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Chretien lawyers tell Gomery to 
step aside 

[PoliticsWatch Updated 1:30 p.m. January 31, 2005]

OTTAWA — Lawyers for former prime minister Jean Chretien pressed ahead Monday with their attempt to have the judge overseeing the sponsorship inquiry stand down.  

The lawyers appeared before Justice John Gomery to deliver verbal arguments as to why they believe Gomery has shown "a reasonable apprehension of bias."

In their previous appearance before the inquiry, Chretien's lawyers only focused on comments Gomery made in three separate media interviews in December in which he offered a number of frank observations about the testimony he had heard and some of the witnesses. 

But on Monday, Chretien lawyer David Scott expanded the arguments to include questions about the objectivity of the commission's chief counsel and the actions of the commission's spokesperson.

Scott questioned Gomery's choice of Bernard Roy as the lead counsel for the inquiry. Roy is a long-time friend and associate of former prime minister Brian Mulroney and worked as his chief of staff in the Prime Minister's Office. 

"In our client's interest, frankly we were surprised and troubled by your choice," Scott told Gomery. "As the former principal secretary to Rt. Hon. Brian Mulroney, he was and is a political adversary of our client."

Scott said Roy's ties to Mulroney means he would have a view of Chretien that would be inconsistent with the objectivity required to be counsel at a judicial inquiry. 

Scott also said he found it "deeply troubling" that Francois Perreault, the spokesman for the inquiry, told the media earlier this month Gomery received two dozen e-mails from citizens questioning Chretien's motivation to have Gomery recuse himself.

Days after Chretien's lawyers first raised questions about Gomery's objectivity, Perreault told the media, "People are saying in the e-mails, 'What's Chretien got to hide?'"

Scott called the Perreault's decision to publicize the e-mails "adversarial and unfair." 

Chretien is tentatively set to testify at the inquiry early next week. 

Gomery, who has yet to hear from the federal government's lawyers on this matter, did not rule on his recusal. 

If the judge, who has already defended the comments he made in the pre-Christmas interviews, decides not to step down, then Chretien's lawyers could take the case to federal court. 

A commissioner with the Somalia inquiry told the Canadian Press last week that legal wrangling could hold up the inquiry for as long as a year, as the judge may have to focus his attention on the court proceedings. 

A one-year delay would become a political headache for Prime Minister Paul Martin, who had vowed to get to the bottom of the sponsorship scandal, as many in the public would view it as an attempt by a Liberal to derail the judicial inquiry. 

It would also make it more difficult for Martin to call an election to win a majority mandate without Gomery having made any findings. Gomery is expected to issue a report in December. 

Federal government lawyers were expected to argue against Chretien's motion later Monday afternoon. 

Earlier on Monday, the inquiry heard from lawyers for the Auditor General's Office, the Conservative Party and the Bloc Quebecois opposed to Chretien's recusal effort. 

Richard Dearden, counsel for the Auditor General, said removing Gomery would constitute a "colossal waste of taxpayers' dollars."

The inquiry is expected to hear from former public works minister Alfonso Gagliano later on Monday. His lawyer has also asked that Gomery step down.

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