On September 24 2019 Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives announced to the public that there would be an impeachment inquiry of the 45th President of the United States Donald Trump. It had all been initiated by a “whistleblower”, and for the last month there have been a half dozen witnesses paraded before the Justice Committee overseeing the “investigation”. Most of their evidence has already been corroborated by a team of investigators. Several persons including the U.S. Attorney General William Barr have been implicated.
Let’s compare the speed and efficacy of the U.S. with the Canadian ability to investigate political over-toned “investigations”.
Go back to February 2019, when former Attorneys General Peter McKay and Douglas Lewis (albeit Conservatives under Harper and Mulroney) in an open letter to the RCMP requested that the RCMP investigate “fully and fairly” allegations of obstruction on the part of Justin Trudeau and several of his inner circle. In total, five former attorneys-general also came forward, calling for this same investigation.
An official complaint which would under normal circumstances trigger a formal “investigation”. This is relevant because the RCMP from the beginning, in the odd public utterance or reference, has been glossing over the “investigation” terminology. This in itself should raise an eyebrow.
Is it that they don’t like to implicate themselves in anything for which they will be asked to be accountable? Are they reluctant to even go so far as to use the very phrase just to avoid any taint associated with the word “investigation”?
Even seven months after this initial complaint, in August, the RCMP stated in a press release that “The RCMP is examining this matter carefully with all available information and will take appropriate steps as required” according to spokesperson Chantal Payette. Examining? Carefully?
It is not often that one sees this obvious dancing on the head of a pin. An investigation being referred to as a “careful” examination. The evidence was continuing to mount that the RCMP was more than reluctant to call this an investigation. Any reason for this terminological dance could only come down to politics.
The “careful examination” wording came in spite of a separate report from the Ethics Commissioner which was issued this summer. In the report the Ethics Commissioner concluded rather emphatically that indeed the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, had in fact violated the Conflict of Interest Act.
Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion stated in his findings that Trudeau had “improperly pressured former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to reach a deferred prosecution agreement with SNC Lavalin”.
The Ethics commissioner’s report did not stop there. It described:” flagrant attempts to influence Wilson-Raybould…directly and through the action of his agents to circumvent, undermine and ultimately attempt to discredit the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions”.
We also learned, maybe even more significantly, that even though the Ethics Commission produced their report, they also remarked that their investigation had in effect been hampered in gathering the testimony of nine (9) witnesses. It had effectively been blocked from gathering further evidence by the Prime Minister’s office.
Mr. Dion was damning in his criticism: “Decisions that affect my jurisdiction under the Act, by setting parameters on my ability to receive evidence should be made transparently and democratically by Parliament, not by the very same public office holders who are the subject to the regime I administer. ”
This of course created a bit of kerfuffle in those old limestone buildings and a tingling in the groin of the Conservatives. So the matter which had begun to fade from the public conscience came to life once again.
All the righteous Liberals who were implicated, pointed to the clerk of the Privy Counsel Office, Ian Shugart, as their scapegoat. They said it was out of their hands because Mr. Shugart was, conveniently, described as the ultimate guardian of “cabinet confidences”. To underline their lack of culpability, Cameron Ahmad, a spokesman for Trudeau, said that the PMO had no role in the Clerk’s decision. However, he didn’t dawdle on the fact that Trudeau could have waived that privilege.
In other words the foxes were guarding the henhouse.
Now, in a freely functioning and unencumbered police agency, whose job is to ferret out crime, you would have thought this alone would have spurred the Mounties to at least think that they needed to get moving on their separate investigation.
There are a small group of people who would be central to this “investigation” or “examination”. That would be of course, Jody Wilson-Raybould, Gerald Butts and Michael Wernick. They testified in a very public forum, to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in late February and March of 2019.
In other words the version of three of the key players, all of which would have to be instrumental in any complaint of obstruction had now exposed the details, in their respective versions of course. Or as Wilson-Raybould likes to call it “her truth”. She also later revealed that in the spring of 2019 she had already been interviewed by the RCMP.
It is indeed rare for any investigator or investigative team, to have the bulk of the statement evidence handed to them on a platter and already on the public record, which would it make it difficult to refute at some later date. The speed of this investigation and the complexity of it was greatly aided by these details, making it even more difficult for someone to argue that this was a long drawn out investigative process.
There was a bit of a slip up in this iron curtain that had been put up by the Commissioner when on September 17, 2019 Lucki during a news conference which had been called to deal with the latest embarrassment for the the RCMP. Wannabe spy, Cameron Ortis (an apparently favoured child of ex-Commissioner Bob Paulson but that may be another blog) had been found out and charged with seven counts of having contravened the Security of Information Act.
It was during this rather painful press conference that Lucki was asked– off topic –about the SNC-Lavalin investigation. The ever smiling cherub faced Lucki grew a little ashen, stumbled a bit, but came back with:
“Today we are here for the Ortis investigation so I don’t want to comment very much…but we do take all investigations seriously and investigate to the fullest”. The counter narrative to this of course would be that the RCMP doesn’t investigate fully and some of those investigations are not to be taken seriously.
Lucki however with her repost did not get her out from under the press glare. After the press conference was over, no doubt once she was back in the safe hands of the media liasion group, she discovered that she had gone off her earlier practised talking points. She had committed the sin of referring to the matter an “investigation” and not an “examination”.
That political tiger, Andrew Scheer, hiding in the Conservative weeds leaped on this quickly; tweeting immediately that his nemesis Justin was in fact “under investigation.”
