In the week since Raj Grewal released a video in which he confessed to having a gambling habit that he fed with millions of borrowed dollars, the public has learned next to nothing about what really happened, and even less about how the MP for the Toronto-area riding of Brampton East was able to resolve the issue so quickly, at least in his own mind.
The only known developments have been that Mr. Grewal has left the Liberal caucus, but has retracted his Nov. 22 decision to resign from Parliament. Instead, as he said in a Nov. 30 video, he now intends to stay in his seat until at least the new year, while undergoing treatment for his addiction.
His problems, he said, are all behind him.
The public needs to hear a lot more detail about this. There are gambling addictions, and then there are gambling addictions. The condition is real, but Mr. Grewal is not just anyone. He’s an elected public official who played high-stakes blackjack in a casino in Gatineau, Que., during Parliamentary sessions and lost millions of dollars doing so.
His ability to keep returning to the table with large sums of money caught the attention of FINTRAC, the Finance Department agency that collects and analyzes financial intelligence in an effort to prevent money laundering. The RCMP subsequently started investigating Mr. Grewal to find out where he got the funds.
As they should have. An MP who appears to have access to a bottomless stake ought to be investigated – not only for the protection of the public and its trust in elected officials, but possibly also to protect Mr. Grewal.
That’s not far-fetched. The Canadian Press reported on Nov. 28 that Mr. Grewal’s gambling debts had come to the attention of the Ontario Provincial Police after they heard some “very shady guys” discussing the matter on a wiretap.
“There are wiretaps up on an organized-crime [and] terrorism investigation. And they have people talking about his gambling debts on the wire,” a source told CP.
That allegation, which contains no suggestion that Mr. Grewal was involved in illegal activity, has fuelled Opposition demands for his resignation, and for an explanation from the Prime Minister’s Office of how and when it found out about the MP’s problems.
The PMO says it only learned over the weekend of Nov. 17 that the police were asking questions about Mr. Grewal. Mr. Grewal apparently already knew of the police interest when he met with PMO officials on Nov. 19. He announced his resignation three days later.
The Opposition is right to question the PMO’s chronology, partly because the PMO has admitted that the RCMP approached it about Mr. Grewal in late winter or early spring of this year, but says it was about a separate matter.
Those questions focused on Mr. Grewal’s role in bringing the chief executive of Brampton, Ont., construction firm Zgemi Inc. to an event featuring Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in India in February. Mr. Grewal was moonlighting as a paid employee of Zgemi at the time. That episode is the subject of a complaint to the federal ethics commissioner. It has not been disclosed how much Zgemi paid him, or for what.
The timing of all of this is important. Mr. Grewal sat on the standing finance committee of the House of Commons until earlier this year, and twice he asked pointed questions about the methodology of FINTRAC and the police when they investigate money laundering. The Liberals removed Mr. Grewal from the finance committee on Sept. 19, in what they say was a routine reassignment.
Mr. Grewal insists he is guilty of nothing more than bad judgment. In his confessional video, he says all the money he borrowed came from friends and family, in the form of cheques only, and that it had all been paid back.
Perhaps that’s true. Mr. Grewal is 33 and a political rookie; it may well be that his really is a tale of poor judgment and inexperience, with no ethical or legal wrongdoing.
But it is on him and the Liberal government to prove that there is nothing to see here. Mr. Grewal says “every loan and repayment is transparent and retraceable." He must let the ethics commissioner decide that by co-operating fully with an investigation, including turning over all of his financial records.
At this point, there are far too many troubling questions to let Mr. Grewal, or the government, put this to rest.