Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to the opposition day motion about the Gomery commission.
First, the Gomery commission is doing very important work. I know the hon. member opposite just said that the Prime Minister deserved credit for having established the Gomery commission, and that is true.
I am proud of our Prime Minister for having the guts to establish the commission and give it the resources necessary to get at the truth.
Frankly, it seems the Conservatives are now trying to tarnish the reputation of the work that Justice Gomery is doing by trying to discredit the very strong and significant mandate that Justice Gomery has been given.
The opposition day motion suggests that the Gomery commission should have, in the final days of testimony, its mandate changed such that the Gomery commission would have the ability to name names and assign responsibility.
The Gomery commission and Justice Gomery already has the authority to name names and assign responsibility.
It would seem that the motion is either redundant or mischievous. I am tempted by the notion that it could be mischievous. It either speaks to the Conservatives' ongoing contempt for the court system and the judicial process or to their desire to tarnish the work that Justice Gomery is doing in anticipation of a report that will be balanced and that will judge our Prime Minister fairly and reasonably as someone who has conducted himself honourably.
On February 19, 2004, by order in council, the sponsorship inquiry was created under part I of the Inquiries Act with Justice John Gomery appointed as the commissioner. He was asked to make a factual inquiry, investigate and report on questions raised directly or indirectly by chapters 3 and 4 of the November 2003 report of the Auditor General.
The Conservative Party misunderstands clause (k), a clause that says the following:
the Commissioner be directed to perform his duties without expressing any conclusion or recommendation regarding the civil or criminal liability of any person or organization and to ensure that the conduct of the inquiry does not jeopardize any ongoing criminal investigation or criminal proceedings;
Let us consider that.
For a start, clause k is also consistent with many examples from other inquiries.
The same wording is present in the Arar inquiry under Justice O'Connor. It is the number three term of reference for the Ipperwash inquiry set up by the Conservative government in Ontario. It was there as well in the Walkerton commission set up by the Conservative government in Ontario. It was part of the terms of reference for the Stonechild inquiry set up set up by the NDP government in Saskatchewan.
Clause (k) is also consistent with what the courts say about inquiries and the criminal justice system. For example, here is what the Federal Court of Canada said about the Somalia inquiry, “A public inquiry is not equivalent to a civil or criminal trial”.
The Supreme Court ruling in the case of the Attorney General versus the commission of inquiry on the blood system ruled that several basic principles were applicable to inquiries. It stated the following:
A commission of inquiry is not a court or tribunal and has no authority to determine legal liability...A commissioner accordingly should endeavour to avoid setting out conclusions that are couched in the specific language of criminal culpability or civil liability.
Again it would seem that the Conservatives lack an understanding or perhaps a respect for the judicial process and the court system.
There is obvious difference between inquiries and criminal prosecutions. Still, let us be clear. Justice Gomery can indeed name names and draw conclusions as to responsibility and as to whether there has been misconduct on behalf of any individual or organization.
Let us look at what Justice Gomery himself said in his opening statement for his inquiry, and I quote Justice Gomery directly:
According to s.13 of the Inquiries Act, which will be discussed in more detail later, I am entitled to draw conclusions as to whether there has been misconduct and who may be responsible for it.
Later Justice Gomery elaborates on how he will determine accountability and the extent to which specific individuals failed to carry out their responsibilities, and again I quote directly from Justice Gomery:
--whether there was political influence involved in the activities and, if so, by whom, to what purpose, and to what effect...whether any person or organization in the Government of Canada gained an advantage financially, politically or otherwise from the activities and, if so who, to what purpose, and to what effect;
It is curious that the mandate is sufficient for Justice Gomery to say emphatically that he has the right and intends to exercise that right to name names and assign responsibilities. It is good enough for Justice Gomery but it does not seem good enough for the Conservatives.
Let me again quote from what the Supreme Court said in the Krever case:
A commissioner has the power to make all relevant findings of fact necessary to explain or support the recommendations, even if these findings reflect adversely upon individuals. Further, a commissioner may make findings of misconduct based on the factual findings...
Inquiries are designed as a tool to help us get to the truth about wrongdoing or misconduct in the administration of a government.
There is a further reason why there must be a difference between a criminal trial and a public inquiry. Individuals cannot participate freely, openly and honestly in a public inquiry if they fear that the inquiry itself will name them as being criminally responsible with the threat of criminal prosecution to follow.
Clause (k) simply ensures and protects individuals testifying in a public inquiry from this type of self-incrimination, something that is a legal right under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Then again, we know where the Conservative Party stands on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
I believe this is an example of a misunderstanding and/or contempt for the independence of the judiciary, the court system and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Remember that is the party where the member of Parliament for Abbotsford said last year “The heck with the courts. Serious flaws exist in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms”. Any party that seeks to govern our country needs to at least understand the laws of the land.
The key point is that public inquiries by design are not aimed at replacing or superceding the criminal or civil justice system. Again, they cannot find anyone guilty of a criminal offence or make a finding of civil liability. Besides, there is already parallel processes in place currently that are working well to do exactly that.
There are criminal investigations. Charges have been laid against several individuals who are now awaiting trial. There are nineteen charges against Paul Coffin, six charges against both Jean Brault and Chuck Guité, one against Jacques Paradis. In fact, I believe Paul Coffin earlier today pled guilty. We do not want to interfere with those criminal proceedings and we ought not to do that.
