LIFE ON THE HILL

THE RCMP UNDER FIRE

PAUL KAIHLA December 4 1995
LIFE ON THE HILL

THE RCMP UNDER FIRE

PAUL KAIHLA December 4 1995

THE RCMP UNDER FIRE

Mulroney’s lawsuit shows how tensions hare when police go after politicians

The 11-page lawsuit filed in Quebec Superior Court by former prime minister Brian Mulroney last week is not only remarkable for the $50 million in damages it seeks from the Canadian government, but for the vehemence of its language. The behavior of the RCMP and the federal justice department constitutes “a blatant departure from

common decency,” Mulroney claims, fighting

back against explosive allegations that he received millions of dollars’ worth of kickbacks from a European aeronautics firm while in office. The suit is just one example of the political heat being generated as the RCMP pursues perhaps the biggest investigative target in its history—and of how the country’s national police force itself has become a source of controversy.

Last week, the RCMP became the object of recriminations and rumors among both Tories and Liberals. Mulroney loyalists charged that the investigation into Air Canada’s 1988 purchase of 34 Airbus A-320 aircraft is nothing less than a Liberal plot. And while at least one official in the Prime Minister’s Office privately expressed delight over Mulroney’s woes to Maclean’s, some Liberals were, at the same time, skeptical of the RCMP’s conduct. “The story so far makes you wonder whether the RCMP overstepped its boundaries,” said one senior Liberal organizer in Toronto, who requested anonymity.

Political heat is inevitable when police go after politicians. During the scandal-plagued Mulroney years, which saw 10 cabinet ministers resign because of various allegations of wrongdoing and conflict of interest, relations between the RCMP and the Tory government were decidedly testy. And although relations are smoother under Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government, some tensions remain. For one thing, Maclean’s has learned that the RCMP launched a secret inquiry earlier this year into possible Liberal corruption and interference with the immigration system. And in quite a different controversy earlier this month, lax RCMP security at the Prime Minister’s official residence in Ottawa allowed a man to break into 24 Sussex Drive in the middle of the night and confront Chrétien’s wife, Aline, with a jackknife. While the Chrétiens escaped

harm, the four officers who were on duty were ............

suspended without pay and face possible dismissal in upcoming disciplinary hearings. Three RCMP supervisors have been reassigned to other duties.

While that incident left a black mark on the RCMP’s record, many Liberals worry about potential fallout from the Airbus investigation. If there is no substance to the allegations against Mulroney, they fear that the case will be seen as a politically motivated smear campaign against a partisan opponent. “I hope the RCMP brought more care and acumen to their investigation than they did to guarding the Prime Minister’s residence,” said the Liberal organizer. “If there is nothing

to the allegations, it leaves the Prime Minister’s Office holding the bag.” Added a Liberal political staffer on Parliament Hill: ‘We’ll have massive egg on our faces if things blow up and the government has to issue a worldwide apology because Mulroney is innocent. Nobody’s going to believe for a second that the investigation was not politically motivated.”

..... Indeed, Liberal backbenches were swirling

with rumors to that effect last week. According to one theory making the rounds, senior government officials ordered the investigation into the Airbus deal because the dangerously close result in the Quebec referendum had rubbed off some of the lustre from the Chrétien government. Such speculation was flatly denied in public statements by Chrétien, Justice Minister Allan Rock

and Rock’s deputy minister, George Thomson. They all said that they were first informed about the RCMP’s case by media reports and Mulroney’s lawyer, Roger Tassé.

In fact, many Liberals claim that they do not foresee clear political gains for their party as a result of the cloud over Mulroney and his former colleagues. “I think this smothers the government with the same kind of stuff that Mulroney is standing in,” said one Chrétien confidant. “It’s a pox on all politicians’ houses.” Other party members say that, if anything, the Liberals should be helping the Conservatives maintain their standing with the public. The reason: the government won many seats in the last election because Conservative and Reform candidates split the right-wing vote. If the Conservatives fall too low in

popularity, Liberal organizers fear it could translate into fewer seats for the Liberals in the next federal election. Said the Liberal Parliament Hill staffer: “There is nothing to be gained by whacking the Tories down any further. We need those splits to happen, especially in Ontario, to get the next election.”

