Former RCMP commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli approved the release of information about a criminal probe into the income trust leak in the middle of the 2006 federal election campaign and directed that a news release name Ralph Goodale, then Liberal finance minister, an RCMP watchdog report revealed yesterday.
The move to include Mr. Goodale's name - a decision even the police force now says was not in keeping with past practice - was made in the absence of any policies or guidelines on handling such sensitive situations, said the chair of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP.
"Clearly, if you have no policy, you can't break policy," Paul Kennedy told reporters yesterday.
Mr. Kennedy said he found no evidence Mr. Zaccardelli "relied on any improper considerations" when he authorized a disclosure that some believe undermined campaign support for the Liberals.
Polling numbers from late 2005 and early 2006 show what the complaints commissioner described as a "dramatic shift" of support from the ruling Liberals to the Conservatives consistent with the timing of the RCMP disclosures on the income trust file.
The Liberals never recovered. "... Members of the general public, media and those involved in the political process believed that the RCMP disclosures ... had an influence and, in the absence of a rational and justifiable basis for such disclosure, questioned the motives of the RCMP and its Commissioner in making such disclosure," Mr. Kennedy notes in the report.
He said Mr. Zaccardelli directed that a media release be prepared on Dec. 23, 2005, shortly after Mr. Zaccardelli wrote to New Democratic MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis to confirm that a criminal investigation had been started.
"This release was amended upon Commissioner Zaccardelli's direction to include the name of Mr. Goodale," a departure from past practice, he said. The amendment stated: "There is no evidence of wrongdoing or illegal activity on the part of anyone associated to this investigation, including the Minister of Finance Ralph Goodale."
Mr. Kennedy said there was no evidence that Mr. Zaccardelli's actions were politically motivated.
Mr. Goodale, who described the events of two years ago as the most painful of his career, said yesterday the RCMP's actions were no accident.
"It would appear that the communications plans of the RCMP with respect to this matter were not inadvertent or accidental or spur of the moment," he said. "They were in fact very carefully laid out and executed."
Mr. Zaccardelli refused to co-operate with the complaint commission's investigation, as did many senior RCMP officers.
"In light of his refusal to provide a statement, it is impossible to determine what factors former Commissioner Zaccardelli may have considered in support of his decision to write the letter of Dec. 23, nor the particular urgency to communicate to Ms. Wasylycia-Leis the change in status from review to criminal investigation," the report states.
Mr. Zaccardelli could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The former commissioner's lack of co-operation was one of several hurdles for Mr. Kennedy. The RCMP challenged the complaint commissioner's right to look at RCMP policy issues at all, and interview subjects were told that they were under no obligation to speak, and that if they did, the information could be used against them in other proceedings.
In a statement yesterday, the RCMP said the complaint commissioner's findings provided "valuable advice" as the force reviews its policies on public communications relating to investigations.
None of the recommendations in Mr. Kennedy's report - which focus on developing a policy for disclosure of information on highly sensitive investigations - are binding.
The controversy began in late November, 2005. About 5:45 p.m. on Nov. 23, Mr. Goodale revealed that the Liberals had decided not to tax income trusts.
Trading of income trusts and related stocks had spiked in the hours before the announcement, sparking allegations of leaks. Ms. Wasylycia-Leis wrote to Mr. Zaccardelli asking whether the RCMP would look into the allegations.
On Dec. 23, Mr. Zaccardelli signed, approved and faxed his reply to her, confirming a criminal investigation was under way, Mr. Kennedy said. On Dec. 28, with the election campaign in full flight, the RCMP finalized media lines about his letter. Hours later, the NDP MP posted it on her website and publicly called for Mr. Goodale's resignation.
Mr. Kennedy said that Mr. Zaccardelli asked that a press release be prepared. When a staffer returned with a release that didn't include Mr. Goodale's name, she was told "that the Commissioner requested Mr. Goodale's name be added," the report states.
In the end, the Mounties charged a Finance bureaucrat under the Criminal Code with breach of trust for allegedly purchasing securities using advance knowledge of the government's trust plans.
However, a draft internal RCMP communications plan from August, 2006, showed they also planned to charge at least one other person under the Security of Information Act until an unrelated court ruling gutted the law. The document did not indicate who the individual was.
Liberal public safety critic Ujjal Dosanjh called the RCMP's handling of the matter unacceptable.
"You don't ruin reputations of individuals without having any substantial evidence to possibly lay criminal charges," he said.
Yesterday, Ms. Wasylycia-Leis defended making the letter public, blaming Mr. Goodale.
"By being so dismissive and arrogant, I think he basically caused a situation that couldn't be turned around," she said.