Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Justice Minister refusing to answer questions on what happened to that internal Mulroney Justice review

Gee, here's a shocking headline in the news today, for you: "Ottawa tight-lipped on settlement review." You mean the Conservatives are refusing to answer legitimate questions the public has a right to know the answers to? Big freakin' surprise. Huuuuuuge. And the Justice Minister is gettin' a little testy about things, issuing letters to political opponents who dare question the Minister's actions. This Mulroney stuff's really a royal pain for them, isn't it?
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson refuses to say what happened to government lawyers' exploration of a review of the $2.1-million settlement paid to former prime minister Brian Mulroney.

The 1997 settlement was paid to resolve a defamation lawsuit launched by Mr. Mulroney after government lawyers seeking bank records wrote Swiss authorities alleging that the former prime minister had engaged in criminal activities related to the so-called Airbus affair. The government also apologized.

But in 2006, senior Justice Department officials explored the possibility of re-opening the settlement after news reports revealed that German-Canadian businessman Karlheinz Schreiber paid Mr. Mulroney $300,000 in cash, and related some of Mr. Schreiber's version of events.

"Research would be required to evaluate whether this new element justifies any attempt to set aside the settlement," Brian Saunders, then assistant deputy minister of justice, wrote in a Feb. 14, 2006 e-mail obtained by the CBC under the Access to Information Act.

Yesterday, Mr. Nicholson would not say what happened to that effort, or whether he was briefed on it.

"What information, what advice, what papers and letters that we have within the Department of Justice are in the form, generally of legal advice, and I treat them as such.

"And I don't get into a discussion [of that]," he said.

"I don't discuss what I get briefings on. I get briefings every single day in my capacity as Attorney-General and Justice Minister of this country."

Last week, Mr. Nicholson issued a letter demanding that Liberal MP Ruby Dhalla apologize for saying that the minister had halted the review. "The allegation that I shut down any investigation is false, and again, I'm considering my options," he said yesterday. (emphasis added)
By Nicholson's logic, we'd never be entitled to any kind of response on any question from the Justice Minister. He seems to be arguing some expansive notion of privilege here that is entirely unsupportable. It's a legitimate question to ask what happened with an internal Justice Department briefing or review, particularly when it's the subject of national interest and it's publicly known that it either occurred or was put a halt to, perhaps, before it occurred. Why the big mystery?

It has been reported that in both 2006 and 2007, briefing materials were prepared on the issue of the federal government's settlement with Mulroney yet neither of the two Conservative Justice Ministers apparently saw the briefings. It has also been reported that it was Vic Toews who ordered one of the briefings on the issue yet never saw the material. And further, despite Mr. Nicholson's protestations to the contrary, the National Post has reported that the Justice Department did indeed shut down an internal investigation.
Then, early this year, the Conservative government closed an internal investigation into whether the Mulroney settlement should have been reconsidered, in light of $300,000 in cash payments paid by Mr. Schreiber to the former prime minister. Mr. Mulroney has said the payments were to help Mr. Schreiber start a pasta business and he did nothing wrong.
The Post cites documents released under the Access to Information Act in support of this fact. I take it Nicholson is therefore saying that he personally didn't shut it down, but then the question is, who did? Inquiring minds would like to know.

The reason that all of this is important is that it appears that the Ministers of Justice, Toews and Nicholson, were being shielded from making a decision to reconsider whether the Mulroney settlement was warranted. And of course, this raises all kinds of questions about why a Justice Minister is not entitled to view such important materials. Who is then? And it raises questions about the propriety of someone putting a stop, essentially, to the consideration of a proper and relevant question for the Canadian people, the legitimacy of the Mulroney settlement in light of new information having been received.

Unfortunately for Nicholson and Harper, if they continue to stonewall, these questions will not go away. It looks like they have something to Hide.