The Mounties had to act quickly.
An RCMP spokesperson Cpl Caroline Duval came to the rescue of Commissioner Lucki and provided a clarification. She re-framed the words of her boss saying that her leader’s statement was just “a general statement about investigations”. She was able to say this with a straight face. For good measure she underlined the fact that “The RCMP will not comment on the SNC-Lavalin issue”.
Phew, back to calling it an “issue”, not an “investigation”. Scheer had to take back his tweet as a result of the RCMP clarification.
Since September and up to the time of this blog, the RCMP are still saying nothing. The usual “no comment”— a stance which seems to be becoming commonplace under Ms. Lucki’s reign.
In October just before the election, the Globe and Mail further revealed that the RCMP will put the investigation on “hold” pending the “election”. In the Globe story they confirmed that there was indeed an “investigation” into the SNC-Lavalin affair, and that the Mounties had been stymied, like the Ethics Commission, by the lack of witnesses or documentation that would support the allegations due to cabinet privilege.
The decision to put any investigation on “hold” pending the election is alarming.
If true, the RCMP may have crossed the line. Were they now purposefully aiding the Liberals in the election?
At this time it might be beneficial to go back in history. One must also keep in mind that Commissioner Lucki at that time was reporting to Ralph Goodale, the Minister of Public Safety.
Back in 2006, we were also in the midst of an election campaign, one which eventually would bring Harper to power. The Liberals were suffering in that the “sponsorship scandal” was tainting them; although still leading in the polls.
The RCMP Commissioner at the time was Giuliano Zaccardelli, who announced during this election period that there was a criminal investigation into an alleged leak from the Federal budget. The Liberals had decided not to tax income trusts and that information leaked out from somewhere in the Finance Department.
Commissioner Zaccardelli named Ralph Goodale in that investigation and there were calls for his resignation. Goodale was eventually cleared and an official in the Finance department was eventually charged. Many argued at the time that this allegation and investigation was a fatal blow to the Liberal campaign, who ended up losing to Harper.
The RCMP complaints commissioner of that time looked into the matter, but concluded that there was no evidence that Zaccardelli meddled in the election for political purposes. Interestingly, Zaccardelli refused to answer questions during the investigation by the complaints commission.
The parallel is obvious and a little disarming.
So what can we conclude from all this?
a) The Mounties would have had to enter into an investigation. Anytime a formal complaint is made, a file is started, a file number assigned. Whether the investigation is big or small. In this case, several individuals had made complaints, and formalized those complaints in writing. If the RCMP did not open a formal complaint, they were simply derelict in their duties. Call it an examination if you are so inclined, but there is no doubt a process was started.
b) What was being alleged is a serious offence.
The definition of Obstruction under Section 139(1) of the Criminal Code: “every one who wilfully attempts in any manner to obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice in a judicial proceeding, a) by indemnifying or agreeing to indemnify a security, in any way and either in whole or in part …”
This is termed an indictable offence; with a maximum 10 year sentence.
c) The investigation may have been hampered by Cabinet confidences which blocked testimony and documentation. But, is there an obligation on the RCMP to report that fact; to report that indeed the investigation had been compromised by the Privy Counsel office and that the PM did not waive those privileges? Does the public have a right to know this fact? Justin Trudeau Prime Minister Mandate Letter to Ralph Goodale in Public Safety, emphasizes the need “to set a higher bar for openness and transparency in government”. If only they chose to live by their words.
d) Has sufficient time passed to have conducted this investigation? The complaint was originally received in February 2019, so at the time of this writing nine months have gone by. This is more than sufficient time to have conducted this investigation. The case was not complicated, the numbers involved relatively small and the documentation for the most part would have been emails. The key witness Raybould-Wilson was interviewed in the “spring” and even some of the email documentation was willingly provided by some of the witnesses.
That being said HQ division operates at a pace of a snail on heroin, so it is still possible that they have not concluded their investigation, but investigations besides being competent should also be timely. The Supreme Court Jordan decision was based on this very principle. As was referred to at the beginning of this article, the U.S. may impeach the President before the Mounties can investigate a relatively simple obstruction charge.
For the investigation to still be ongoing is the equivalent of being put on hold in terms of its effect. There is only one political party that would benefit from this. The same party that appointed Lucki as the Commissioner.
It should be stated that this blogger is not convinced that Trudeau and his associate actions in this case were in fact an act of obstruction.
It’s not clear that Trudeau didn’t obstruct justice, but it’s also far from clear whether there is any reasonable expectation of conviction.
Maybe, there is no crime.
Even Wilson-Raybould testifying before the Senate committee said she did not believe that it amounted to a criminal action, but forgive this writer for not holding the legal opinion of Ms. Wilson-Raybould as the learned final authority on this matter, especially when she at the time was trying to remain a Liberal.
But we can reach one final conclusion. The RCMP, under Lucki, made a concentrated effort to both downplay the investigation, and then to withhold any results until after the election.
There is only one party that stood to benefit from nothing being said. The same Liberal party that appointed Lucki, and a Liberal party which has now been re-elected with a minority government.
Is it possible that a revelation, whether proven or not, of a criminal investigation of a Prime Minister would have dealt a fatal blow to the Liberals? Equally, is it possible that the RCMP purposefully aided the Liberals in their election?
If there is any element of this thesis which is indeed correct or is later proven to be correct, then it is a very dangerous political game the Mounties are playing, one that could and should result in the removal of the Commissioner if true.
It is a game that has no place in a democratic government.
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