Stephen Harper's tough-on-crime Conservatives were accused of being not-so-tough when it comes to one of their own today during a particularly nasty Question Period.
Winnipeg Liberal MP Anita Neville raised the issue of the $500 fine given to former Tory MP Rahim Jaffer after he pleaded guilty to a charge of careless driving earlier today. Her questions - and accusations - touched off a firestorm in the Commons.
"Members of this government are always quick to comment on any court judgment that doesn't align with their get-tough-on-crime rhetoric," Ms. Neville said. "They always say, 'You do the crime. You do the time.' What then is this government's comment on the dangerous driver in possession of illicit drugs who gets off with no record and a $500 slap on the wrist?"
The Tories were incensed.
"How low can you go?" Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said, calling on Ms. Neville to apologize and withdraw her remarks.
Mr. Jaffer lost his Alberta riding to the NDP in the last election and is married to junior cabinet minister Helena Guergis. Last September he was charged with drunk driving and possession of cocaine. Those more serious charges were dropped today in return for his guilty plea for careless driving.
"I'm sure you can recognize a break when you see one," Mr. Justice Doug Maund told Mr. Jaffer today in court. His comments have caused some to wonder why the ex-MP got a break.
Not surprisingly, the issue was raised in Question Period: "Does this government really believe the punishment fits the crime?" Ms. Neville asked.
Mr. Nicholson called this an "irresponsible question" and denied any political interference in the sentence. (His office later called The Globe to make sure it was clear that the case was a provincial matter, despite the drug charge.) The Justice Minister also demanded the Liberal MP apologize.
Rather than saying sorry, Ms. Neville went at it again but this time she needed the help of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken, who had to first calm down the chamber.
"Order, order, order, order, order, order, order - the honourable member for Winnipeg South Centre has the floor. Order!," the Speaker bellowed.
"The Conservatives are conspicuously silent only when the law is being flouted by one of their own. ... Why the double standard?" Ms. Neville asked.
The Jaffer affair, however, was not the only contentious issue today in the House.
Both Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and NDP chief Jack Layton questioned the Prime Minister about the Afghan detainee controversy and a document unearthed by the CBC that shows a government communications strategy was in the works before the allegations of torture had become public. This suggests to the opposition that the government was aware of the torture allegations yet continued to transfer Afghan prisoners.
"The Prime Minister can try to hide behind a judge," Mr. Layton said. "He can try to hide behind the bureaucrats but here are the facts: his national security adviser, who I assume gives him updates on a regular basis, was aware of the problem … and yet his government continues to transfer detainees to the Afghan authorities right now.
"Will the Prime Minister admit that his government knew about the torture from the beginning, that it was done to gather intelligence and that rendition is still the policy of his government?"
Mr. Harper dismissed the allegations, saying they just "keep going farther into the stratosphere."
"The truth of the matter is of course that Canadian diplomats and Canadian military personnel have at all times respected Canada's international obligations," he said.
The Liberals are also demanding that the Conservative government make public the mandate of former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci, who has been asked to review the secret documents relating to the prisoner transfers.
So far, the Prime Minister has not provided the mandate details. He will only say that Judge Iacobucci will be able to review all of the documents.