Gomery stays on
[PoliticsWatch Updated 12:10 p.m. February 1, 2005]
OTTAWA — Justice John Gomery rejected Tuesday an application by lawyers for former prime minister Jean Chretien for him step down as the head of the inquiry into the sponsorship scandal.
Chretien's lawyers had argued that comments Gomery made in interviews with the media in December raised questions about his objectivity and ability to provide their client with a fair process.
Gomery admitted he erred, but said it did not constitute grounds for him to step aside.
"I realize now, with the benefit of hindsight, that it was an error for me to agree to be interviewed by the media before Christmas," Gomery said
reading from a written statement.
"I also recognize that some of the statements made by me during those interviews were ill-advised and inappropriate."
He later concluded that he disagreed with the allegations of bias.
"I do not concede that anything that I said or the language that I used would persuade a reasonably well informed or fair-minded person viewing the matter realistically or practically that I am biased or partial."
Gomery's decision came as no surprise to inquiry observers. He also had the support of the Auditor General and federal government, whose lawyers argued against Chretien's motion at the inquiry on Monday.
David Scott, lead lawyer for Chretien, said he did not have a reaction to the judge's ruling.
"Our posture at the moment is we're now considering what happens next. We're weighing what the commissioner had to say," he told
What could happen next is Scott could take the matter to the federal court to have the judge removed. Inquiry observers suggest those proceedings could delay a final report for the commission.
Scott said he plans to talk to Chretien about Gomery's decision and assess the legal ramifications before deciding what his next step is.
A decision by the former PM on whether to go to federal court could come in a matter of days.
"That will take a period of time, but not very long," Scott said.
But Scott said whatever happens in the dispute with Gomery it will not prevent Chretien from testifying at the inquiry next week.
Scott said the former PM is anxious to testify and has already been in communication with inquiry lawyers.
Gomery provided a point-by-point defence of the allegations of bias in his statement.
Some media reports suggest Chretien was angered by Gomery's criticism in one interview of the government's decision to spend $1,200 on golf balls that had the former PM's signature on them. Gomery said such a thing was "small-town cheap."
But on Tuesday, Gomery dismissed concerns about the comment, calling the matter "a small point in any event."
However, he agreed that it was wrong to describe the former executive director of the sponsorship program, Chuck Guite, as a "charming scamp."
Gomery said that comment contained the "kind of colourful language that judges should avoid using."
But he said his assessment of Guite as charming has no impact on the credibility of his testimony.
"Sometimes charming people are credible and sometimes not," he said.
He also dismissed Scott's concerns about the objectivity of the commission lead counsel, Bernard Roy.
Roy is a former chief of staff and long-time friend of former prime minister Brian Mulroney.
Scott said on Monday that Roy "was and is a political adversary of our client."
But Gomery said Roy's political activities ended more than 15 years ago and that his past is "totally irrelevant to the subject matter of the inquiry."
"My conduct of the inquiry has not been in any way influenced or affect by what Mr. Roy did in the 1980s or by any political views that he has now or may have had in the past," Gomery added.
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