and a fresh infusion of cash for its next round of entrapment.
- Then there was that time that the Conservatives stealthily inserted a noxious little piece of legislation into this year’s omnibus budget bill. The item in question, which was totally unrelated to the budget itself, retroactively provided the RCMP with immunity for their illegal destruction of records in the months leading up to the gun registry’s abolition. It seems that the Mounties improperly and knowingly disposed of records which were subject to ongoing Freedom of Information requests, despite explicit warnings from the Privacy Commissioner that they should leave those records intact until the requests were closed. With lawsuits pending, the Conservative government swooped in to the rescue, passing a law declaring that what the RCMP did had been legal after all.
- Lastly, and perhaps most pointedly, the RCMP were among the big winners in the passage of Bill C-51. Although they have expressed some concern about how CSIS’s new powers could interfere with their work, that strikes me as standard inter-agency bickering, and to whatever extent it’s legit, it has to be tempered by an appreciation for their expanded abilities. I mean, what police agency ever said no to more powers?
We could also get into the ideologically motivated cooperation between the CPC and the Mounties. For instance, there was that time earlier this year when an RCMP report on “anti-petroleum” protesters got leaked to the press:
The RCMP has labelled the “anti-petroleum” movement as a growing and violent threat to Canada’s security, raising fears among environmentalists that they face increased surveillance, and possibly worse, under the Harper government’s new terrorism legislation.
In highly charged language that reflects the government’s hostility toward environmental activists, an RCMP intelligence assessment warns that foreign-funded groups are bent on blocking oil sands expansion and pipeline construction, and that the extremists in the movement are willing to resort to violence.
“There is a growing, highly organized and well-financed anti-Canada petroleum movement that consists of peaceful activists, militants and violent extremists who are opposed to society’s reliance on fossil fuels,” concludes the report which is stamped “protected/Canadian eyes only” and is dated Jan. 24, 2014…
The report extolls the value of the oil and gas sector to the Canadian economy, and adds that many environmentalists “claim” that climate change is the most serious global environmental threat, and “claim” it is a direct consequence of human activity and is “reportedly” linked to the use of fossil fuels. It echoes concerns first raised by Finance Minister Joe Oliver that environmental groups are foreign-funded and are working against the interests of Canada by opposing development.
“This document identifies anyone who is concerned about climate change as a potential, if not actual – the lines are very blurry – ‘anti-petroleum extremist’ looking to advance their ‘anti-petroleum ideology,’” said Keith Stewart, a climate campaigner for Greenpeace.
Or, more bluntly, there was this:
An anonymously uploaded YouTube video seemingly shot during Saturday’s [May 30 2015] “Stop C-51” Rally on Parliament Hill depicts an RCMP officer telling a protester that, as a result of the coming anti-terrorism bill, he “could be branded a terrorist…whenever you’re attacking the Canadian economy.”
The officer, whose identity is unknown at this point, goes on to answer that “when the demo’s down, you become citizens again,” to the question “are we considered differently when we are demonstrating?”
Like I said, I’m entirely lacking in the proverbial smoking gun. I don’t have a specific proposed mechanism whereby this mutually beneficial backscratching is devised. I’m not even saying that any of this is formalized or even acknowledged by the major players involved.
All I’m saying is that there’s an evident pattern here of the RCMP helping out the CPC and vice versa, and specifically that the RCMP has shown a willingness to selectively interfere in the political process in a way that consistently favours the CPC’s electoral fortunes.
Which is perhaps the explanation for Mulcair’s seemingly tone-deaf proposal on funding for 2500 new police officers across Canada last week, including new Mounties, a proposal which coincided with his plea to the RCMP to reopen their investigation into Wright, Novak, and their co-conspirators. He may be trying to signal to the RCMP brass that, if they’re willing to play ball, he’s just as willing to scratch their backs as Harper ever was.