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Liberals demand PM apologize for attempt to "smear" 

[PoliticsWatch updated 6:00 p.m., February 21, 2007]

Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

OTTAWA  — Prime Minister Stephen Harper isn't backing down or apologizing after he attempted to read into the record in question period a newspaper article detailing how the RCMP wants to interview the father-in-law of a Liberal MP in connection with the Air India case.  

The Vancouver Sun reported on Wednesday that Liberal MP Navdeep Bains' father-in-law, Darshan Singh Saini, is on the RCMP's potential list of witnesses for  investigative hearings related to the Air India case. 

Investigative hearings are one of two special measures the Liberals plan to vote against renewing when the Conservatives bring the government's anti-terrorism legislation up for a five-year renewal vote. 

The Liberals have spent the past two weeks in an internal battle between Liberals who don't want the measures revoked and the party's leadership who plan to make revoking the measures a whipped vote. 

Liberal Leader Stephane Dion is making the vote a three-line whip, meaning all MPs must show up and vote with the leader against renewing the law. 

When asked an unrelated question about judicial committees in question period, the prime minister began to read into the record details from the Sun's story but was quickly shouted down by Liberal MPs.  

"I am simply reading what The Vancouver Sun reported," Harper said before his response time ended. 

However, the Liberals used virtually their remaining questions in  question period to press Harper to apologize for the "uncalled for attack" on Bains' character. 

"The prime minister's allegations are simply beneath contempt," Liberal House Leader Ralph Goodale said. "The prime minister has attempted in this House to impugn the character and the reputation of an honourable member of Parliament. That is absolutely unacceptable."

But the PM did not back down and fielded several more questions from Liberal MPs on the matter. Usually the PM only responds to questions from opposition party leaders. 

"It is very clear from the Air India families and I think from the police community and the wider Canadian community, that we expect the Air India investigation to go forward," Harper said. 

"It is an important police investigation and nothing in the Liberal Party should interfere with that."

After question period, the PM spoke on the way up the stairs to his Centre Block office and again repeated the allegation that the Liberals were in effect interfering with the Air India investigation. 

"I think the article in question is -- raised the point that the Air India families have raised, which is that actions of the Liberal Party may well be damaging a police investigation," Harper said. 

"We think that is a serious matter. The Liberal Party has provided no explanation as to why it has reversed its own -- on its own legislation within the last two weeks and really, the Liberal Party has got to respond."

Harper's decision to make reference to the Vancouver Sun article about Bains' father-in-law was no slip of the tongue. One of the PM's officials emailed numerous reporters the Sun article while the Liberals were demanding for an apology in question period. 

Last week, Harper said in the House that "extremist elements" in the Liberal party were making Dion "soft on terrorism."

The Liberals see Harper's attempt to use the article as an attempt to smear one of their own MPs. 

Bains rose on a point of privilege after question period and also demanded Harper apologize.

"I had the opportunity to listen to the prime minister attack my integrity, the integrity of my family and I would personally ask that the prime minister apologize," Bains said. 

Although Harper never read a word of the Sun article into the record, Liberal MP Bill Graham said Canadians "will realize exactly where the prime minister was going and what was seeking to be done here." 

"I think Canadians would agree with that that we would be better if we conducted our debate around this very, very important issue in a rational tone which doesn't drag us into finger pointing in the gutter," he added. 

NDP Leader Jack Layton, who scrums for at least 10 to 15 minutes with reporters every day after question period, did not make an appearance in the Commons foyer on Wednesday. 

An NDP strategist said the party did not want Layton to get in the way while the Liberals and the Tories tore each other apart.  

:  Related Links

> Liberal MP's in-law interviewed in Air India case

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