CANADA

Courtroom chaos

A Mountie complains of political interference

MARC CLARK November 20 1989
CANADA

Courtroom chaos

A Mountie complains of political interference

MARC CLARK November 20 1989

Courtroom chaos

CANADA

A Mountie complains of political interference

As a 19-year veteran of the RCMP, Staff Sgt. Richard Jordan is no stranger to the witness box. But it is unlikely that Jordan has ever given testimony as dramatic as that which he offered last week in Room 31 of the Ottawa courthouse.

Jordan had been called as a defence witness for three Ottawa-area men, including Global Television reporter Doug Small, charged with possession of stolen property. The charges arose after Small appeared on television last April 26 and reported highlights from a leaked summary of the federal budget that was due to be tabled the following morning. But Jordan stunned the courtroom by testifying that he had been pulled off the investigation after telling his superiors that there were insufficient grounds for laying charges against the three men.

He also alleged that senior RCMP and justice department officials seemed intent on pressing the charges, in order to “please elected officials” and to “teach journalists a lesson.”

Jordan’s testimony drew an immediate response on Parliament Hill, where opposition critics said that, if true, the allegations raised the spectre of political interference in the police investigation of the budget leak. But there were more surprises to come in the courtroom. After questioning Jordan later in the week—and raising the possibility that he could be charged with perjury—senior Ontario Crown attorney John Pearson abruptly withdrew from the case, explaining that he might be called later as a witness. Provincial court Judge James Fontana called a brief recess, then adjourned proceedings for more than six months, until May 28.

Those dramatic events unfolded after Jordan declined to recount for Pearson conversations that he had held with provincial prosecutors during the investigation. Jordan testified that he understood such solicitor-client consultations were “privileged”—they could be kept confidential. Jordan based his conclusion on the same grounds that lawyers for the federal justice department had invoked earlier in the week to prevent Jordan from testifying about meetings he held with federal officials. In response, Pearson asked that Jordan be removed from the court. Then, Pearson told Fontana that Jordan was “using the concept of privilege as a cloak.” He added that Jordan knew that if he answered Pearson’s questions directly, “he is liable to being charged with perjury.” Moments later, a visibly agitated Pearson an-

nounced his withdrawal from the case. Pressed by reporters later to explain his reference to perjury, Pearson refused to comment.

Also unresolved were the questions raised by Jordan’s earlier testimony. Jordan, who holds a law degree and served for three years as a bodyguard to former prime minister Pierre

Trudeau, said that during a _

series of meetings in the RCMP boardrooms, he repeatedly told RCMP deputy commissioner Henry Jensen and associate deputy Justice Minister Douglas Rutherford that the proposed charges against Small were at best a “fragile construction.” But he said that both men seemed determined to bring Small to court. Jordan quoted Jensen as saying he wanted to “teach journalists a lesson.” And he described Rutherford’s reasoning as “bizarre,” with some of their discussions

tending “more towards scheming than legal analysis.” Jordan alleged that Jensen and Rutherford insisted on laying charges against the two other defendants—civil servant John Appleby and Normand Belisle, who works for an Ottawa recycling company—only to strengthen the possession case against Small.

In the wake of the startling testimony, opposition MPs pounced on Jordan’s revelations. Liberal justice critic Robert Kaplan said that Jordan’s allegations raised disturbing questions about the relationship between the RCMP and politicians. Said Kaplan: “If the penetration of the RCMP by the government has reached the point where prosecutions can be induced, then perhaps it has reached the point where prosecutions can be stopped.”

And NDP justice critic Svend Robinson added that Jordan’s allegations contradicted testimony by RCMP commissioner Norman Inkster during an appearance last June before the House of Commons justice committee. Inkster said then that political considerations “had no influence on the laying of charges.” But Inkster acknowledged that, to the best of his knowledge, no one had ever before been charged with possession of stolen government documents, although such documents routinely turn up in the 2 hands of journalists and opposition

1 MPs. One case apparently overlooked j by Inkster: in 1978, former Toronto \ Sun editor Peter Worthington and

2 then-publisher Douglas Creighton ” were charged with receiving and pubE lishing information from leaked “top15 secret” RCMP documents that named 5 Soviet Embassy personnel in Canada

whom the RCMP regarded as spies. The charges were later dropped.

The affair clearly left the national police force on the defensive. For his part, Jordan said that he was under “strict admonishment” to say nothing to reporters—not even to reveal his home town. Small, who had described Jordan’s testimony as “brave,” expressed concern over how the week’s events might affect the officer’s career. Small added

_ that the case “continues to

hang over me, and I feel like I’m in limbo.” Indeed, his trial has not even yet begun: all of last week’s testimony dealt with a pretrial motion by defence lawyers to have the charges dismissed. How long Small will remain in limbo may be decided this week: Fontana was to meet with lawyers from both sides on Nov. 16 to determine whether the case can resume some time earlier than late next May.

MARC CLARK in Ottawa