Biased, lapdog investigations mean cover-up of Senate scandal most likely outcome and public inquiry will be needed – Wright, Duffy should be found guilty of violating ethics rules, and possibly other laws
Ethics Commissioner has covered up twice already for Nigel Wright, Senate Ethics Officer is controlled by a Senate committee, Auditor General is failing to do audit, Elections Canada has secret, questionable enforcement record, and even the RCMP’s independence is questionable
OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch set out the details of why biased, lapdog investigations mean that a cover-up of the Senate expenses scandal is the most likely outcome, and why a public inquiry will likely be needed to ensure a full investigation.
Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy should be found guilty of violating federal ethics rules, but the fact that the same secretive, Conservative-controlled Senate Committee of Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration that watered down the conclusions in its initial report is still controlling the review of expenses is just the tip of the iceberg of investigation problems.
“The Conservatives caused the Senate scandal, but they and the Liberals, NDP and Bloc Quebecois are all to blame for the weak, biased or ineffective lapdogs who are investigating the scandal because they all failed during recent minority governments to choose strong watchdogs, and to pass measures to close loopholes and strengthen enforcement powers and requirements,” said Tyler Sommers, Coordinator of Democracy Watch. “As a result, no one should be surprised if all the investigations cover-up the scandal, and if there is any evidence that this is happening an independent public inquiry will clearly be needed.”
Federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson is investigating Nigel Wright’s role in the scandal, but she has had a very weak enforcement record since 2007, including letting dozens of Conservatives off the hook for very questionable actions, and making more than 80 secret rulings. Commissioner Dawson has also already covered up twice for Nigel Wright and could, as she has many times in the past, abandon her investigation secretly without issuing a public ruling.
Because of section 66 added to the new Act by the Conservatives in 2006, the Ethics Commissioner’s rulings cannot be challenged in court if she has factual or legal errors in her rulings. There are no mandatory penalties for violating the ethics rules in the Act. As well, if Prime Minister Harper approves it, Commissioner Dawson’s term in office can be renewed for another seven years in 2014 so she has an incentive to please him
Overall, there is no reason to trust that Ethics Commissioner Dawson will do a full investigation or rule correctly, even though there is already enough clear, public evidence for her to find Nigel Wright guilty of violating at least one or more of sections 4, 5, 6(1), 8 of the Conflict of Interest Act because he used inside information to make the secret, clearly improper payment that furthered the interests of his (maybe) friend Mike Duffy during the audit of Senator Duffy’s expenses.
Senate Ethics Officer
The Senate Ethics Officer may investigate Senator Duffy’s role in the scandal, but the Ethics Officer is even more of a lapdog than the Ethics Commissioner because the Conflict of Interest Code for Senators puts the Officer under the control of a secretive, Conservative-controlled committee of senators who have the power to decide what the Code’s rules mean, how the rules will be applied, whether an investigation can even happen, and (along with the whole Senate) what the final ruling, and penalties, will be.
While the NDP has filed a complaint, in fact the Senate Ethics Officer can only investigate if the committee directs the Officer to investigate on its own or prompted by a complaint from a senator.
Overall, there is no reason to trust that the Senate committee will allow a full investigation, let alone a legally correct ruling, even though there is already enough clear public evidence to find Senator Duffy guilty of violating section 17.1 of the Code for taking the clearly prohibited gift of the payment of money from Nigel Wright.
The Ethics Officer does not have to issue a public ruling if the Officer’s conclusion is that no Code violations occurred. Also, if Senator Duffy or any other senator resigns, any investigation is suspended forever unless the committee decides to continue it.
The Auditor General has full powers to audit Senate expenses under the Auditor General Act, and should have exercised those powers already, and should begin an audit immediately of all senators’ expenses, and also of all MPs’ expenses.
The NDP has filed a complaint with the Commissioner of Canada Elections concerning the possibility that Senator Duffy’s claims of Senate expenses during the 2011 federal election may have covered costs that should have been covered by the Conservative Party, in violation of the Canada Elections Act.
The problem is that the Commissioner, in conjunction with the Director of Public Prosecutions, has a very secretive and questionable enforcement record, with more than 3,000 secret rulings since 1997, and many weak actions including a deal with the Conservative Party that let senators who participated in the Conservatives’ illegal in-and-out ad spending scheme during the 2006 federal election off the hook with no penalty.
There are measures in the Parliament of Canada Act (s.16), and in the Criminal Code (s.119) that prohibit offering or giving any kind of benefit to a senator or other federal or provincial politician in return for any action or inaction by the politician.
There are media reports that allege that the payment by Nigel Wright to Senator Duffy was in return for cooperation by the senator, and the Senate committee reviewing Senator Duffy’s expenses, and the NDP has filed a request for investigation with the RCMP.
There are also media reports that the RCMP is looking into the Senate expenses violations generally to determine if any laws were broken.
The problem is that, in a widely criticized new policy, the RCMP Commissioner has aligned his office with the office of the Minister of Public Safety in all communications about the RCMP’s actions. Many commentators have raised concerns about how this policy affects the ability of the RCMP to make independent law enforcement decisions (See criticisms here, and here, and here).
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