Sunday, April 20, 2008

Allegations of "materially false and misleading statements"

Details of the Conservatives' briefings to "select" media this afternoon with respect to the Commissioner of Elections Canada's search warrant executed last week are emerging. The Canadian Press has a report here as does David Akin. Neither the CP nor Akin, of Canwest, were invited though. Imagine the scene where some of the leading media outlets in our country - CBC, Canwest, Canadian Press and Macleans - are kept out in a hallway when others are inside being briefed by Conservative party representatives. Remind me of what country I'm living in?

Here's the big news from Akin's report, that goes to the heart of the Harper government's efforts to portray themselves, i.e., their party, as clean operators:
The agent for the federal Conservative Party in the last general election "made materially false and misleading statements" on its financial returns, Canada's elections commissioner alleges in the court documents that convinced a judge to grant a request for a search warrant of Conservative Party headquarters last week.
The warrant says that the elections commissioner believes that the Conservative Party of Canada and its official agent, the Conservative Fund of Canada, violated the Canada Elections Act. The party and the fund are separately accused of exceeding the maximum amount allowed for elections expenses. The Conservative Fund is also accused of filing financial returns "that it knew or ought reasonably to have known contained a materially false or misleading statement."

Neither Prime Minister Stephen Harper nor any other politician or party official is named in the warrant among those believed to have committed an offence.

The affidavit supporting the request for the search warrant is signed by Ronald Lamothe, an assistant chief investigator with the non-partisan Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections.

"The alleged scheme," Lamothe wrote, "enabled the Conservative Party of Canada to spend more than $1 million over and above the spending limit."
Making false and misleading statements on financial returns. Those are serious allegations. And not the kind of allegations that a supposedly clean government should be facing at all. And the scope of material sought, again, suggests that the claims that Conservatives have been cooperating and had no idea as to the reason for the search warrant ring false:

Court documents obtained Sunday show that the commissioner was looking for:

. correspondence and e-mails between party officials, local candidates, and advertising companies working for the party;

. invoices, contracts, and financial information related to advertising during the 2006 general election;

. scripts and recordings of ads that ran during the campaign.

CP adds to the news of the day with its report that excluded media also attended at the hotel the Conservatives were briefing at and caused a bit of a stir -good for them:

But the scene descended to the level of farce when journalists who hadn't been invited gathered in the hallway to quiz colleagues as they emerged form the inner sanctum.

Those who managed to get inside the door were handed a sheaf of documents and a CD-ROM containing the warrant and affidavit material obtained by the party last Friday, after a sealing order previously imposed by an Ontario Superior Court judge was lifted.

The package won't be available to other media outlets until the court formally releases it Monday.

Nevertheless, the CP suggests there was nothing new said today:
The party officials reportedly continued to insist, at Sunday's closed-door briefings, that they did nothing wrong and were surprised when the Mounties showed up with a search warrant at their offices.
And then the Conservatives beat a hasty and silent retreat:
None of the party officials who handled the private briefings Sunday would repeat their lines in public when they emerged from the hotel room to be greeted by reporters who weren't on their guest list.

Instead they scurried for a nearby exit and beat a hasty retreat down the fire stairs.
See the kind of coverage you get when you exclude and fire up the media like this? Think they weren't fired up? There's this note:
An earlier effort to ease their difficulties failed when a hotel manager unsuccessfully tried to convince the waiting journalists to leave the premises.

He relented after the assembled media unanimously rejected his request.
Good for some of the media for standing up to this manipulation and reporting it in detail. News of such selective briefings reinforces the perception of the Harper Conservatives as contemptuous of the press and controlling. I honestly don't see what they think this gains them, particularly when such serious allegations are being disclosed. They just provoke the excluded media, like they did here. And make it look like the Conservatives have something to hide that will not stand up to any objective media scrutiny. Like they need to make more problems for themselves with the media at this point? It sure as heck did them a lot of good today. Keep dumping on the media, Conservatives, keep it up...:)

A 700 page search warrant. Hope the media have their people lined up and ready to pore through this lengthy document. And a shout out to CBC, the Globe or Canwest: how about putting a pdf of the document on your website? I'm sure the Canadian public would like to see this unprecedented document on full public display.