OTTAWA - The RCMP do not appear to have seriously considered using the Parliament of Canada Act to lay charges against Nigel Wright for his central role in the Senate expenses scandal, even though some parliamentary law experts believe the statute offered the best chance of securing a conviction.
Sect. 16 of the act stipulates that it's an indictable offence — punishable by a year imprisonment and a fine of $500 to $2,000 — to offer compensation to a sitting senator in regard to "any claim, controversy, arrest or other matter before the Senate."
Wright has admitted he personally gave $90,000 to Mike Duffy to enable the disgraced senator to reimburse the Senate for disputed living expense claims.
The Public Prosecution Service of Canada would have been responsible for prosecuting any charges laid under the Parliament of Canada Act. Yet the RCMP never consulted the PPSC before announcing last month that "the evidence gathered does not support criminal charges against Mr. Wright."
"The PPSC had no involvement in the Nigel Wright investigation," spokesperson Nathalie Houle told The Canadian Press.
Houle added that the RCMP is not required to consult the PPSC on possible charges under the act.
The Mounties did reportedly consult with provincial Crown prosecutors, who would have been responsible for prosecuting any Criminal Code charges against Wright.
Documents filed in court by the RCMP during the course of its investigation indicated that the force was pursuing potential criminal charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust against Wright and Duffy. They made no mention of the Parliament of Canada Act.
The force continues to investigate Duffy and has not yet concluded whether charges against him are warranted.
Asked who, if anyone, was consulted about possible charges against Wright under the Parliament of Canada Act, RCMP spokeswoman Cpl. Lucy Shorey said, "We are not in a position to comment on the matter."
NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus wrote RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson last month, asking that the RCMP explain why it concluded no charges should be laid against Wright. He specifically asked why sect. 16 of the Parliament of Canada Act was deemed not to have been violated and whether the decision not to prosecute was discussed with the director of public prosecutions, who heads up the PPSC.
In a written response to Angus this week, Paulson did not specifically address Angus' questions about the Parliament of Canada Act. However, he assured Angus that in "complex cases, the police will consult extensively with the prosecution service of jurisdiction.
"This consultation will assist the police at assessing the nature and quality of the evidence available to a given case but ultimately the decision to bring a charge or nor remains with the investigator or investigative team."
Paulson asked Angus to be patient "as the process plays itself out, knowing that the information you seek will ultimately be available for review."
In an interview, Angus said Paulson's letter "gave the impression" that the RCMP did consult the PPSC, the prosecution service of jurisdiction for Parliament of Canada Act violations. He was surprised to hear the service was not consulted.
Some parliamentary law experts, such as former House of Commons law clerk Rob Walsh, have speculated that the RCMP may have been reluctant to pursue charges under the Parliament of Canada Act because there is no record of anyone ever before being prosecuted under sect. 16.
But Angus said that should have made it even more important for the RCMP to consult with the prosecutorial authority on the matter, the PPSC, before deciding not to charge Wright.
"I'm not a lawyer but the Parliament of Canada Act seems pretty clear that it is illegal to write secret cheques to sitting politicians. It's there in black and white," he said.
"So, if there was any doubt about the ability of following through, you certainly would be getting the advice of the director of public prosecutions. Otherwise, why have laws on the books to hold politicians to account if we're going to say, 'Well, we haven't held a politician to account yet so this would be difficult.'
"That just doesn't seem to make sense."
Given the "incendiary" political implications of the Wright case, Angus added: "You would think everything would have been done exactly according to the book ... that the director of public prosecutions, everybody who needed to be involved, you would expect would've been involved because of the nature of this and what it would mean certainly for the prime minister, for a sitting government."
Walsh and other parliamentary law experts have argued the Parliament of Canada Act would have been an easier route to secure a conviction against Wright because, unlike Criminal Code offences, no proof of intent to act corruptly is required.
Wright has maintained all along that he did nothing wrong and that his only motivation was to ensure taxpayers were not left on the hook for Duffy's disputed expense claims.