Oliphant on Mulroney and Schreiber: the last official report, perhaps - Macleans.ca

Oliphant on Mulroney and Schreiber: the last official report, perhaps

Richard Wolson isn’t offering Canadians any hope of a satisfying conclusion—ever


Richard Wolson isn’t offering Canadians any hope of a satisfying conclusion—ever—in what must be the longest-running political scandal in the country’s history.

Wolson is the Winnipeg criminal lawyer whose trenchant questioning of witnesses was a big draw during the hearings held by Justice Jeffrey Oliphant is his Commission of Inquiry into Certain Allegations Respecting Business and Financial Dealings Between Karlheinz Schreiber and the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney. (Only the commission’s full name does justice to the interminable, wearying, dispiriting story beneath.)

Oliphant’s report, released earlier today, offers ample confirmation of the conventional view of Mulroney and Schreiber both as two untrustworthy characters—but it doesn’t come close to writing a definitive final chapter to the their sordid saga.

And yet, asked if there should be a another inquiry, Wolson recoiled. He suggested that even before the Oliphant commission, the fact that the RCMP had conducted an eight-year investigation into the matter meant yet more probing would be excessive. This even though the Mounties never got close to the bottom of it.

“I think quite frankly at some point in an investigation—and I don’t speak for any particular party—but at some point we all have a right as Canadians to have finality,” Wolson told a roomful of reporters in Ottawa.

“I’ve been practicing law for 37 years, and I don’t recall seeing very many eight-year investigations. That’s a long period of time by a substantial investigative police service. So I think that after eight years, people are entitled to some deal of finality.”

By “people,” I suppose he must mean mainly Brian Mulroney. Indeed, it’s possible to see the former prime minister as a man long besieged, almost a sympathetic figure.

Almost. But if you’re inclined to view him that way, a read through Oliphant’s statement summarizing his voluminous (three volumes, to be exact, plus a fourth of “independent research studies) report will surely shift you from sympathy back to some less forgiving frame of mind.

The briefest recap, following Oliphant’s version. Schreiber enjoyed increasing access to Mulroney through his years as prime minister, from 1984 to 1993. Among other interests, he was trying to influence the Canadian government to accept a proposal from a German company, Thyssen, to manufacture military vehicles in Canada. Just after Mulroney stepped down as PM, he struck some sort of deal with Schreiber to lobby for Thyssen, accepting three undocumented cash payments, totaling either $225,000 (as Mulroney claims) or $300,000 (according to Schreiber).

Oliphant repeatedly expressed doubts about Mulroney’s trustworthiness in his testimony about the whole messy business.

Firstly, Mulroney told the commission he lobbied world leaders on behalf of Thyssen, but Oliphant concludes that he “must view with skepticism Mr. Mulroney’s claim” on that score.

Secondly, Mulroney said taking the cash and failing to keep any record of the transaction was a simply an error in judgment, but Oliphant confesses to “having a considerable problem with that explanation.”

And, thirdly, Mulroney said he failed to disclose the payments when he was asked about his relationship with Schreiber by federal lawyers, way back in 1996, because he wasn’t asked exactly the right question, but Oliphant finds that excuse “patently absurd.”

In other words, Oliphant doesn’t accept Mulroney’s version of what he did for Schreiber, why he conducted his business in such a clandestine fashion, and why he didn’t come clean about it. Doesn’t all that add up—to get back to the question put to Wolson today—to the need for further inquiry?

Wolson clearly doesn’t think it would be fair or, perhaps, worth the effort. He comes across as a practical man of the law, and not—if his past service on commissions that dug into old injustices is any guide—inclined to give up too easily. If he’s right, though, that doesn’t necessarily make it feel right.

Oliphant concludes that the relationship Mulroney had with Schreiber was “inappropriate.” Well, no kidding. But why would Mulroney go to such lengths to hide it, even long after he was out of power, if it was merely unseemly? Today’s report doesn’t offer a clear answer.

As well, there’s something not quite consistent in Oliphant’s description of Schreiber’s place in Mulroney’s circle, something that leaves me wondering.

“While Mr. Schreiber was testifying before me, I was struck by his proclivity for exaggeration as he described the nature of his relationships with people,” Oliphant said, “particularly those in positions of influence and power.” And a little later: “To put it bluntly, I hold the view that Mr. Schreiber is deluding himself if he believes that Mr. Mulroney was ever a close friend.”

It’s comforting, no doubt, to imagine that Schreiber, now serving an eight-year sentence in his native Germany for tax evasion, exaggerated his relationships with the powerful and was deluded about their friendships. Seen that way, he doesn’t seem to represent much more than distraction.

However, Oliphant goes on to observe that Mulroney’s old pal Fed Doucet would arrange a session with the then-prime minister “whenever Mr. Schreiber wanted to meet him.” And Oliphant dismisses Mulroney’s description of Schreiber as a “peripheral” figure, saying “in my view their relationship was much more than peripheral.”