The hon. member for Central Nova, who has in the past been a crown prosecutor, ought to understand how troublesome it would be if, as a crown prosecutor, a case against an individual was jeopardized by an inquiry that was seeking to involve itself in assigning criminal or civil liabilities.
At least a few months ago he understood that principle. This is what the hon. member for Central Nova said to the Toronto Star last year about the terms of reference for Gomery. He said:
Well, they're certainly broad. There's no denying that the early indications are that the terms of reference will allow people to go where they have to go.
The member for Central Nova was right then and that is why the Conservative Party is wrong today.
Also a civil action was filed in the Quebec Superior Court by our government on March 11. This action is aimed at recovering $41 million from 19 firms and individuals. All along we have said that this can be amended to reflect new claims and defendants if supporting evidence is found or comes out of the hearings before the sponsorship inquiry.
We are reviewing the forensic reports from Kroll Lindquist. Not only do they affirm the validity of our claim against these firms and individuals, but they also allow us to seriously consider amending and augmenting that claim in the near future.
There is another important reason why we should not change the terms of reference for the Gomery commission—a reason that touches on basic fairness as well as justice.
To suddenly change the rules, to change the terms of reference of an independent judicial inquiry could mean in fact starting over from scratch and redoing the entire hearings. After all, every single witness has appeared before Gomery under specific rules exempting him or her from being named as criminally responsible or being threatened with criminal prosecution as a result of the person's testimony.
In fact, any change to the terms of reference whatsoever would allow individuals who have appeared and have provided testimony in good faith before Gomery to say their testimony is null and void because the rules have changed in the final days of testimony. It is a fact that both the inquiry and the government would be exposed to legitimate legal action by individuals who, in good faith, appeared before Justice Gomery according to the terms of reference of the Gomery inquiry and the mandate of that inquiry.
It is ludicrous to think of redefining the mandate in the final weeks of Gomery testimony. To take action that would jeopardize the good work that Justice Gomery has done would mean delaying justice. Justice delayed is justice denied. It would also mean spending more hard-earned taxpayers' money when in fact Canadians have confidence in Justice Gomery and in the mandate he has.
Canadians understand that Justice Gomery has the right to name names and assign responsibilities. In fact we as a government affirm and support that right and look forward to him doing exactly that. We have criminal actions and civil actions to recover funds, and we have Justice Gomery who can indeed make findings of misconduct against individuals. More important, he can recommend actions to make certain that this kind of unacceptable behaviour cannot happen again.
It is a matter of finding facts but most important, it is about lessons learned and recommendations on how to avoid a repeat of the same unfortunate situation in the future. We intend to use the recommendations of Justice Gomery, his prescriptives, to strengthen the governance of this country and to benefit taxpayers for generations.
I would like to quote Kent Roach, a law professor at the University of Toronto, who said, “Public inquiries play an important role by helping us see the social, political, economic and organizational factors that play a role in wrongdoing and which must be changed if wrongs are to be prevented”. That is exactly the point. Justice Gomery is going to give us a blueprint to prevent this type of activity from ever happening again.
This attempt to amend clause (k) is redundant and frivolous, or simply mischievous. It is all about making a concerted attempt, in the final days of the Gomery inquiry, to try to cast some seeds of doubt about the work of Justice Gomery, to cast a pall over the important work that he is doing. It is obvious that the Conservatives have now realized that in fact Justice Gomery could present a balanced, fair and tough report but one that will not provide the kind of blanket recriminations that the Conservatives would like to see. The fact is the Gomery report will identify individual wrongdoing, and we are confident he will conclude that our Prime Minister acted honourably.
The Globe and Mail said recently in an editorial, “Despite the opposition's attempts to tar the Prime Minister with the sponsorship brush, there is nothing so far to suggest that he himself did anything wrong”. The National Post said, “The Prime Minister's relationship to the sponsorship program appears tangential at best”.
The Conservatives want to discredit Justice Gomery and discredit his report before it even comes out.
The Conservatives want to cast a pall over the work of this commission. The fact is that if they have an understanding of the laws of the land, they will realize that Justice Gomery already has the right to name names and assign responsibilities. In fact, by the time Justice Gomery reports, the criminal courts may have already passed judgment on the criminal liability of some of the players involved in this situation.
I say let Justice Gomery do his work. Let him finish the important work he is doing on behalf of Canadians. I would like to present a motion we are tabling today to underscore our confidence in Justice Gomery's mandate. The motion reads, “The House confirms that with reference to the Gomery inquiry, the commissioner has the authority under the Inquiries Act rulings of the Supreme Court of Canada and his existing terms of reference to name names and assign responsibility”.
The fact is if the Conservatives simply want to ensure that Justice Gomery has the right to name names and assign responsibility, but at the same time to avoid changing the terms of reference that could disable the work that he is doing, it would be appropriate for them to work constructively with us to support this motion and to affirm once again that Justice Gomery has the authority to name names and to assign responsibility.
Canadians want us to make this Parliament work. This is a constructive motion that seeks to affirm the intent of the Conservative motion and at the same time not jeopardize the work of the Gomery commission.