The RCMP explored “all of the corners and all of the shadows” of government before determining that the Prime Minister’s ex-chief of staff did not break any laws by giving $90,000 to a sitting senator, Commissioner Bob Paulson has told The Globe and Mail.
In his first interview on the politically sensitive case, the head of the national police force confirms that investigators considered both the Criminal Code and the Parliament of Canada Act before deciding there was no evidence to lay charges against Nigel Wright for his secret payment to Mike Duffy last year.
While the RCMP generally do not discuss their investigations, Commissioner Paulson has decided to speak out now in answer to questions raised by the opposition NDP about why the force decided to drop the probe into Mr. Wright. He wants to make it clear that the RCMP did not close the investigation to favour the interests of the Conservative government.
He says he accepts that some critics will always view the RCMP as a part of “the big machine” of government and never fully accept their findings. But he says that the overall trust of the public is the force’s “most important commodity.”
Commissioner Paulson promises the public will eventually get an unprecedented look at the conclusions of his investigative team, hoping that shining a light on the process will put an end to questions about the RCMP’s independence.
“We suspected some illicit activity to have taken place. We have investigated that. We have considered the Parliament of Canada Act, considered the Criminal Code, considered every element of this thing,” he says. “Our reasoning, our analysis and ultimately our conclusions will be available for people to beat around the bush.”
The investigation was the biggest cloud hanging over Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the ongoing Senate scandal and was politically damaging for the Conservatives because it brought the crisis to the Prime Minister’s doorstep, linking his top aide’s actions to potential wrongdoing.
When the investigation into Mr. Wright was dropped, Conservatives were relieved. It was the first development that put some distance between the Prime Minister’s Office and Mr. Duffy. One official described the mood as “champagne corks popping.”
But the governing Conservatives, who have been dogged by the Senate expenses controversy for nearly a year, must still wait to see whether the Mounties lay charges against Mr. Duffy and Pamela Wallin, both Harper appointees to the Red Chamber. If Mr. Duffy is charged, the Tories risk a further public airing of the PMO’s efforts to manage fallout from his spending record since the RCMP want Mr. Wright to testify if the matter goes to court.
Commissioner Paulson says the facts uncovered by investigators – many of which were publicly detailed in a politically explosive search warrant released last fall – simply did not lead to the conclusion of criminal wrongdoing. The ultimate decision to drop the investigation into Mr. Wright was made by the investigative team, he says, adding he was consulted on the matter along with prosecutors.
“You’ve got to believe that there is an offence there. If you can’t demonstrate or explain to another human that there is an offence there, then you’ve got nothing,” he says.
Commissioner Paulson, who is 55 years old, was known as a straight-shooter when he became the top cop in Canada in 2011, but he has been largely quiet since he spoke out about a number of controversial issues in 2012, including allegations of widespread harassment in the RCMP.
“That is how some people measure my success, if I’m quiet,” he says with a smile.
He says he emerged from his period of relative silence to defend the investigators in the RCMP’s National Division, who have meticulously probed the expense claims of four senators and the payment from Mr. Wright to Mr. Duffy.
“People can question how many people are interviewed, how long it takes, whether or not a warrant was properly obtained, all of the mechanics of our police work,” he says. “But not our integrity. And independence is a big chunk of that integrity.”
He rejects the suggestion that the RCMP should have laid charges against Mr. Wright and simply let the court process determine whether he was guilty or not. “We just don’t say: ‘We can’t figure it out, over to the courts, you guys figure it out.’”
The bottom line for the head of the RCMP is that there is a paper trail to justify all of the actions undertaken in this case, and that Canadians will eventually be able to judge the work of the investigators who worked under the leadership of Superintendent Biage Carrese.
It remains unclear how the RCMP will release their documented findings, but Commissioner Paulson explains it could be done in a briefing, through Access to Information or in a court proceeding.