What are we to make of this? Schreiber exaggerates his insider status, but he could meet the PM whenever he liked. Schrieber is deluded about Mulroney’s friendship, but Mulroney is disingenuous in describing Schreiber as a man on the periphery.

Wolson might be right that it’s too late for another attempt to arrive at a definitive understanding of this whole messy business. But as for the final word, it’s hard to imagine we heard it today.


Oliphant on Mulroney and Schreiber: the last official report, perhaps

  1. Good summary, but Oliphant went much further than "patently absurd" to characterize Mulroney's "they-never-asked" justification for his misleading testimony to federal lawyers in 1996:

    Mr. Mulroney's answer to Mr. Sheppard's question failed to disclose appropriately the facts of which Mr. Mulroney was well aware, when such disclosure was clearly called for.

    That's what I call perjury when you're not allowed to use the word perjury.

    • Is it a part of Canadian court proceedings to swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth….or is that actually part of American (television) court proceedings?

      We should all be as lucky in life as Mulroney appears to be in this escapade.

      • The transcript of the Oliphant inquiry is unhelpful, here: http://www.oliphantcommission.ca/english/Document


        That's it, at the top of the eighth page of that PDF. The actual wording is not included.

        • IIRC, immediately(?) following Mulroney's testimony at the inquiry Coyne, on the At Issue panel, was quite adamant that Mulroney's selective answers were deceitful and did not meet the intent of the oath he had just taken.

          • Oliphant would concur with Coyne as quoted by you.

  2. It took a $16 million public inquiry to determine that Mr. Mulroney contravened Sec. 7(b) of the 1985 Ethics Code. No mandate was ever set up to find criminal or civil wrongdoing or revisit allegations of kickbacks about others in the Mulroney elected government. Another waste of taxpayers money when "justice" becomes "legally" difficult to serve. However, Mr. Karlheinz Schreiber is justifiably serving a prison sentence in Germany for tax evasion. We may as well apologize to Mr. Mulroney for hurting his feelings again and give him a few more million dollars as recompense before he sues the government ( the people of Canada) for defamation again. What a joke, eh! One can only feel sorry for the Canadian Taxpayer for putting up with this fiasco. Although I tend to be rather politically non-partisan I was recommended to read a book called "On The Take" by an investigative reporter Stevie Cameron. Apparently much of the information in this book was gathered from government archives and is supposedly factual. May the maker of the Universe help us if all the information is true. Recommended for anyone to read if they want a comprehensive view of what may really have occurred during the Mulroney years of governance.

    • Amen to this comment!!

      Brian Mulroney should be forced to pay back tax payers the $2M settlement he received. Let's keep our fingers crossed and hope he doesn't "take us back to court" for being so mean to him. This time he may ask $4M and "get it".

  3. How about some dirt on Sir John A McDonald?

    • I believe there's roughly 6 feet of dirt on him.

      • I wouldn't want to be the retired judge calling on him to testify. Does the country really want to see what the investigators might dig up?

      • LOL – you're good danby!

      • Good reply!

  4. "Indeed, it's possible to see the former prime minister as a man long besieged, almost a sympathetic figure."

    Not likely. I lost all sympathy for him after his testimony when he stated that he didn't think that it was necessary to declare his relationship with Mr. Shreiber (and the $225,000/$300,000 payment) during testimony for his $50 million lawsuit against the federal government for damages arising from the investigation into his financial holdings. The lawsuit was ultimately settled for $2.1 million of taxpayer's money.

    Mr. Mulroney was "long besieged" only because he never really looked innocent. Had he told the whole truth in the beginning, this would have been over years/a decade ago and Canadian taxpayers would be $18 million richer.

    Writers of other articles on this same subject have been concerned that Justice Oliphant's findings have somehow tarnished Mr. Mulroney's legacy. In fact, his legacy is still alive and well. The GST is still with us and the shuttered factories resulting from NAFTA are still lining the highways of Ontario and Quebec.


    • I also lost all sympathy for him, and about his legacy he has no one to blame but himself!

  5. The expenditure of $16 million was worth it. It confirmed, for most of us who already knew, that the one who was once called Right Honourable was and is dishonourable.
    BTW we should never use the words honourable to describe a politician until s/he has done some deed to deserve that title.

    • It was a waste of our money

  6. One day it will be the J.C's turn. I hope they crucify him as much as they have Brian!

    • I, too, look forward to that day, but it doesn't really diminish the contempt Lyin Brian deserves following this report. No argument from me that Cretin probably did much worse, but the fact person "B" is possibly a bigger jerk doesn't make person "A" less of one.

  7. Most of you are of the CBC "Politics" class that can't stand to see their good preconceived notions about former PM Mulroney dissed. Give us all, including your own fevered brains, a rest from this boring, overplayed, irrelevant story, notwithstanding anything that your very own resident genius, Mr Coyne, has to say by way of huffing expostulation about the excesses of what he apparently considers Canada's incompetent judicial system.

