The Harper government called in the RCMP to investigate a politically embarrassing story involving the decision to sole-source the purchase of the F-35 stealth fighter, claiming it was a breach of national security, The Canadian Press has learned.The report notes that the complaint was launched by Privy Council clerk Wayne Wouters.
The Mounties conducted a five-month review into an alleged leak of cabinet documents under the Security of Information Act, recently used to charge a naval intelligence officer in an apparent spy case.
Records obtained under the Access to Information Act show investigators had doubts almost from the outset in July 2010 that any laws were broken in the Globe and Mail story.
Wesley Wark, an expert in security and intelligence at the University of Ottawa, said he was concerned by the revelations in the file. He described the probe as a misuse of not only the RCMP, but of the security legislation, one of the most serious laws on the book.How and why did Wouters get involved in this, then? Inquiring minds would like to know.
"This has the whiff, well more than a whiff, of a politically inspired move," said Wark.
"The complaint was coming from an odd place, an admittedly senior place within the government. The fact the clerk would ask the commissioner to do this is in of itself very unusual." He said it would not have been so unusual had the request for an investigation come from either the deputy ministers at Defence or Foreign Affairs — departments that would have had a more direct say whether the story contained classified information.
But even in those cases, Wark said, departments have their own security officers who track media leaks and those rarely amount to criminal investigations.
He said it is also unusual in that the government would have known that media leak provisions of the legislation were struck down a few years ago in the aftermath of the case where Ottawa Citizen reporter Juliet O'Neill's home was raided following stories she wrote about the Maher Arar affair.
Last week and really, since the budget was introduced, the question of the Canada Revenue Agency being used for political purposes has been raised given what appears to be selective targeting of environmental groups with respect to their political advocacy (which is permitted under the law, to the 10% threshold of their activities).
This reporting has a similar air about it. The RCMP should not be used as an investigative body to create an environment of "politically inspired chill" in the media, to use the term at the end of the report. The RCMP needs to be independent and guard against approaches like what happened here.
Kudos to Canadian Press for their ongoing vigilance in pursuing stories like this one.