CANADA

ACCUSATIONS OF A COVERUP

LISA VAN DUSEN June 12 1989
CANADA

ACCUSATIONS OF A COVERUP

LISA VAN DUSEN June 12 1989

ACCUSATIONS OF A COVERUP

It was a rambling, 20-minute dissertation on the state of Canada’s correctional services—and a clear attempt to fill up the allotted time. But when Solicitor General Pierre Blais had finished his statement to the Commons justice committee late last week, the committee’s members began peppering him with questions about the government’s handling of the two leaks of Finance Minister Michael Wilson’s April budget. One, to Global TV Ottawa bureau chief Doug Small on April 26, had forced Wilson to make his budget public at a hastily assembled evening news conference a day before it was scheduled to be tabled. But information about another leak to a Mutual Life Assurance Co. of Canada employee on April 24—known to the government three days later—had not been announced until May 23, when the company president made

it public. In the ensuing controversy, amid opposition claims of a deliberate coverup by Conservative ministers, the government has maintained that it remained silent to avoid compromising an RCMP investigation. But under the persistent questioning last week, Blais acknowledged that the RCMP had never actually asked him to keep the Mutual affair under wraps.

With that, Blais appeared to undermine the government’s claim that it was protecting the interests of the RCMP. In turn, opposition MPs began to direct their attacks at the political motivation behind the decision to suppress the Mutual leak. Meanwhile, the government was also under fire from the opposition and some of its own backbench MPs for a decision to prosecute Small. On May 29, the RCMP, after consulting the Ontario Crown attorney’s office, charged Small, Mutual employee Johan Mares, and defence department employee John Appleby with possession of stolen property—a government document called Budget in Brief. Two other men, federal employee Brian McCuaig and Normand Belisle, who works for

a paper recycling company, were charged with theft. Said veteran Tory MP Patrick Nowlan: “As far as I am concerned, there was an error in charging a reporter in getting a piece of paper that you all get from time to time—that I get from time to time. Why the double standard?”

Meanwhile, opposition spokesmen also accused associate deputy Minister of Justice Douglas Rutherford of interfering in the legal process when he consulted with Ontario Crown attorneys before police laid the charges. For his part, federal Justice Minister Douglas Lewis said that such discussions “were in the normal course of events.” But at week’s end, one Mulroney confidant said that the controversy was taking its toll on the government. “You have no idea how much these dogfights sap people’s energy,” he said. “Now they will have to slog it out until July [when summer recess begins] and then figure out where they are going.”

LISA VAN DUSEN in Ottawa