OTTAWA - A lawyer for Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivered a withering assessment Wednesday of a defamation case brought by former cabinet minister Helena Guergis, calling parts of her claim "gibberish" and "a fiction."
Guergis has filed a $1.3-million lawsuit against Harper, the Conservative party and several figures inside the Tory government alleging defamation, conspiracy, "misfeasance in public office," infliction of mental suffering and negligence.
The former minister of state for the status of women was turfed from her post and from caucus in April 2010 after a private detective went to a party lawyer with allegations mainly about Guergis's husband, Rahim Jaffer.
Harper referred the matter to the RCMP and to the federal ethics watchdog.
Now lawyers for the government defendants are arguing before Ontario Superior Court that the entire case should be dismissed, mainly because of the concepts of Crown prerogative — Harper and the cabinet's constitutionally protected ability to make decisions — and of parliamentary privilege.
Neither Guergis nor any of the government figures involved in the case were in court Wednesday.
"The argument is the prime minister, under our system of responsible government, determines who serves in the federal cabinet ... ultimately that's not justiciable," said Harper lawyer Robert Staley.
"Someone who is disappointed because they didn't get into cabinet ... can't take this to the courts. It's purely a political discussion."
The Canadian Human Rights Commission said last November it couldn't rule on a complaint Guergis had launched there because of those two protections.
But Staley went further, saying that many parts of Guergis's claim were contradictory and not based in fact, and represented an abuse of process.
For example, he pointed out that Guergis based parts of her claim on conversations within the heart of the Prime Minister's Office about which she wouldn't have had the "foggiest clue."
"This is throwing things against the wall to see what sticks," said Staley, who is also representing Labour Minister Lisa Raitt, MP Shelly Glover and Harper's principal secretary Ray Novak.
"This is as bald as you can get."
One part of Guergis's claim states that private detective Derrick Snowdy made a range of allegations against her in a conversation with party lawyer Arthur Hamilton that included accusations of involvement in extortion, fraud and prostitution.
But another section raises the possibility that Snowdy made no allegations against her, as he told a parliamentary committee in 2010, although a letter alluding to a set of allegations was sent to the RCMP by Harper's office anyway.
"This is just gibberish, it makes no sense...," said Staley. "This is just plain bad."
Staley emphasized several times that there was nothing legally wrong or malicious about the letters sent by Harper's office to the RCMP and to the ethics watchdog, outlining that they had received allegations form a third party.
"This ultimately is all about the Office of the Prime Minister receiving a complaint about a cabinet minister and having to make a decision in real time on what to do."
Guergis ran as an independent candidate in the 2011 election in her riding of Simcoe-Grey and lost.
Shortly afterward, Canada's ethics commissioner found she had broken the rules when she wrote a letter on government letterhead to a local politician about a businessman in her riding. That businessman had been in talks with Jaffer about possible transactions.
The defendants in the defamation case include Harper, Novak, his former chief of staff Guy Giorno, Hamilton, Snowdy, Raitt and her assistant Axelle Pellerin, Glover and the Conservative Party of Canada.
