Mountie probe seems fishy

Élections 2006

The Rcmp launched criminal probe into the income-trust announcement smack in the middle of an election campaign, revealing the information to opposition MP
Whether the Mounties will live up to the saying and get their man in the income-trust case - indeed, whether there was any crime to begin with and therefore any criminal for the Mounties to get - remains to be determined. But the RCMP might have already got its government.
The turning point so far in the previously uneventful federal campaign has been the announcement that the RCMP would conduct a criminal investigation involving the outgoing Liberal government.
Specifically, the investigation is into whether a spike in trading in income trusts in the hours preceding Finance Minister Ralph Goodale's Nov. 23 announcement on their taxation was the result of an advance tip or, as some market-watchers believe, shrewd guesswork.
The effect of the announcement linking the explosive words "criminal investigation" to something alleged to have happened on Paul Martin's watch as prime minister had a predictably devastating effect.
A gaping hole was blown in the already awkward efforts of "Paul Martin's Liberals," as they have rebranded themselves, to market themselves as a new and improved version of Jean Chretien's Liberals in matters of ethics.
The Liberals were put on the defensive, and polls immediately showed the Conservatives pulling into the lead and gaining momentum - even, surprisingly, here in Quebec - as the public began to tune into the campaign after Christmas.
Something smells here, and it's not the horses in the famed musical ride. There are many curious things about this investigation, starting with the very fact of its existence.
The statement issued Dec. 28 by the RCMP is worth parsing. In it, the RCMP said it was undertaking the criminal investigation into an "allegation" by Judy Wasylycia-Leis, the New Democratic finance critic.
Actually, Wasylycia-Leis had not alleged much of anything, and had merely drawn the attention of the RCMP to what it could have already known from reading the papers.
In a one-page letter to RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli dated Nov. 28, a copy of which I obtained from her office, Wasylycia-Leis expressed "great concern" about a "possible" leak in advance of Goodale's announcement and requested that the RCMP investigate.
She noted that the media have "reported a sharp and unusual increase" in trading of income trusts in the hours immediately preceding Goodale's statement, and that "there has been speculation in the press that a leak about the government's decision could be responsible."
But she offered no other evidence and did not indicate that she had any personal knowledge of any possible crime.
In its statement a month later, the RCMP said it had completed an "initial review" of Wasylycia-Leis's "allegation" and found "no evidence of wrongdoing or illegal activity on the part of anyone associated to this investigation including the Minister of Finance Ralph Goodale."
In other words, not only had the RCMP not turned up the proverbial smoking gun, it hadn't even found a dead body. Nevertheless, it decided to go ahead anyway and devote time and resources to a criminal investigation. Curious.
Some people also find it curious that the police would announce any criminal investigation, let alone one with obvious political implications in the middle of an election campaign. Usually, we learn of a criminal investigation only when there are raids, seizures or arrests, on warrants issued by a judge.
There are good reasons for this. One is to protect the reputations of people whom the justice system considers to be innocent until proven guilty. Another is to avoid jeopardizing the investigation itself by giving criminals a heads-up to conceal or destroy evidence, create alibis, intimidate witnesses and so on.
The U.S. and Ontario securities commissions, which Wasylycia-Leis has also asked to investigate, won't say whether they are doing so because it's against their policies. The RCMP, however, has no such policy, and decides on a case-by-case basis whether to confirm an investigation.
The RCMP didn't actually announce its income-trust investigation - at least not to the public. Rather, it left it to Wasylycia-Leis and her party to decide when and how to do so.
On Dec. 23, with the election campaign well under way, RCMP Commissioner Zaccardelli wrote to Wasylycia-Leis at her MP's office on Parliament Hill. He informed her that the RCMP had completed its review of the "concerns" (not "allegations") she had expressed in her letter of Nov. 28, the day the Martin government fell. "Based on the information obtained during the review," he informed her, "the RCMP will be commencing a criminal investigation."
Note the use of the future tense - "the RCMP will be commencing a criminal investigation." Taken literally, the RCMP commissioner was, ironically, tipping off a civilian in advance of a criminal investigation into another, suspected tipoff.
This was especially considerate, since Wasylycia-Leis was neither a victim any more than any Canadian investor or had any knowledge of a possible crime other than what anybody including the RCMP, could have read in the papers.
Even more considerately, Zaccardelli's letter is not marked confidential, nor does it ask Wasylycia-Leis, by now an NDP candidate running for re-election, not to disclose the politically explosive information it contains. The letter shows no concern on the part of the RCMP commissioner that Wasylycia-Leis might inadvertently tip off possible criminals to erase their hard drives before his investigators could get to them.
So what could have been expected to happen did happen. The NDP sat on Zaccardelli's letter for a few days, until after Canadians were no longer distracted by Christmas preparations, then released it in the middle of a slow news week, to the effect we have seen.
It wasn't until a few hours later that the RCMP issued its statement confirming its own leak and the intervention of Canada's national police force in a national election campaign.
Statements and letters referred to in this column can be found on these websites:

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