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Former prime minister Brian Mulroney listens to a question from Richard Auger, the lawyer for German-Canadian arms dealer Karlheinz Schreiber, while testifying at the Oliphant inquiry in Ottawa on May 20, 2009. (CHRIS WATTIE/Reuters)
Former prime minister Brian Mulroney listens to a question from Richard Auger, the lawyer for German-Canadian arms dealer Karlheinz Schreiber, while testifying at the Oliphant inquiry in Ottawa on May 20, 2009. (CHRIS WATTIE/Reuters)

Judge will 'define' Mulroney's legacy Add to ...

Mr. Justice Jeffrey Oliphant must consider the entirety of Brian Mulroney's service to Canada before the judge retreats into an office and pens the final word on the cash payments given to the former prime minister, Mr. Mulroney's lead lawyer implored Wednesday.

In a final effort to shape the thoughts of Judge Oliphant, Mr. Mulroney's lawyer, Guy Pratte, delivered a 20-minute, emotional - and sometimes personal - appeal to the judge's sense of fairness, reminding the Winnipeg jurist that he now controls how Mr. Mulroney will be remembered for generations.

"It's said your judgment is only a report, but in a real life, it's a judgment that will, to a large extent, define a person's reputation - which, as the Supreme Court of Canada says, is the most precious asset that anyone has. With your words, you'll paint a picture of Mr. Mulroney that Canadians will have in their minds. And that's no exaggeration. And that's why it's so important that the picture not be distorted," Mr. Pratte said in his final address on a day devoted to closing submissions.

To illustrate his point, the lawyer made reference to how a public inquiry deeply hurt his own father, without identifying him directly. The late Yves Pratte, a former Air Canada chief executive officer, was criticized in a late-1970s Royal Commission for breaching Crown corporation regulations by attempting to form partnerships with privately owned tourism businesses. He went on to become a Supreme Court justice.

"The impact of a commissioner's report can be huge, and that's real," Mr. Pratte said.

"I know what public inquiry reports can do in real life to decent citizens. Even great servants of the state can be presented in an unfair or incomplete picture. These people are stigmatized. They have difficulty finding or keeping jobs. They are insulted in hospitals and supermarkets. You have to live this yourself, or see people you love live through it, to know what it means in reality. And we must remember what reputation means. Reputation gets us jobs, holds our social circle together, keeps our family together. Reputation is what allows us to look at ourselves in the mirror," said the lawyer, who also represented Jean Pelletier, one-time chief of staff to former prime minister Jean Chrétien, during the Gomery inquiry.

But his attempt to appeal to the judge's humanity did not mean that he shied away from his traditional attack mode. Indeed, much of the day was devoted to Mr. Pratte's attempts to obliterate the credibility of Karlheinz Schreiber - the German-born lobbyist who handed envelopes of cash to Mr. Mulroney over three hotel meetings after the prime minister left office. The lawyer accused Mr. Schreiber of manipulating opposition politicians and the media with a cooked-up affidavit that was designed to have an inquiry launched and keep Mr. Schreiber from being extradited to Germany, where he is wanted on charges of corruption and tax evasion.

Likewise, Mr. Schreiber's lawyer, Richard Auger, warned Judge Oliphant to treat the sworn testimony of Mr. Mulroney - who says he was paid at least $225,000 to promote armoured vehicles to China, Russia and France for use by the United Nations - with "caution." He described Mr. Mulroney's version of events as lacking "everyday common sense based on experience."

Mr. Auger highlighted the testimony of Fred Bild, a former Canadian ambassador to China who was present for a trip that Mr. Mulroney took to the emerging economic giant in 1993.

The former prime minister testified that he spoke with then-vice-premier Zhu Rongji about the concept of standardized vehicles for the United Nations. But Mr. Bild, who was present at the dinner when Mr. Mulroney says he spoke to the Chinese leader, said he heard no such discussion, or any mention of the armoured vehicles during Mr. Mulroney's trip. Mr. Bild also testified that the slightest mention of potential military exports to China for UN peacekeeping - exports that were forbidden because of Canadian trade sanctions - would have sparked a flurry of activity within the Chinese government that would ultimately have gotten back to the Canadian embassy.

The one person who corroborates much of what Mr. Mulroney says he was hired to do - his friend and former aide Fred Doucet - should be disregarded, Mr. Auger said.

"It's remarkable how much Mr. Doucet said he could not recall. Not on minor details, but on significant events and documents," Mr. Auger said of Mr. Doucet's testimony.

Mr. Auger reminded the judge how Mr. Doucet alleged that he had no memory of receiving a $90,000 cheque from Mr. Schreiber only three months after he left government. Mr. Auger said such a sum of money at that time "could not have been forgotten."

A lawyer for Mr. Doucet, Robert Houston, tried to explain his client's faulty memory by highlighting his client's heart condition and an operation he underwent in 1988. Mr. Houston told Judge Oliphant that he has read medical literature that shows heart problems can render someone's memory four times worse than that of the average person.

"Is that evidence before the commission?" Judge Oliphant interjected.

"There's no evidence of that, sir, except indicating to you by way of material that I have read," Mr. Houston responded.

It's not known when the judge will issue his final report, but he has a final deadline of Dec. 31.

Follow on Twitter: @McarthurGreg

 

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