Top 5 Political Spending Scandals
Here are a few examples of some red-faced moments in public expense reports, in which those involved likely wished they had gone back and done -- or in the case of David Dingwall, said -- a few things differently.<br><br><em>With files from CBC</em><br><br>(CP/Getty)
5. Cleaning The Moat
Britain's parliamentarians became embroiled in scandal in 2009 over their declared expenses after the Daily Telegraph obtained an uncensored copy of their claims and published them.<br><br> Details disclosed by the newspaper showed how MPs from all parties manipulated rules by routinely switching the designation of their second home -- using public money to furnish and improve several properties and later sell them at a profit.<br><br> Facing fierce public fury as embarrassing details emerged daily, nearly 400 British MPs, including then Prime Minister Gordon Brown, were ordered to pay back close to $2 million in wrongfully claimed expenses.<br><br> But amid the outrage, one the most publicized cases was of that then Conservative MP Douglas Hogg, who was alleged to have expensed the cleaning of a moat at his family's country estate. Hogg agreed to repay the cost of cleaning the moat, but insisted he had only listed the cleaning cost as an expenditure on his house and never asked to be reimbursed. He decided not to stand for his seat in the 2010 election.<br><br> (MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)
4. EHealth Ontario
A scandal broke out in Ontario in 2009 over wasteful and untendered consulting contracts at eHealth, a provincial Crown corporation charged with creating an electronic health records system. The controversy over eHealth's spending led to the resignation of then Health Minister David Caplan.<br><br> Among the embarrassing revelations at eHealth, CBC News obtained documents that showed consultants, contracted by eHealth at up to $2,750 a day, billed taxpayers for out-of-pocket expenses that included $1.65 for a cup of tea and $3.99 for cookies.<br><br> The documents said eHealth CEO and president Sarah Kramer billed thousands of dollars for limousine rides, including one $400 trip from Toronto to London, Ont., before she left her $380,000-a-year job in June of that year.<br><br>(CP)
3. Nova Scotia MLA Scandal
Nova Scotia's provincial legislature was rocked by a report by the provincial auditor general that found that many MLAs submitted questionable expense claims over a number of years. The affair evolved into a criminal investigation that led to several MLAs resigning and at least one former member being sentenced to prison.<br><br> Ex-Liberal MLA Dave Wilson, pictured, pleaded guilty to defrauding Nova Scotia taxpayers of nearly $61,000 to support his gambling addiction and was sentenced last week to nine months of jail time and 18 months of probation. Crown attorneys in his case detailed how Wilson submitted 36 false expense receipts using five people's names -- including his niece and brother-in-law -- totalling $60,995. Wilson apologized to his family and the people of the province, telling the court he was deeply ashamed of his actions.<br><br>(CP)
2. George Radwanski
Former federal privacy commissioner George Radwanski resigned in 2003 under a cloud following intense scrutiny of his spending. At the time, Radwanski blamed "a powerful political backlash from some who would prefer a less forceful privacy commissioner." His severance package was initially $82,562, but later cut to nothing.<br><br> Radwanski resigned after a Commons committee called for a full audit of Radwanski's expense claims, which included more than $500,000 in travel claims, $250 drinks tabs and dinner bills of more than $450, usually shared with one staff member.<br><br> Auditor General Sheila Fraser's report called for an RCMP investigation of Radwanski after her department's audit revealed "a major failure of management controls and the abuse of public funds by the former commissioner and some senior executives, for their personal benefit."<br><br> In 2009, an Ontario judge acquitted Radwanski of criminal fraud charges, but criticized his "negligent and cavalier" approach to accounting for controversial expenses he claimed while in office. Radwanski's former chief of staff, Art Lamarche, was convicted of breach of trust. Radwanski acknowledged he wished he had done some things differently, but insisted he "never acted dishonestly or knowingly improperly in any way." <br><br>(CP)
1. 'I'm Entitled To My Entitlements'
In February 2006, former Liberal cabinet minister David Dingwall was awarded $417,780 in compensation after an independent arbitrator concluded he was forced out of his $277,000-a-year job as head of the Royal Canadian Mint.<br><br> His removal from the head of the Crown corporation came amid a frenzy caused by unproven allegations that he and his office made improper and excessive expense claims, as the then Liberal government was reeling from the inquiry into the federal sponsorship scandal.<br><br> Opposition MPs, including then Opposition Leader Stephen Harper, portrayed the Dingwall case as a sign of Liberal misspending, accusing him of wasting taxpayers' money on reimbursement claims for expensive meals, excessive travel and even a pack of chewing gum. In the midst of the controversy over his resignation and compensation package, Dingwall drew the scorn of opposition parties when he said the now notorious words to a Commons committee: "I'm entitled to my entitlements."<br><br> Harper's party picked up the phrase and used it repeatedly as an example of Liberal arrogance during the campaign leading up to the Jan. 23, 2006, general election.<br><br> In fact, an independent audit of the expenses by accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers later found that more than 70 per cent of them were incurred by other employees in Dingwall's office at the Mint, and that all the payments had been properly approved under the Crown corporation's guidelines.<br><br> A second independent review by law firm Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt concluded the governance of expendures at the Mint went "well beyond what one could expect to find in most private-sector corporations."<br><br>(CP)