But despite those sentiments, Conservative senators Maijory LeBreton, Mulroney’s former deputy chief of staff, and Pat Carney, a former Mulroney cabinet minister, publicly suggested last week that the RCMP investigation was launched at the behest of the force’s Liberal masters. “I’m not questioning what the RCMP did, I’m questioning on

whose initiative they did it,” said LeBreton, who, like Carney, was named to the Senate by Mulroney. “It was not an action they undertook on their own. It was politically ordered.”

One irony underlying that accusation is that Liberals themselves fell under RCMP scrutiny this year. Maclean’s has learned that several Liberal political appointees and MPs, including at least one cabinet minister, were interviewed by RCMP detectives as part of an inquiry into political corruption in the immigration system. Some Liberals say that the investigation, which seems to have petered out, produced tensions between members of the government and the RCMP . “We know that the RCMP was investigating Liberal MPs and cabinet ministers,” one of the MPs contacted by the force told Maclean’s last week. “I imagine that has colored relations between the government and the RCMP.”

At the same time, some frontline RCMP officers have privately grum-

bled about the difficulty of investigating political targets, which must be vetted not only by the force’s brass, but by Solicitor General Herb Gray, the minister responsible for the RCMP. They also complain that it is next to impossible to conduct a search of an MP’s parliamentary office. The main obstacle stems from a law passed by the Mulroney Conservatives in May, 1991. Bill C-79 stipulated that the RCMP would have to seek an opinion from the House of Commons’ Board of Internal Economy, a secretive committee composed of MPs from all parties, before raiding an MP’s office for evidence in any investigation. If the board declares that the investigation is unfounded, the law obliges the RCMP to include that opinion in submissions to a judge for arrest, search and wiretap warrants, as well as summonses. The bill, which was opposed by the New Democrats, was widely seen as an attempt by elected officials to limit the RCMP’s ability to scrutinize their actions. (At the very least, it could allow board members to leak word of an impending raid to targeted colleagues.) Eighteen months earlier, in December, 1989, RCMP commissioner Norman Inkster shocked Parliament Hill when he told the Commons justice committee that 15 MPs and senators were under investigation by his force, which had already conducted a total of 30 inquiries into alleged abuses by parliamentarians during the previous four years.

Bill C-79 aside, senior RCMP investigators complained loudly that there was frequent interference by the Mulroney government into their political corruption investigations during the Conservatives’ rule. They say that the Tories demanded detailed briefings of cases involving political colleagues for the solicitor general and his political staff, opening the door to potential leaks and obstruction of justice. “There were difficulties with the relationship between government and the RCMP when Mulroney was in power,” says Rod Stander, the force’s assistant commissioner from 1984 to 1989. “Political interference stalled investigations.” A detective currently on the force in Toronto, who requested anonymity, put it more bluntly: ‘The RCMP became a political tool of the previous government.” For their <2 part, senior RCMP officials now say that Gray does not de| mand detailed briefings about political corruption cases, and < that the Liberal government has not interfered in the Mulz roney-Airbus investigation.

z If many former and current members of the RCMP remain

1 bitter towards the Mulroney Conservatives, the feeling is

2 clearly mutual. Many Mulroney intimates say that the force contained a cadre of investigators who were out to get them.

“They were after high-profile politicians,” said a prominent Mulroney friend and ally, who requested anonymity out of fear of reprisals from the RCMP. “They were trophy hunters.”

The Liberals have had their own share of run-ins with the RCMP

The source, who spoke to Mulroney extensively last week about the scandal, says that many Conservatives view the current Airbus investigation as the work of a remnant of the anti-Tory RCMP group. He added that the timing of the investigation likely has more to do with media reports about the case earlier this year on the CBC current affairs television show the fifth estate and in the German news magazine, Der Spiegel, than with any Liberal conspiracy. “The RCMP is very reactive to the press,” said the Mulroney confidant. “They sit on their asses until someone writes that something terrible has happened. It’s a strange way to go about things.” That sideswipe is only one indication of the friction that can be generated between the national police force and the political masters they at times heed, and at other times, hunt.

PAUL KAIHLA

E. KAYE FULTON

LUKE FISHER