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Status of women minister Helena Guergis answers during Question Period in the House of Commons on April 1, 2010. (The Canadian Press)
Status of women minister Helena Guergis answers during Question Period in the House of Commons on April 1, 2010. (The Canadian Press)

Globe editorial

Let Mounties explain Guergis allegations Add to ...

The RCMP should expeditiously make public the nature of the serious allegations against Helena Guergis, the former minister of state for the status of women and the now independent MP for Simcoe-Grey. It is one of the functions of police forces, rather than of first ministers or other members of the cabinet, to clearly but prudently summarize to the public what a suspected, or charged, person is thought to have done.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper acted properly in passing on the claims made against Ms. Guergis to the RCMP. It is not within the normal duties or skills of a prime minister to formulate and announce suspicions of criminal wrongdoing, while avoiding the shoals of prejudicing a possible future trial, on the one hand, and of compromising a current investigation, on the other. This task is rightly to be expected from the expertise of the police.

Ms. Guergis was a minister of the Crown, and the Canadian public are indeed entitled to be informed of the character of the allegations against her. The RCMP should do so sooner rather than later. It is true that the force revised its procedures after its investigation of possible leaks by politicians of a prospective change of policy on income trusts, but that was in the midst of the 2005 election, which is not the present situation.

Thanks to a sensible policy of the law, police are sheltered by a legal privilege from defamation lawsuits for announcement of investigations and charges, for good reason. It is their duty to inform the public of what they believe to be well founded suspicions, and citizens need to be able to scrutinize the conduct of the police and of the judicial process as a whole.

Indeed, members of Parliament are also sheltered from defamation actions for what they say in the House of Commons. But that is to enable free debate - always subject to the House's own rules - on matters of public policy, rather than to denounce individuals, though this may often be reasonably incidental to legislative discussion. Parliament is not usually the proper place to unveil criminal investigations or charges.

Moreover, Ms. Guergis's former portfolio, concerned as it is with gender-based analysis, was not one of those most vulnerable to criminal behaviour or consequently of the most urgent interest to the public. A minister of justice may try to obstruct prosecutions; a minister of finance may try to use budgetary measures for corrupt purposes. A minister of public works may be tempted to award government contracts to cronies.

Mr. Harper acted rightly by communicating the allegations against Ms. Guergis to the police. In their turn, the RCMP should be prompt in disclosing these allegations. Though they might be well advised to err on the side of speed in this case, they must still exercise their judgment.

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