Documents, if they’re the right kind, are sacrosanct in Ottawa. When allegations swirl, documents tell their stories, and those stories are gospel to anyone hoping to gain political advantage. Stephen Harper’s opposition regularly latches on to two cast-iron troves of documentary evidence: an audit, and its number-crunched conclusions; and a sworn affidavit, known as an Information to Obtain, and its investigated claims. These documents come to light and launch a million questions, but they rarely face public scrutiny.
Documents are the driving force behind the Wright-Duffy affair, the ongoing mess of emails and audits that forced the suspension of Sen. Mike Duffy and the resignation of ex-Harper chief of Staff Nigel Wright. RCMP investigators believe both men broke the law when Wright paid Duffy’s improperly claimed expenses, and a judge approved the public release of the ITO—with the consent of Cpl. Greg Horton, the investigating officer—outlining the Mounties’ claims. The ITO’s many details have informed relentless opposition attacks in the Commons for weeks. Ottawa Citizen reporter Glen McGregor wrote about the circumstances of the ITO’s public release, about which some questions linger. “The RCMP claims it was only following court procedures but Horton’s consent to release the ITO could raise concerns about the fairness of making unproven allegations public in such a politically-charged case,” he reported.
Earlier this year, the Senate asked an auditing firm to comb through Duffy’s expenses. Deloitte, the chosen firm, did the job and calculated the total amount of improperly claimed expenses. That’s how Wright knew what number should grace his cheque to Duffy. Last week, a Senate committee called a trio of Deloitte auditors to defend the soundness of their Duffy audit. They admitted that a senior partner at their firm called them up and started asking questions about their work, and reassured senators that they hung up the phone abruptly. For the first time in recent memory, an audit was given a second look.
Now, someone’s actually questioning the heretofore (mostly) unquestioned ITO. Today, The Hill Times quotes an outspoken defence lawyer in Ottawa, Lawrence Greenspon, as saying the document should be taken with “more than a grain of salt.” There’s more to the truth than an RCMP investigator’s opinion, he says. “The ITO is not evidence.” Simply, it’s the truth as an investigator sees it, and the basis for further investigation. Greenspon’s opinion won’t put a damper on opposition efforts to embarrass the government, but it’s worth considering. Documents are important, but they’re not by definition the final word.
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Expect more questions on the Wright-Duffy affair, but perhaps a lower-octane session because of the predictable absence of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who’s in South Africa for Nelson Mandela’s funeral.