Columnists

Monia Mazigh
Corruption, tax evasion and terrorism: The case of Arthur Porter

| March 8, 2013
Photo: Thomas Hawk/Flickr

Until a few years ago, Arthur Porter seemed to embody the perfect Canadian immigrant success story. Indeed, he symbolized the immigrant that Canada, and Immigration and Citizenship Minister Jason Kenney, would be proud of.

A prominent medical doctor, a cancer specialist, a businessman, a former head of the McGill University Health Centre, a member of the Queen's Privy Council, a Harper-appointed former chairman of the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC). In brief, Mr. Porter didn't lack any more appointments to prove his credentials.

Today, Arthur Porter is an embattled man; an arrest warrant was issued against him regarding allegations of fraud, corruption and money laundering. Canada is working on his extradition from the Bahamas where he had established his medical business. Canadian politicians and businessmen who in the past were eager to deal with him (and of course pose for photo ops) are distancing themselves from him.

My intention here isn't to reinforce the allegations against Mr. Porter or to defend him. My question is very simple: how could the financial transactions of this man go unnoticed by the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC)? How could Mr. Porter have been appointed the chairman of Canada's spy agency while several suspicious activities were taking place? Where was the RCMP? Where was CSIS? Where was the police?

We learned one interesting fact from this controversy: the chairman of SIRC -- where the appointee normally deals with sensitive information -- didn't require, until the resignation of Mr. Porter, top-secret clearance. In reaction to this controversy, the Conservative government recently and quietly introduced more rigorous procedures to the process of choosing SIRC's chairman. But this sort of laxity in bureaucratic rules won't be seen as a "carte blanche" to Stephen Harper for his lack of judgment in choosing a man who was tasked to investigate matters of a sensitive nature.

How about SCIS itself, did it have a file on Mr. Porter? It took an article in the National Post to expose the relationship Mr. Porter had with an ex-Israeli spy, based in Montreal and involved in international arms trafficking. Aren't those deals included in CSIS's mandate for information collection?

Or is CSIS only obsessed with "Islamic" terrorism, with the Occupy movement and with environmental activists? Meanwhile, people like Porter continue to live in total impunity.

The other agency that we didn't hear from is FINTRAC. In one of its latest press releases, FINTRAC reminded Canadians to remain vigilant when dealing with Iranian and North Korean banking institutions. It didn't seem to be as worried about suspicious money-transfer activities taking places when Mr. Porter was trying to secure deals to his Sierra Leone home country. It didn't seem to be bothered about Mr. Porter's fishy transactions in the Bahamas and all the tax evasion schemes that might have been established.

Obviously Mr. Porter was very well connected and well introduced. That alone put him on a sort of pedestal that made him go undetected for years, if not for decades. Some people around him had questions but refused to speak out, fearing for their jobs.

Democracy is only sound when everyone is treated equally regardless of social status. Democracy is when the tax system catches tax evaders whether they are rich or poor. In his book, With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful, Glenn Greenwald exposes how the legal and political systems in the United States became more and more inclined to let the rich and powerful go and catch and prosecute the poor. This didn't happen overnight. Over the past decades, many scandals and trials are there to prove it.

The scandal behind Mr. Porter goes beyond all the drama that it entails. I am afraid it shows that when we are rich, well connected and well spoken, the rules of the game are different. Our democracy is showing signs of cracking and only a public inquiry can clear the air on this matter.

Monia Mazigh was born and raised in Tunisia and immigrated to Canada in 1991. Mazigh was catapulted onto the public stage in 2002 when her husband, Maher Arar, was deported to Syria where he was tortured and held without charge for over a year. She campaigned tirelessly for his release. Mazigh holds a PhD in finance from McGill University. In 2008, she published a memoir, Hope and Despair, about her pursuit of justice, and in 2011, a novel in French, Miroirs et mirages.

Photo: Thomas Hawk/Flickr