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."