Five years after MPs found her in contempt for making false statements, a former Mountie commander is demanding that Parliament apologize.
“I promised my children I am not going to die with this on my head,” Barbara George says. “I was a police officer for 30 years. My whole life and career were built on truth and honesty and integrity.”
An iron miner’s daughter from Newfoundland who became the deputy commissioner of Canada’s federal police force in Ottawa, Ms. George was condemned by politicians for an alleged coverup linked to a mess that she had always insisted she cleaned up – the police pension-fund scandal of the mid-2000s.
Following her 2007 testimony about the scandal, MPs on the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee said they were of “unanimous” opinion that she had provided them “false and misleading” evidence. This led the House to vote her guilty of contempt in 2008.
It was an exceedingly rare rebuke and led Ms. George to quit her job in disgrace.
Now, she is pressing federal MPs for an official apology. “I’m the first person in 95 or 97 years this has ever happened to,” she says. “In under three minutes, it [the vote] happened – it would take that long to rescind it.”
Some politicians are having second thoughts. Liberal Leader Bob Rae has suggested he would like Parliamentarians to revisit the issue. And Ms. George has recently received a written apology from one of her biggest antagonists.
Ms. George was found in contempt by a polarized Parliament of the mid-2000s, when MPs saw votes in trying to correct a federal police force that was at its most dysfunctional and unpopular.
The scandal involved the RCMP rank-and-file discovering that the brass had reached into pension funds to pay for unrelated human-resources projects. Mismanagement, misappropriation and nepotism relating to outsourcing projects were beyond dispute. Two civilian administrators were fired from the force.
Appointed deputy commissioner in charge of human resources as the scandal came to light, Ms. George ordered audits and criminal probes into the misappropriation of the pension money. “I did clean it up,” she says today.
Yet the perception of her that stuck was that of a police boss bent on sidelining her more dogged detectives.
In probing the scandal, Parliament zeroed in on a singular question: Had Ms. George frozen out RCMP Staff Sergeant Mike Frizzell from an investigation into whether his superiors – including Ms. George herself – had committed a crime?
The Public Accounts Committee summoned RCMP witnesses to get answers. And, in the end, the MPs overwhelmingly favoured Sgt. Frizzell’s testimony, that Ms. George had deep-sixed his investigations, over her testimony that she had not done “anything whatsoever” to him.
That finding triggered the 2008 contempt vote that Ms. George now wants reversed. “We’ve tried to tell people this was the perfect storm that brewed,” she says. “They [the politicians] wanted my head on a stick.”
David Brown, a lawyer commissioned by the government to delve into the scandal, reported that Sgt. Frizzell was indeed a wronged whistleblower.
He also pointed out that Ms. George had threatened to quit the RCMP if her colleagues did not initiate a criminal probe into the pension-fund misappropriations.
The Ontario Provincial Police got custody of that investigation. But it found no evidence of any criminal acts. A 2008 OPP report does point out that missing funds “were rightfully returned because of the actions of … Barbara George” and her team.
This past September, former Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewsky publicly apologized to Ms. George. He had accused her of making false statements five years ago, but today he has a different take.
“I realize that deputy commissioner George has suffered a personal and professional injustice,” Mr. Wrzesnewsky wrote in an open letter on Sept. 19, a climbdown that settled a lawsuit for defamation that she had filed against him.
There is another lawsuit and it is outstanding. In 2010, Sgt. Frizzell sued the RCMP for more than $26-million in damages, alleging that the fallout from his stymied investigation induced career-ending post-traumatic stress disorder.
Ms. George is seeking a different sort of restitution – a parliamentary apology.
She has some support, with influential politicians wanting a second look.
“I think the record needs to be corrected,” Mr. Rae recently told reporters.
As for the Conservative government, a spokesman says it will consider the matter “when or if” such a motion is brought forward.