    • Mr. Mulroney's answer to Mr. Sheppard's question failed to disclose appropriately the facts of which Mr. Mulroney was well aware, when such disclosure was clearly called for.

      Maybe you missed it on the first go, XC.

  8. The start of this story was the RCMP investigation on whether Mulroney accepted bribes or kickbacks from Schreiber concerning the Airbus planes. The fact that any questioning concerning Airbus was left out of the terms of reference means that this inquiry was in effect a cover up.
    If a criminal robs a store of $200 and it costs $2000 to take the case to trial does this mean it is a waste of money? Likewise with our former Prime Minister. The cost of combating corruption may seem expensive until you look around the world and nothing happens without payoffs.
    It is time for the Government of Canada to launch a lawsuit to recover the 2.1 million paid to this deceitful man.

    • It is unfortunate that the RCMP findings did not come to any fruition. Some good enforcement people suffered political rath. Too many other people were involved and I guess those "elected officials" that may have been involved had too much to lose and could have brought down the "Progressive" conservatives in future polls—not that the general public already smelt "a rats nest" in this whole airbus affair. Hopefully one of the rats "Karlheinz" will tell the whole truth down the road. But then that's the way history is written. The truth is revealed long after the matter is of no concern and forgotten. Fat chance the 2.1 million will ever be recovered.

  9. So Mulroney has been justly chastised for having been 'economical with the truth' in his earlier testimony. Now, 16 million dollars on, we're still no wiser where and to whom the rest of the Airbus millions were disbursed! Only one guy knows and, cagey bastard and, consummate BS-artist that he is, Karlheinz Schreiber's got all of 8 years' peace and quiet to pen his memoirs and make another million or two. Now they WILL be worth reading as he'll have no further reason then to conceal what really went down. I'll bet there'll be a few Canadian politicians and assorted ex-bagmen passing sleepless nights worrying that he may be saving the best till last. As Schreiber himself put it so prophetically, "the truth shows up" and, since he's the only one who knows what it is, stay tuned!

    • Well put. Why did Mr. Schrieber not name all the people during the inquiry that he supposedly gave money to? Many of us were waiting for him to tell all and for some reason he did not. Maybe he is saving the best for last, but by that time who will care—-at least the "sleepless people" are banking on that to happen. Regardless, hopefully the truth shows up.

  10. Former PM Mulroney disgraced the Conservative party; himself and family. And, for all the world to see. People today are no longer naive as to politicians and their antics with the lack of morality strongly evident. While courts for justice may dither around people make up their own minds as to truth or dishonesty – they are in the final analysis the judges.

    • That may be true but that Conservative party does not even exist anymore. What was gained by this debacle of an enquiry I do not know. Brian Mulroney's reputation is irrelevant to Canadians. Did they think he would just confess? Then there was the key witness, Mr. Schrieber , a wanted felon from Germany. Did they think he would be honest. He just dragged things out so he could stay out of jail. We, the taxpayers spent an outrageous amount of money on finding out nothing conclusive. In the end, it was all about political posturing. Maybe Sheila Fraser should expand her responsibilities to assess the viability and advisability of future public enquiries that are so blantly politically motivated and so unlikely to provide us with any information.

  11. Asking any politician to be honest is like asking the sun to set in the east.

  12. If any politician throws a store from the glass house they call parliament remember this:

    -these people allowed Pardoned Sex Offenders to coach our kids
    -these politicians allowed sex offenders to teach our kids
    -these politicians have done nothing to stop children from being bullied to suicide, and
    -these politicians have allowed school boards to act surprised when $800,000 mysteriously disappear over ten years.

    Oh but children are a Provincial jurisdiction right Mr. Liberal, Mr. NDP and MR Conservative.

    The criminal code should apply to any one who destroys the lives of children. Human rights should apply to all Canadians including children and not just people charged with a crime.

    Mr. M gets a few hundred thousand and they say oh my that is so wrong. I say to you…. that's nothing compared to what our society is allowing to happen to children. Two children have disappeared from the steps of our school. One brutally murdered.

    Mr. Liberal Guy, Mr. NDP Dude and Mr. Conservative, get your act together to save the lives of children.

  13. I think several things should happen to brian;

    1 He should be forced to repay the 2.1 million with interest
    2 He should have to pay tax on the bribe he received
    3 He should be charged with fraud and perjury

    He is an embarrassment to Canada and if Harper's Govt doesn't pursue him legally, it will show that Harper is just an old Mulroney crony.

    There is actually a facebook page dedicated to demanding our money back.
    Called "Brian Mulroney give us back our 2.1 Million" http://www.facebook.com/pages/Brian-Mulroney-give

  14. Justice Oliphant has finally said what most Canadians have known for years – Brian Mulroney is a self-serving man who took advantage of his power and position to line his own pockets (at Canadian taxpayers' expense) . He then had the gall to deny his crimes under oath more than once, and then sue the Canadian Government for libel. Hopefully, history will give him the scathing epitath he deserves, since our Government and justice system apparently can not.
    Diane Hall, Ottawa