April 22, 2004) OTTAWA
- He may not be an MP yet, but Prime Minister Paul Martin's appointed Quebec-lieutenant, Jean Lapierre, was front-and-centre in question period today, as the Opposition accused him of politically interfering with the RCMP's criminal investigation into Adscam.
In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Lapierre said he hoped the RCMP would lay charges soon because it would lessen anger in Quebec about the scandal.
"It would provide relief, because I think people want to see people found guilty," he told the Globe. "They want to see people accused and eventually found guilty, that's clear."
In the House of Commons, Conservative MPs demanded that the prime minister rebuke
or fire his Quebec lieutenant.
"The prime minister is allowing his political friends to direct and influence the RCMP criminal investigation," said Conservative MP Vic Toews. "The prime minister appointed Mr. Lapierre, will he hold him accountable for his reprehensible actions or is that what he expects of his political friends?"
Each time questions were raised about Lapierre, the prime minister did not answer them, opting to have Public Security Minister Anne McLellan take the heat.
"I think the honourable member is very aware that no one pushes the RCMP," she said. "Police investigations will be conducted in accordance with normal police
procedures and the opinions of anyone including Mr. Lapierre are irrelevant to that."
McLellan recalled in the House that Public Accounts committee chair John Williams recently suggested that the people responsible for the scandal should be put behind bars.
"One hundred million dollars has disappeared into somebody's bank account - somebody should go to jail," he said in an interview with Newsworld.
However, after question period, Toews explained there was a difference between Williams' comments and those of Lapierre.
"You can say, 'Look there's criminal wrongdoing, somebody should go to jail,'" explained Toews. "It's a very different thing to say that a person should be charged so that it will lessen political pressure on us."
He also noted that unlike Williams, Lapierre is closely associated with the prime minister.
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said Lapierre's comments now make any RCMP charges before an election look "very suspect."
"I am shocked that the prime minister did not get up himself and distance himself not only from those comments, but from Mr. Lapierre as well," said Harper.
So far only one person has been charged in relationship to the sponsorship scandal - Paul Coffin who was the owner of a small Montreal ad firm Communication Coffin.
Conservative MP Peter MacKay said he interpreted Lapierre's comments as "urging the RCMP to lay charges in this Adscam because it would somehow act as a pressure valve for the Liberal Party in Quebec. That's not
"To see the prime minister sit there mute and not address the issue further undermines his own credibility."
The issue of the RCMP and the work of the committee arose yesterday as well after the Globe and Mail reported an MP leaked an in-camera committee meeting with Chief Superintendent Peter German, head of the RCMP financial-crimes unit.
According to the Globe's source, the RCMP official told the committee their work was interfering with the police investigation because a witness had appeared over the objections of the RCMP.
But this was refuted yesterday by RCMP commissioner Giuliano Zacardelli, who coincidentally was appearing before the
committee to testify about the RCMP's receipt of a sponsorship grant.
Toews was also critical of this leak, which he said was false
and could have affected the committee's work.
"The inference was that the committee was at cross-purposes with the RCMP investigation," he explained. "If that story is given any credence, that would give the prime minister an excuse to shut down our inquiry."
He refused to speculate about
whether the MP who leaked the information the Globe was a
Liberal. However, one Liberal on the committee, Robert Thibault,
joined Toews in expressing outrage about the leak during
Toews said that he wanted Zacardelli on the record as soon as possible to confirm that the committee did not hear from a witness
over the objections of the force.
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