RCMP have a long history of ruining reputations

From Arar to Mulroney to Goodale, Mounties always seem to get wrong man

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The Gazette, Friday, December 8, 2006

There's nothing new about the RCMP always getting the wrong man. It's just that Giuliano Zaccardelli is the first commissioner forced to resign because of the incompetence of the force.

All the way back in the 1970s, the McDonald Commission revealed the RCMP's escapades in barn burnings and other setups meant to depict the Quebec sovereignty movement as a bunch of terrorists. Out of that eventually came the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service, which assumed the function of spying on Canadians as well as foreign spooks among us.

All these years later, the RCMP have learned nothing, leaving an embarrassing trail of dead ends, while ruining the reputations and lives of innocent Canadian citizens, of whom Maher Arar is only the latest example.

And at that, Zaccardelli isn't being made the scapegoat for what was done to Arar - the RCMP collaborated with the Americans to have him shipped from the United States to Syria, where he was tortured. Zaccardelli isn't even being made to pay for the RCMP making up a fake Al-Qa'ida organization chart with Arar's name on it. Nope. Zaccardelli has lost his job only because he changed his story this week about what he knew and when he knew it in the Arar case.

With the release of Justice Dennis O'Connor's scathing report in September, Zaccardelli told a House committee he first learned about the Arar case and tried to intervene on his behalf four years ago, while he was still languishing in a Syrian jail. But this week, in a Toronto speech on Monday after which he was summarily summoned back to the House committee on Tuesday, Zaccardelli said he learned about Arar's plight from the O'Connor report. That's an inexplicable and inexcusable gap.

But it must said that when it comes to destroying reputations and inflicting anguish on innocent people, the RCMP are an equal-opportunity destroyer.

In Arar's case, they ran a frame-up against a simple private citizen. In the Airbus hoax, they set out to ruin a former prime minister, Brian Mulroney. In the case of Glen Clark, they drove a sitting premier of British Columbia from office. In the case of Greg Sorbara, they forced the resignation of the Ontario finance minister on trumped-up accusations he had interfered in the misallocation of financial resources in his family company, a publicly traded firm in which he wasn't even involved. In the case of Francois Beaudoin, they hounded the former president of the Business Development Bank of Canada, who was fired by the Chretien government because he wanted to call the loan to the Auberge Grand Mere, in which the sitting prime minister once had an interest. In the case of Juliet O'Neill, they raided a reporter's home, and even tossed her lingerie drawer, looking for her notes on the Arar case.

And then, the piece de resistance - the income trust investigation. When the Martin government reversed its freeze on tax rulings for companies converting to income trusts last November, the stock market heard it before the country did. The NDP demanded an RCMP investigation.

The RCMP sent a letter to the party finance critic two days before Christmas. But Judy Wasylycia-Leis's office was closed for the holidays and no one saw the fax. Finally, on Dec. 27, the RCMP called and asked her if she'd got the letter. "What letter?" she replied. When she saw it, she knew it was political dynamite in the middle of the election campaign.

The war-type headlines - "RCMP criminal probe" - became the tipping point of the campaign, performance-validating a Conservative ad on Liberal corruption. Until then, the Liberals, who had been leading by 10 points in the last SES daily tracking poll before Christmas, went into a free-fall and never recovered. An intervention by the police became the seminal moment of the election campaign. Just the sort of thing that happens in banana republics.

That was nearly a year ago. Nothing has been heard since of the RCMP criminal probe into the Liberal government, which has become a drive-by smear of Paul Martin and former finance minister Ralph Goodale.

Maybe there is something worth investigating, but it shouldn't take a year to find out. Or maybe there isn't and, as in the case of Mulroney, Beaudoin, Arar and Sorbara, the RCMP just made the whole thing up. Either way, it's time the RCMP wrapped it up.

These four Canadians have this much in common - they fought back, bravely and alone at first, but because of an enlightened and independent judiciary, they prevailed in the end, at great financial and personal cost.

Their reputation is restored. It is that of the RCMP that is in tatters.

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