Bring in the police

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Section 119 of the Criminal Code of Canada could not be more precise. An offer of money to a member of parliament to influence his or her actions in an official capacity constitutes a criminal offence. The section specifies a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.

A forthcoming book by journalist Tom Zytaruk alleges that, just prior to a House of Commons vote on the Martin government 2005 budget, two officials of the Conservative Party of Canada met with independent MP Chuck Cadman, and offered him payment to vote against the budget. His negative vote would have brought the government down, and precipitated an election.

It has been widely reported that Cadman told his wife Dona, his daughter, and his son-law of an offer that included payments towards a one million dollar life insurance policy.

Cadman was dying. An election would have cost him his salary, and death benefits. In a recent piece, Lawrence Martin of the Globe and Mail remembers a conversation with Conservative MP James Moore where Moore indicated Conservatives knew that Cadman would face worrisome financial consequences should the government fall. Moore, now the designated defender of the government in the House of Commons on the Cadman affair, despite being only the parliamentary secretary to the minister of public works, said he had no memory of the conversation. The Prime Minister, in a recorded interview with Zytaruk, said he was aware of the visit by party officials, and of financial considerations being discussed by the two Conservatives with Cadman.

Nearly all members of parliament represent a political party, and vote with the party according to instructions from the whip. Thus they have no vote to sell, as it were. What makes the Cadman case so compromising for the Conservative officials, and the party leader, is that as an independent MP Cadman did not come under the whip of any party. His vote was his own.

It should be as clear as it can be, to any impartial observer, that an attempt to influence that vote through an offer of "financial considerations" constitutes bribery of a member of parliament, as prohibited in Section 119 of the Criminal Code. The police need to be brought in to investigate.

There is sufficient corroborative evidence for a police investigation, and a criminal inquiry. There are witnesses, and a reported violation of the Criminal Code.

Though it if often lumped in with other examples of questionable behaviour, the Cadman affair is not simply an example of bad judgment, as was the case, when, for instance, Prime Minister Martin appointed MP John Harvard to be Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba, and named Glen Murray, then mayor of Winnipeg, to be the Liberal candidate to replace Harvard. The opposition claimed foul play. But, the prime minister has the power to make the appointment of a Lieutenant-Governor, and of party candidates. Indeed, the voters rejected Murray, and, undoubtedly, the way in which he was nominated, and the patronage appointment of Harvard had something to do with his defeat. But no crimes were committed, and the decision to name Murray could not remove the public right to decide upon his candidacy.

The House of Commons over the past years has featured a climate of hostility with charges of corruption dominating proceedings. The Chrétien government was attacked for funding a hotel next to a golf course he owned and wanted to sell. Both the Chrétien and Martin governments weathered continuous accusations of misconduct surrounding the Quebec sponsorship scandal.

Despite clear accusations of criminal conduct by high-ranking Conservatives, including the leader and now prime minister, it is as if the media has been numbed into inaction by years of partisan bickering, and has failed to seize the nature of the offence.

In a carefully worded study, entitled Improper Use of Public Officepublished by the Department of Justice, authors Aline Baroud and Andrew Gibbs point out the seriousness of bribery charges. In the early 1960s, under Section 119, an MP was convicted of accepting a bribe of $10,000. In hearing his appeal the court not only decided against him, it decided the original two year suspended sentence (no jail time) was insufficient, and prescribed a five year jail term for the young father with children who was also going to lose his ability to practice law.

The court believed this was a necessary lesson to others of the importance of protecting against corruption of public offices. The 1964 judgment is quoted by the authors in part: "âe¦justice and freedom cannot survive, nor can this nation long survive as a place where free men can live" if bribery is not punished properly.

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