A couple of weeks ago in this space, I wrote about the case of Barbara George, former Deputy Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
George was a decorated law enforcement officer with an unblemished 30-year track record of accomplishment and professionalism. Then in 2007, the House of Commons found her in contempt of Parliament for allegedly "misleading" the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.
It was a parliamentary lynch mob scene where George was the convenient head on a stick for MPs looking for blood. At issue was the RCMP pension fund and alleged improprieties in its management. Later investigations found that management was indeed lax. However, that had nothing to do with George. At the direction of the Commissioner, she came in after the fact to clean up a mess that she subsequently was credited for supervising.
None of that mattered. The Commons then -- as it remains today -- was guided by the shrill hysterics, ridiculous showmanship and ruthless partisan warfare of all parties and their members.
None of what George was accused of was true. Her crime was that she had more smarts, courage and integrity than her intellectually lazy and bloodthirsty accusers.
The Public Accounts Committee sent a recommendation to the full House of Commons that Barbara George be found in contempt. The very few of them present -- barely a quorum -- did so without any debate or deliberation.
That was a dark day for democracy and the rule of law in Canada. But it was the darkest day in the life of Barbara George and her family.
Not long after that humiliating rebuke, she retired from the RCMP and moved back to Cornerbrook, Newfoundland with her husband Tom. It was the love and support from her circle of family and friends that have sustained George through these years. But even as MPs came and went, and went on with their partisan lives, George told her loyal and loving sons: "I will not rest until I clear our name."
Last week, she came a little closer.
Very few MPs have the qualifications, background, experience and insight to make informed judgments about a great many things that come before them. But that is a subject for another column.
In the case of the so-called RCMP pension scandal, they were in way over their heads. They heard witnesses and decided who among them to believe. They did not have the capacity to intelligently evaluate the evidence, nor the experience to ask the appropriate questions.
Nevertheless, they determined that George was less believable than an emotionally distraught and disgruntled employee who believed that a conspiracy of silence at the top ranks of the RCMP had taken hold. This further tarnished and demoralized the senior ranks of the RCMP, already bruised from a series of other unrelated problems.
So without the full facts in this matter, and after meeting privately with this disgruntled RCMP employee, Borys Wrzesnewskyj, former Liberal MP from the Toronto area constituency of Etobicoke Centre initiated this minor witch-hunt against George. He clearly had made up his mind on the matter and repeated his allegations against George in media interviews, including on CBC Newsworld.
Then last Friday, five years later, Wrzesnewski issued a public apology. It reads:
"In 2007, during a session of Parliament's Public Accounts Committee meetings, I accused RCMP Deputy Commissioner Barbara George of perjury regarding her responses to certain questions by Committee Members. I made these accusations both within the PAC meetings and in a public forum on CBC television.
Recently, I have had the opportunity to review further documentation relevant to the issue, including in-depth reports from police investigations and sworn statements and affidavits which, for various reasons in 2007, had not been made available to the Public Accounts Committee. In particular, I refer to the report of the Ontario Provincial Police 'Project AMOT 2 -- An Investigation Report by the OPP Pertaining to the RCMP Insurance Administration Outsourcing Project.' In light of the facts to which I am now privy, I realize that Deputy Commissioner George has suffered a personal and professional injustice. This injustice resulted in an abrupt and painful end to her career and damage to her credibility and reputation.
I now acknowledge that Deputy Commissioner Barbara George did not perjure herself. I offer her and her family my heartfelt apology."
It is never too late to say you're sorry. None of us is perfect and we all make mistakes. But the test of our true character and humanity rests with how we confront them. As Benjamin Franklin wrote: "How few there are who have courage to own their faults, or resolution to mend them."
Great credit goes to Wrzesnewski for having the strength to issue a public apology to George. Some may believe doing that might not have been a politically wise thing for him to do since he is likely to run for a seat in the House of Commons at some point again. Political calculations were far from a factor in this apology. It was sincere and it was heartfelt.
Wrzesnewski is a good man that made a serious mistake in judgment. At the end of the day, though, he cared more about mending the mistake than his political ambition. As far as I'm concerned at least, that's exactly the kind of person I want in Parliament.
It is now time for the House of Commons to do the same. They have a great opportunity to return some piece of mind to Barbara George and her family. She deserves no less that an apology from them, too.
Just like Wrzesnewski, the House of Commons can demonstrate its capacity for humility, justice, and doing the right thing. Not too much to ask, I'd say.