Allegations of cover-up in the RCMP pension scandal will soon be the subject of two parallel probes -- one by a Commons committee and the other by a government-appointed investigator.
Meanwhile, Auditor-General Sheila Fraser said yesterday that her office was unable to substantiate allegations that Mounties at the highest ranks covered up nepotism and misallocation of more than $3-million in pension funds when the auditors looked at the question last year.
Nevertheless, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the allegations that resurfaced this week "are shocking and quite disturbing" and need re-examination. Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day announced that the government will appoint an independent investigator.
Four hours later, the House public accounts committee suggested that this isn't enough, voting unanimously to continue its own probe of the case. The MPs want to hear from former Liberal ministers and will also try to determine if RCMP witnesses may have perjured themselves in testimony before the committee in February.
One of those witnesses, Deputy Commissioner Barbara George, stepped down as head of human resources for the RCMP on Wednesday and was reassigned to other duties.
Former commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli denied he tried to sweep the scandal under the rug. He said he wants to counter the claims of former subordinates who accused him on Wednesday of being part of a cover-up. Mr. Zaccardelli resigned in December after he gave contradictory testimony to the House public safety committee about what he knew and when in the Maher Arar torture case.
"I will testify at the committee if I am called, and I have nothing to say until then, other than the allegations that were made before the committee yesterday are absolutely 100-per-cent false," he said.
Interim commissioner Bev Busson said she welcomed the plan to appoint an independent investigator and said she is "determined to get to the bottom of this as quickly and transparently as possible."
On Wednesday, Ron Lewis, a retired staff-sergeant, said he and other rank-and-file Mounties were stonewalled when they tried to get Mr. Zaccardelli and other senior managers to deal with "both criminal and code-of-conduct violations" in pension-fund administration.
"To my disappointment, I was met with inaction, delays, roadblocks, obstruction and lies," Mr. Lewis said.
"The person who orchestrated most of this cover-up was Commissioner Zaccardelli."
In addition, Chief Superintendent Fraser Macaulay testified Wednesday that "for the past several years, the RCMP has had a small group of managers who, through their actions and inactions, are responsible for serious breaches in our core values, the RCMP code of conduct, and even the Criminal Code."
Chief Superintendent Macaulay said he filed a formal internal complaint in 2003 about "misappropriation of pension funds" and excessive spending on administration. He said he was punished by management and moved out of the picture with a two-year secondment to the Canadian Forces. He also said Deputy Commissioner George told him about this secondment.
Ms. Fraser reported last November the RCMP improperly charged at least $3.4-million to the pension fund, but later paid it back. She also said "an estimated $1.3-million was charged to the pension and insurance plans to pay for commissions or products that provided little or no value, and for excessive payments to employees' friends and family members hired as temporary staff. The pension plan has been reimbursed or credited $270,280 of those unnecessary or wasteful expenditures."
Even though an RCMP disciplinary investigation found that proceeding with disciplinary action was warranted against four of its regular and civilian members, the RCMP decided too much time had elapsed, she reported in November.
Yesterday, Ms. Fraser said she undertook an audit of the pension fund after the completion of an investigation into the matter by the Ottawa police force.
Her team of auditors met with the same retired and serving RCMP officers who raised allegations of a cover-up at the public accounts committee two days ago, yet the auditors were unable to obtain enough proof to publish the information, she said.
"There were cases where people said they were moved from their jobs and that sort of thing. It's hard to get enough proof to support an allegation like that, to be able to publish anything in our report," Ms. Fraser said in an interview.
"We have a very rigorous level of proof before we can conclude on something."
Ms. Fraser said the fact the final audit did not mention the allegations does not mean they were untrue, but simply that there was not enough evidence to support them.
"Would someone have been reassigned for other reasons, and how do you draw that real link to it, was the difficulty. We can't publish allegations and we need really strong proof that that was due to that," she said.
The witnesses at the public accounts committee, she said, are angry that the RCMP did not impose any sanctions against the people responsible for the mismanagement -- a criticism of the process that she also raised in her final audit.
"I think that is probably what is most frustrating to all of those people is that at the end of the day -- there never seems to have been any kind of disciplinary action of any sort that was taken," Ms. Fraser said.
Mr. Day told reporters he will appoint an independent investigator with powers to conduct forensic audits and question witnesses. He expects a report in eight to 12 weeks, and promised it will be made public.
The latest crisis surrounding the RCMP arose so quickly that Mr. Day felt he had to announce the investigation before the investigator has actually been found.
"The abuses in question, which took place from 2000 to the year 2005, are of grave concern to us. Canada's new government believes that managers at all levels should be held accountable," Mr. Day said.
Later in the House, Mr. Day and Mr. Harper blamed the previous Liberal government for allowing the pension issue to drag on and fester for years.
Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion was having none of it, saying that if the minority Conservative government is serious about the case, it would convene a full-scale judicial commission of inquiry, with broad powers.
Late in the day, Liberals at the public accounts committee won unanimous support for a motion saying the panel will continue its own probe into the "serious issues of potential perjury, fraud and interference in criminal investigations."
The witness list includes Mr. Zaccardelli, Deputy Commissioner Paul Gauvin, Rosalie Burton, the former director general of human resources at the RCMP, and Deputy Commissioner George.
Conservatives on the committee supported the motion with the understanding that two former Liberal ministers -- Anne McLellan, who was the public safety minister, and Reg Alcock, the former treasury board president -- would also be called to testify about what they knew and when.