Even opposition politicians lauded his 1987 appointment as commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. But last week, Norman Inkster found himself at the centre of a swirling political controversy over allegations that his 20,000member force had catered to the wishes of the federal Conservative government. In the Commons, Liberals and New Democrats demanded to know why the RCMP had delayed executing search warrants on the offices of then-Tory MP Richard Grisé until after the Nov. 21, 1988, federal election in which he was re-elected in the Montreal-area riding of Chambly. And although no one suggested that Inkster interfered personally in the case, the affair raised disturbing questions about the RCMP’s independence.
The 51-year-old commissioner himself triggered the outcry when he told the Commons justice committee that other RCMP officers had misled him about the circumstances surround-
ing a police raid on Grisé’s offices in Ottawa and Chambly on Nov. 22, 1988. Testifying before the same committee last June, Inkster said that it was “simply coincidence” that the raids occurred one day after the election. But last
week, Inkster said that new information now indicated that Montreal-based Chief Supt. Brian McConnell had instructed his subordinates to delay the raid in order to avoid influencing the outcome of the election. As it turned out, Grisé pleaded guilty in May, six months after the election, to two counts of fraud and nine of breach of trust. Grisé, who resigned his seat on
May 30, was sentenced to one day in prison and three years’ probation, and ordered to pay a $20,000 fine.
For his part, McConnell defended his handling of the case. His officers were ready to raid Grisé’s offices one week before the election, he said, but he ordered them to wait because the raids could have hurt Grisé’s chances of re-election if he was in fact innocent. “It was my decision,” he told reporters after Inkster’s revelation. “I would do it again.” McConnell denied that he had been subjected to political pressure by the Tories. Still, Inkster promised an internal review of McConnell’s actions. That review, Inkster assured MPs, would determine whether anyone in the Prime Minister’s Office had tried to influence the investigation.
But Inkster’s response left the opposition parties unsatisfied. They demanded that the government also make public a letter sent to the RCMP on Nov. 8, 1988, by Peter White, then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s principal secretary. Inkster has acknowledged that the letter referred to Grisé, but declined to reveal its contents, saying that charges against a former Grisé adviser are still before the courts.
The Grisé revelations marked the second time in just 15 days that the political independence of the RCMP has been questioned. On Nov. 6, RCMP Staff Sgt. Richard Jordan stunned an Ottawa courtroom when he said that he believed that the RCMP’S decision to lay charges against Global television reporter Doug Small was politically motivated. Small and two other Ottawa-area men are to appear in court again in mid-December on charges of possession of stolen property in a case that involves last April’s federal budget leak but that adjourned abruptly after the Crown prosecutor declared that he might be called as a witness.
The Grisé and Small cases posed a clear challenge for Inkster. He took over the force in September, 1987, when the RCMP was still reeling from the effects of the 1981 McDonald Royal Commission report into RCMP wrongdoing. That inquiry, started in July, 1977, embarrassed the RCMP by showing that its officers had often broken the law in attempts to monitor and discredit Quebec separatists. It also led to the RCMP’s national security function being turned over to the newly formed, independent Canadian Security Intelligence Service, leaving the Mounties with police responsibilities. Now, Inkster will have to show that ^the force he commands has learned the lessons of the past.
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