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April 14, 2015

Why didn't the Mounties charge Nigel Wright?

Scott Stockdale

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At the end of April 2014, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson said it shouldn't be very long before the public finds out why the Mounties didn't lay criminal charges against Prime Minister Harper's former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, for giving Senator Mike Duffy a $90,000 cheque to repay questionable expense claims.

Senator Duffy faces three charges relating to the $90,000 cheque. They include breach of trust, bribery of a judicial officer (in this case, Duffy is the “judicial officer”), and frauds on the government.

The RCMP investigated Mr. Wright for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. In a statement from his lawyer, Mr. Wright said his intention had always been “to secure the repayment of taxpayer funds.”

On April 15, 2014, the RCMP announced that they had found "no ground for criminal charges" against Mr. Wright and dropped their investigation into the matter, returning it to the federal Ethics Commissioner. An anonymous source stated, "It was decided that it was best for him to act as a witness." It was further stated that Mr. Harper would not be interviewed by the RCMP in the affair.

These RCMP's decisions solved a couple of potentially embarrassing problems for the Harper government. Mr. Harper will not have to explain exactly what he knew or when he knew it.  For example, he will not have to explain what Mr. Wright could have meant in May of 2013 when he told the prime minister’s spokesman that Mr. Harper knew, albeit “in broad terms only,” that he had personally repaid Mr. Duffy’s expenses. This remains a puzzle, since the prime minister has vehemently denied knowing one iota of this plan.

Moreover, Prime Minister Harper will not have to explain why his initial response, when the story broke, was to say he had full confidence in Mr. Wright; why he nevertheless agreed, a few days later, to accept his resignation; why that story changed, some weeks after that, to him having fired Mr. Wright; or why he later stopped saying that. He might also have to explain why, when he repeatedly told Parliament that Mr. Wright acted alone, none of the more than a dozen party and PMO staff now known to have been in on the plan told him the truth.

Meanwhile, a year after saying an explanation for not charging Mr. Wright will be forthcoming, the best – and it appears only – explanation being given for not charging Mr. Wright is that while the criminal code states that it's a criminal offence for a senator to take a bribe, it's only a criminal offence to give a bribe if the giver has a corrupt intent. Past court decisions have defined “corruptly” as acting in bad faith in order to get around the law.

In RCMP Corporal Greg Horton's ITO (Information to Obtain) he offers an explanation for concluding that Mr. Wright didn't have a corrupt intent.

“Because of this personal beliefs (sic) and financial ability, he took the personal decision at that time to pay back the $90,000. He did not view it as something out of the norm for him to do and was part of being a good person."

RCMP Corp Horton's ITO paints a picture of numerous Conservative senators, PMO staffers and Conservative Party operatives who may have been involved in a deal to repay Senator Duffy's expenses.

The fact that the Conservatives tried to keep this deal secret by falsely claiming that the $90,000 Senator Duffy received from Mr. Wright was obtained through a mortgage raises concerns over breaches of parliamentary and conflict of interest statutes.

National Post columnist Andrew Coyne wrote: “Why, if they were doing nothing wrong, they did not just declare openly what they were up to, rather than skulking about in secret.”

Moreover, for months in early 2014, NDP MP Charlie Angus had been exchanging letters with RCMP Commissioner Paulson, trying to establish why the force was pursuing charges under the Criminal Code, rather than the far broader Parliament of Canada Act, which makes it illegal to give money to a senator, or for a senator to take it, regardless of intent. He has also been seeking clarification on why the Mounties apparently avoided consulting with the director of public prosecutions about the matter.

 “The question is, when they decided not to charge Nigel Wright, who gave them that advice?” Mr. Angus said.

In a written response to Mr. Angus the last week of April, 2014, Commissioner Paulson did not answer Mr. Angus' questions about the Parliament of Canada Act, but he assured Mr. Angus that in "complex cases, the police will consult extensively with the prosecution service of jurisdiction.

"This consultation will assist the police at assessing the nature and quality of the evidence available to a given case but ultimately the decision to bring a charge or not remains with the investigator or investigative team."

Commissioner Paulson asked Mr. Angus to be patient "as the process plays itself out, knowing that the information you seek will ultimately be available for review."

“If Mr. Wright’s actions did not cross this line, the average Canadian is justifiably left wondering where exactly the legal and ethical line is in Ottawa today,” Mr. Angus said.

“Like many Canadians, I do not understand how it can be that writing a secret personal payment out of the Prime Minister’s Office to a sitting senator doesn’t contravene the law,” Mr. Angus wrote in a letter to Commissioner Paulson.

The Crown alleges Senator Duffy took a bribe; Senator Duffy says in fact he was the victim of extortion: threatened with the loss of his Senate seat if he did not agree.

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