THE BLOG
12/16/2013 12:41 EST | Updated 02/15/2014 05:59 EST

Cops Should Stop Trashing Political Reputations

Mayor Ford and the Prime Minister's office must be wondering why their reputations are being so thoroughly and systematically trashed, not just by the opposition or the media but by the material provided to them by the Toronto Police and RCMP respectively. What is going on here? Have Toronto's boys in blue and the country's boys in serge gone from chasing real criminals to exposing the undersides of politics with nary a charge yet laid?

If we think cops chasing potential wrongdoing by politicians and civil servants is new, think again. Before CSIS was made responsible for domestic intelligence, the RCMP did a lot of spying in Ottawa, stashing away secret files that are only now coming to light, chiefly in a March 2012 piece by Jim Bronskill of CP.

The RCMP security branch's Feather Bed probe investigated top diplomats and politicians right into the 70s for possible communist affiliation. Included were former diplomat George Ignatieff, Michael's father, Saul Rae, John Rae's dad and Liberal Ministers "Bud" Drury and Jack Pickersgill.

There were also investigations into the backgrounds of several highly-placed public servants who had "left-wing leanings" or were student activists. The "Extra Parliamentary Opposition" black list of 21 civil servants surfaced in 1977 in my time at the PMO. It named, among others, Robert Rabinowich, then a secretary to the Cabinet in the PCO, who went on to become President of the CBC.

The most tortured story of the RCMP investigating a senior politician came to light in 1995 when the RCMP (following some media findings) accused Brian Mulroney of taking kickbacks from Karlheinz Schreiber on the sale of Airbus planes to the government-owned airline during Mulroney's term as Prime Minister.

Though they got the timing wrong, and Mulroney subsequently successfully sued the government who apologized publicly, their eight-year long multi-million dollar probe was only called off in February 2007. In effect, the RCMP spadework laid the foundation for CBC's Fifth Estate and subsequent 2009 Oliphant inquiry which detailed the extent of the scandal. Again with no charges ever being laid here.

The so-called Information to Obtain warrants (ITO), scrupulously gathered and notated by the RCMP, is now the chief source of the frenzy around the PMO's "coverup" of the Duffy payoff in the Senate scandal.

An ITO is sworn to obtain a warrant and is in essence often a fishing expedition by which the police look to obtain some evidence to support stories they have been told or theories they have entertained, sometimes from the media. None of this material has usually been made public unless and until there was a criminal trial. Even then, much of it may be inadmissible.

However in gathering and making the contents of the Senate scandal ITO public, the RCMP had no need for spying, just demand the e-mail trail, draw some tentative conclusions about possible criminal activity, and enjoy the results of your efforts immediately on every broadcast outlet and newspaper. Without yet laying any charges.

I find the comments made by Cpl Greg Horton, the RCMP's point man on the Senate/PMO investigation, somewhat questionable in the recent famous affidavit sworn for an Information to Obtain more documents. It says he has "reasonable grounds to believe" (whatever that means) the two (Duffy and Wright) have committed bribery, fraud on the government and breach of trust offences, contrary to sections 119, 121 and 122 of the criminal code. This would seem to convict them before a trial, and the media has treated the new information as revealed truth.

I am also worried about the police's use of its influence and credibility when "would go easy" on Duffy .were not entirely accurate, however there was some validity to them.' (Horton) says the controversy was an "embarrassment for the government, and that Mr. Wright believed that Senator Duffy morally and ethically should not have filed the expense claims.""

I read Horton in the Star: "Claims (that the PMO) 'would go easy' on Duffy .were not entirely accurate, however there was some validity to them.' (Horton) says the controversy was an "embarrassment for the government, and that Mr. Wright believed that Senator Duffy morally and ethically should not have filed the expense claims."' Is this the kind of comment we want to hear from an RCMP officer? Is this evidence?

I concluded when I had daily dealings with the RCMP security service, and still believe today that the cops really like investigating politicians. They now have the resources to make them squirm - more publicly than ever. And, of course no federal politician wants to take on the Mounties!

In Toronto the cops undertook a classic spying operation: telephoto shots and wiretap material, following the Mayor's and his nasty friends' travels by plane, and interviews with staffers and others producing a mountain of material which the media has feasted on here and abroad. Granted media lawyers had to argue for the release of this material, but now that we have seen it, its focus on Ford himself is head scratcher given that he apparently faces no charges.

Graham Clark a Toronto lawyer quoted in the National Post, said of the volume of salacious details and allegations on Ford: "Why do we need to know this? How did those very personal and very sad details get deemed as relevant to use, as reasonable and probable grounds to believe an offence has been committed, for the purpose of a search warrant?" Of course Ford has taken on the cops accusing them of having a political agenda. Good luck. The Chief, according to a Toronto Life cover piece, is the most powerful person in the city.

Granted that in the case of Ford his moral, ethical and other lapses were public knowledge, as were the broad details of the Duffy affair. But the very real role of the cops in revealing the extent of both in excruciating detail prior to any charges being laid is disturbing. I am hardly a Ford of Harper apologist. But I am concerned about a future where the police can put out a dragnet and expose "suspected wrongdoing" by any politician.

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