Thursday, April 24, 2008

Surprise! Search warrant executions aren't particularly pleasant

I'm not sure how this Globe report in which a Conservative official complains about heavy-handed execution of the search warrant at the Conservative HQ last week advances the Conservative case on the in-and-out scheme at this point. We kind of know all these details about the raid by now. The very title of the article (last night's version), 'What, did they expect us to shoot back?' just repeats spin circulated this past Sunday when Conservatives summoned certain journalists to hear their view of the raid on their HQ when they first complained about the RCMP's presence. So why are they pushing such details, still?

They must feel that not enough attention has been given to such details this week - i.e., the largely irrelevant, distracting details - so they're still trying to obscure questions about the substance of the in-and-out scheme. Likely because they sense they're losing on those questions. So this report seems to suggest the Conservatives are upping the ante on that front and to do so are claiming that the execution of the raid was needlessly militaristic:
A senior Conservative official says the raid on Tory party headquarters last week was “over the top,” with flak-jacket-clad RCMP officers storming in and copying everything from payroll information to the strategy for a coming election.

“What, did they expect us to shoot back?” said the official, who asked not to be named.

The RCMP caught Conservative Party workers by surprise when they raided the headquarters last Tuesday armed with a search warrant.

In fact, Doug Finley, the senior campaign official in that office, was away at the time of the raid. Mr. Finley was travelling in the West; most of his staff is very young, the majority under 30.

The official said staffers were petrified.

He said the RCMP at first knocked on the door and then “pushed their way in.” About 50 staffers, who work on two floors of the downtown Ottawa office building where the headquarters is located, were told to leave.
If the intent in publicizing the above is to suggest that somehow the execution of a search warrant is properly supposed to be a pleasant, friendly experience, then I think they're sorely off. Is there anyone out there who expects anything other than order and establishing control of the premises when a warrant is being executed? Maybe the young staffers haven't experienced anything like it before, but petrified? Come on.

We know at this point that the RCMP were there to assist the Commissioner of Elections in executing the search and in particular, to deal with the assessment of and potential extraction of computers present there. No wonder they shut down the servers. That seems to have been a shock to this official but shouldn't have been if he's read the warrant. The portrayal here of the RCMP as somehow having acted in a thuggish manner seems to be part of the continuing effort to portray Elections Canada in a bad light. The Conservatives must sense an opening to ratchet up that spin, particularly when columnists like Chantal Hebert float the possibility that Elections Canada could be wrong on the law and point out that the Commissioner having executed the search warrant in such a high profile manner, could be putting the institution out on a ledge that might harm its credibility. Running with that small opening, it's entirely possible that the Conservatives are seeking to push that angle further with such efforts.

It's worth remembering, however, as an elections expert pointed out in the Globe today, that regardless of the outcome of the Commissioner's investigation and the Conservative lawsuit - and still, most experts weighing in seem to say it's an uphill battle for the Conservatives - the CEO of Elections Canada had little choice but to refer an investigation of the allegations of overspending once he became aware of the evidence, most of it having been provided by Conservative candidates themselves. Given the allegations we have seen, it would have been irresponsible for him not to do so. That point was also made by another expert on Monday:
...In a similar vein, when this alleged 'in and out' scheme became public, it had to be investigated," she said. "The chief electoral officer had to say, 'We have prima facie evidence here of, at the very least, improper claiming of reimbursements at the candidate level and I will not reimburse these particular expenses.' That's the job of the CEO, period. To suggest anything else is extremely irresponsible because as [Toronto Star columnist James] Travers pointed out [last week], very, very correctly, this is an organization, an institution that other countries turn to learn how to run an election agency properly, how to enforce the law. You cannot, just because you've gotten caught, impugn the impartiality and the credibility of a very important and deservedly well respected national institution."
That a search warrant was needed to follow through on that investigation, well, that's between the Commissioner and the Conservatives to argue about. They claim to have been cooperating but that doesn't seem to hold water in light of what's happened.

And by the way, bullet proof vests are standard daily fare for police officers in this country, I imagine they are for the RCMP as well. So I find it hard to believe the suggestion that the RCMP went out of their way to muscle up in the equipment department when dressing to go to Conservative HQ that morning. They probably put on whatever they do on any given day. To be more precise, they likely put on whatever they normally do when they are executing a search warrant of this nature. So I don't find the continued harping by Conservatives over "flak-jackets" having been worn, over a week past the event having occurred, to be anything other than inflammatory.

More here and here.