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Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on April 14 , 2010. (FRED CHARTRAND/The Canadian Press)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on April 14 , 2010. (FRED CHARTRAND/The Canadian Press)

Request or referral?

PMO splits hairs on Guergis probe Add to ...

Stephen Harper's strategists issued a clarification to their supporters this morning, explaining that the Prime Minister never directed the Ethics Commissioner or RCMP to investigate former cabinet minister Helena Guergis.

The internal memo was issued after statements by Commons conduct watchdog Mary Dawson on CBC radio that she did not have an " official request" from Mr. Harper to investigate.

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"Media are reporting that the Prime Minister never made a REQUEST to the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner concerning the Hon. Helena Guergis," says the memo, under the bolded headline: "Hon. Helena Guergis - clarification."

"These reports are correct and entirely consistent with the Prime Minister's statement on Friday. Information was FORWARDED to the Ethics Commissioner and to the RCMP and these authorities were left to make their own decisions about next steps," it states. "The Prime Minister and PMO did not 'request' or 'direct' any specific action. These authorities are independent and will make their own determinations."

Last Friday, Ms. Guergis resigned her post as status of women minister. The Prime Minister held a news conference announcing this and the fact that he had referred allegations regarding her conduct to the Ethics Commissioner and the RCMP.

Ms. Dawson sent out a statement this week that she would not launch an investigation based on the information she had.

The PMO memo noted that the media reports today "also claim that the Prime Minister did not provide specific details of allegations."

"This is also correct," the memo says. "The referrals to the Commissioner and RCMP made clear that the information was second-hand and identified the source of the information for such follow-up as these authorities felt appropriate."

A similar note was sent to media by the Prime Minister's director of communications Dimitri Soudas. He said that the Ethics Commissioner's office was "briefed on all available details."

But the Guergis affair is not just contained to political Ottawa. Rather, it is branching out into the Ontario legislature.

Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Julian Fantino issued a statement yesterday supporting his officers, who were involved in Rahim Jaffer's arrest on drunk driving and cocaine possession charges last September.

Mr. Jaffer is, of course, married to Ms. Guergis. Those charges against him were dropped in a plea bargain; he had to pay a $500 fine for careless driving.

The CBC reported yesterday that the Jaffer deal came about because of a police strip search and that fact he wasn't allowed to speak to his own lawyer.

Premier Dalton McGuinty, who said he hadn't heard the CBC report, suggested that the OPP had made mistakes in the arrest.

"I have confidence that the Crown made the right decision given the circumstances," Mr. McGuinty told reporters. "I also have confidence that the Crown would have, or should have, spoken with the police investigators to make sure they clearly understood the challenges associated with any methods they may have adopted."

Mr. Fantino had a different view: "I am confident that the OPP conducted a thorough and detailed investigation in this case and obtained the necessary grounds to lay charges," he said.

"Our officers acted in good faith, professionally and in the best interest of public and officer safety during all aspects of this investigation."

With a report from The Canadian Press

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