OTTAWA - A former RCMP superintendent says he's never seen the degree of political control over the Mounties that exists now, and says it "does not bode well" for an objective police investigation of the Senate expense scandal.
Garry Clement, a 30-year veteran of the force who spent more than half those years working in the national capital region, told CTV's Question Period on Sunday that the thrust of the RCMP investigation will likely centre around Section 122 of the Criminal Code and breach of trust.
"From my read of the act and what's been alleged through the media, I think they've got pretty strong grounds," Clement said.
The Mounties are taking a preliminary look at the expenses of three senators, Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau and Mac Harb.
All three claimed housing expenses that were deemed inappropriate and have repaid, or are being asked to repay, tens of thousands of dollars.
In the case of Sen. Duffy, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief of staff Nigel Wright secretly gave him $90,000 to pay off his inappropriate expenses.
Duffy's refund was then used by him to deny co-operation with independent forensic auditors, and the refund has since been cited by top Conservative senators as the reason why a Senate committee report deleted language that was critical of Duffy's actions.
That has opposition MPs and Liberal Senators claiming a cover-up was orchestrated by the Prime Minister's Office.
Clement noted in his CTV interview that Wright is a lawyer, "so I would think, or hope, that he's ... dotted his i's and crossed his t's," in his deal with Duffy.
"But if this was done knowingly to cover up what could be construed as a criminal act, I think Mr. Wright would have some questions that need to be answered," Clement added.
Whether any of those answers will see the public light of day is another matter, said the former RCMP superintendent.
The Conservative government mandated in 2011 that all RCMP communications be cleared through the office of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.
"Having been at the RCMP for 30 years, and when I was, I was in the national capital region for the better part of 18 years dealing with all levels of investigations, yeah, I would suggest I don't think I've seen — at least since my relationship with the RCMP started — I don't think I've ever seen the type of control that's been placed on the RCMP, which is a little bit disconcerting from a former member," said Clement.
He said he knows the investigating officer involved in the Senate case has the "utmost credibility."
"So if he's allowed to — which I hope the commissioner (Bob Paulson) has directed — undertake an unfettered investigation, then I think the public will know," said Clement.
He quickly added a large caution: "Let's be honest, the direction that Mr. Toews as a minister, everything's got to go through him, in my mind does not bode well for objectivity."
A spokeswoman for the Public Safety minister said there is no political interference in police matters.
"As you are likely aware, political actors are legally prohibited from involving themselves in investigative matters," Julie Carmichael said in an email. "Our government respects this principle at all times."
Toews' communications director noted that for non-investigative RCMP issues, the RCMP Act states that the government appoints the commissioner "who, under the direction of the minister, has the control and management of the Force and all matters connected therewith."
Sgt. Greg Cox, a spokesman for the RCMP, was also emphatic about the force's investigative independence.
"The RCMP has full independence with regards to the investigations it carries out, and how it conducts them within the authorities it has under the RCMP Act and the Criminal Code, as well as other Federal statutes," he said in an email that, under current policy, would have been approved by Toews' office.
"Every member of the RCMP is sworn to uphold the laws of Canada."
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Pamela Wallin, at Tory senator from Saskatchewan, also found her expense claims under close scrutiny in Februrary when it was revealed <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/13/pamela-wallin-travel-expenses-harper_n_2680229.html" target="_blank">she billed taxpayers $142,190.26 for trips between March 1, 2011, and Feb. 29, 2012</a>. But only $10,551.99 of her expenses were related to travel between Ottawa and Saskatchewan, while the remaining $131,638.27 was filed under "Other." Questions were also raised about whether or not she satisfied the residency requirement needed to represent Saskatchewan in the Upper Chamber. Wallin split her time between Toronto and New York prior to being named a senator in 2008, but <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/08/senate-residency-pamela-wallin-duffy_n_2648325.html" target="_blank">does own a plot of land in the province and two properties with family members.</a> <em>With files from CP</em>
Patrick Brazeau first came under fire in December of 2012 amid reports he was using <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/08/patrick-brazeau-charges-sexual-assault_n_2643606.html?utm_hp_ref=patrick-brazeau" target="_blank">his former father-in-law's address </a>in Maniwaki, Que., to claim a Senate housing allowance, while actually living in Gatineau, just across the river from Parliament Hill. The Senate Board of Internal Economy subsequently asked an auditor to look at Brazeau's residency claims and expenses. In early February, Brazeau was arrested and charged with <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/08/patrick-brazeau-charges-sexual-assault_n_2643606.html?utm_hp_ref=patrick-brazeau" target="_blank">assault and sexual assault </a>after a heated argument with his girlfriend turned violent. The charges promptly got Brazeau turfed from the Conservative caucus. On February 12, Brazeau was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/12/canadians-growing-ever-we_n_2667332.html" target="_blank">suspended indefinitely </a>from the Upper Chamber. <em>With files from CP</em>
Conservative Mike Duffy also courted controversy over his housing allowance. The P.E.I. senator <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/22/mike-duffy-paying-back-money_n_2744800.html" target="_blank">claimed his cottage in Cavendish as his primary residence</a> and his long-time in home in Kanata, a suburb of Ottawa, as a secondary residence for which he collected $33,000 in living allowances he since 2010. While always maintaining he was entitled to the compensation, Duffy <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/22/mike-duffy-paying-back-money_n_2744800.html" target="_blank">vowed on February 22 to repay the money</a>. He blamed the entire issue on confusing and vague Senate paperwork. <em>With files from CP</em>
Pierre-Hughes Boisvenu, a Conservative senator from Quebec, came under fire in early March when it was revealed <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/03/03/pierre-hugues-boisvenu-senate_n_2803052.html?utm_hp_ref=pierre-boisvenu" target="_blank">he collected a housing allowance of $20,000 despite living little more than a drive across a bridge from Parliament.</a> Boisvenu claimed his primary residence was in Sherbrooke, but sources said he had been staying at his secondary residence in Gatineau since separating from his wife in February, 2012. Boisvenu was then forced to admit in March that he had been <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/03/26/pierre-boisvenu-affair_n_2957596.html" target="_blank">carrying on a relationship with an aide, Isabelle Lapointe</a>. The Senate ethics officer had told him last year that he couldn't have his girlfriend on the office payroll but Boisvenu ignored the warning for months. The two have since split up and Lapointe is now working elsewhere. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/03/26/pierre-boisvenu-affair_n_2957596.html" target="_blank">Boisvenu has repaid the $900 stipend he collected while living with Lapointe for three months near Ottawa.</a> <em>With files from CP</em>
Liberal senator Mac Harb also had his expenses audited after it was discovered that he claimed <a href="http://metronews.ca/news/canada/560000/senate-controversy-senator-mac-harbs-home-in-the-spotlight/" target="_blank">about $40,212 in living expenses for a secondary residence in Ottawa from Nov. 30, 2010 to Nov. 30, 2012</a>. Harb, a former Ottawa MP, claims his primary residence is <a href="http://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/senator-harb-rarely-seen-in-area-he-calls-home-neighbours-1.1198184" target="_blank">a bungalow in the tiny village of Westmeath</a>, but neighbours claim that nobody lives there year-round and that it is basically a cottage.
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