Martin mum on effort to remove Gomery
[PoliticsWatch Updated 1:00 p.m. January 26, 2005]
OTTAWA — Prime Minister Paul Martin declined to comment Wednesday on efforts by his predecessor to have the judge overseeing the judicial inquiry into the sponsorship scandal removed.
On Tuesday, lawyers for former prime minister Jean Chretien filed papers with the Gomery inquiry seeking to have Justice John Gomery recuse himself.
They assert that comments Gomery made to the media in December about testimony at the inquiry "raise serious issues as to the fairness and objectivity of the process now underway."
It is rare for judges to speak to the media about matters before them.
And the prime minister, who has been silent on testimony at the
inquiry often refusing to answer questions about it in the House of Commons, again backed away from entering the
"I'm not going to comment," the prime minister said to reporters at the Liberal caucus retreat in Fredericton. "It would be totally inappropriate for me to comment on legal proceedings that are in front of the commission."
Opposition parties argue Chretien's move to have Gomery recuse himself is an effort to derail or stall the inquiry looking into the spending of $250 million in sponsorships promoting the Canada word mark in the years after the Quebec referendum.
Gomery, who has already defended his decision to speak with the media and his comments, is not likely to recuse himself. Chretien's lawyers would have several options at that point, including seeking removal by the federal court.
Both Chretien and Martin are set to appear before Gomery in February.
But Martin denied he had any interest in derailing Gomery and emphasized that it was he who created the judicial inquiry to get to the bottom of the scandal in the first place.
He also took a shot at Conservative Leader Stephen Harper who on Tuesday would not rule out having the opposition parties work to defeat Martin's minority government if
the PM did not make every effort to prevent Gomery from continuing.
"Mr. Harper did not create the commission," Martin said. "We created the commission."
The PM went as far to raise his own theory that Harper made the comments about Gomery in an effort to distract the media from his own woes.
"What Mr. Harper's trying to do is pretty clear," the PM said.
"He's got himself caught blowing smoke on the issue of the notwithstanding clause. His position is fundamentally, intellectually dishonest and what he's trying to do is distract public opinion from that.
"He really has got himself on the horns of a terrible dilemma. And that is that he put forth a position that 134 legal experts have said is intellectually dishonest. And what he's really trying to do is to shift the attention away from
him onto something else. And it's not going to work."
Reached in Victoria by PoliticsWatch, Harper spokesman Geoff Norquay described the PM's theory that Harper was raising concerns about the Gomery commission being derailed as a smokescreen as "utter and complete nonsense."
He also criticized the PM for not defending Gomery.
"This is a prime minister who day after day in the House of Commons has risen to demand that we let Mr. Justice Gomery do his work," Norquay said. "And now the moment that we have a frivolous and politically-motivated challenge to Justice Gomery, the prime minister can't even bring himself to say that he will vigorously defend Gomery's leadership of the inquiry."
Justice Minister Irwin Cotler also refused to comment on the latest turn at the inquiry, saying he does not comment on matters before the courts or judicial inquiries.
Public Works Minister Scott Brison described the dispute between Chretien's lawyer and Gomery as
a disagreement that is
a natural part of judicial inquiries.
"There is a process within the system for those disagreements to be resolved," he said. "I think we have to be patient and allow these disagreements to be resolved within the inquiry and not to interfere."
He also brushed aside Harper's call for Martin to make every effort to stop Gomery from being derailed, saying
it would be inappropriate for politicians to intervene.
He added that Harper has "demonstrated once again a fundamental inability to understand the Canadian legal system."
However, Brison later seemed to be issuing a
recommendation for Gomery when he described him as "a noted
legalist and respected jurist, who has a career of success under his
belt and has earned respect across Canada for his work as a
He also said, "It's clearly our desire to see the Gomery commission work to reach its conclusions and to report
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