The RCMP is portraying its high-profile investigation into Senate spending as just another case.
But the Mounties are being asked to look into the expense accounts of four senators, three of whom were appointed by the current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper.
The probe is being handled at arm’s length at the RCMP’s “National Division,” which is located in Ottawa, but in an entirely separate locale from the headquarters where Commissioner Bob Paulson leads his officers after being named to his post by the same Prime Minister.
The National Division, which was created this year, is specifically tasked to investigate cases of corruption and matters that affect the integrity of the political system. RCMP officials said the National Division’s independence from headquarters is a key element of its operational structure.
The man in charge of the operation is a seasoned officer, Assistant Commissioner Gilles Michaud, overseeing a group that is specialized in “sensitive investigations.” The team involves all levels of officers.
The RCMP has refused to comment at length on its probe into the living and travel allowances of Senators Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy and Mac Harb. While the Senate has made a show of referring these cases to the RCMP, court records show the Mounties were on the file before they were specifically called in.
“From the beginning, we didn’t wait for referrals,” an RCMP official said.
For example, court records show the RCMP has been investigating Mr. Duffy since March, or weeks before news broke that Mr. Harper’s chief of staff had secretly given the senator $90,000 to repay controversial expenses.
On Tuesday, the Senate referred the case of Senator Pamela Wallin to the police, after releasing an audit into her travel expenses to the public. However, the RCMP refused to state whether it had already decided to look into the matter. There is no evidence in publicly available material that investigators had previously started to look at her case.
The Mounties are already working with prosecutors on the Senate investigation and, as in any other matter, will submit a file for review if they deem that there is enough evidence of criminal wrongdoing to warrant charges. At this point, none of the allegations in the affidavits has been proven in court.
The RCMP has gone after senators in the past, the most recent case being that of former Liberal MP and senator Raymond Lavigne. In 2011, he was found guilty of fraud and breach of trust in relation to a scheme to obtain at least $10,000 in undeserved travel reimbursements and hundreds of hours of free labour to clean up one of his properties.
Mr. Lavigne faced a maximum of 14 years in jail, but he was sentenced to six months in jail, six months of subsequent house arrest and a $10,000 donation to a charitable cause.