Mulcair asks how ex-PMO lawyer's emails 'disappeared'; info watchdog wants to investigate
Published Monday, December 2, 2013 1:29PM EST
Last Updated Monday, December 2, 2013 11:08PM EST
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair asked Monday how former PMO legal adviser Benjamin Perrin’s emails could have been found months after the RCMP first asked for them in relation to the Mike Duffy-Nigel Wright affair.
The opposition used Monday’s question period to ask the federal government about a revelation late Sunday that the Privy Council Office “found” Perrin’s emails that it had previously said were deleted.
CTV News has learned that Canada’s information commissioner, Suzanne Legault, is investigating a complaint into why the Privy Council Office was unable to provide a single document in response a request by the Liberal Party for all records related to the Duffy-Wright deal.
The office of the commissioner requires that every government record of business value be saved.
In a letter to the RCMP’s assistant commissioner Gilles Michaud dated Dec. 1, the PCO said it has informed the Prime Minister’s Office that emails from Perrin -- who allegedly helped broker a deal between Wright and Duffy -- were not deleted, as is standard practice, following Perrin’s departure from the PMO in March 2013.
The letter states the account was in fact frozen due to unrelated litigation.
On Monday, Mulcair asked several questions about the newly discovered emails.
“How could Ben Perrin’s emails, the PM’s legal counsel, how could they have disappeared for three months?” Mulcair asked in French. “How could they have disappeared, whereas these same emails had been retained by them in another legal matter? Explain that to us.”
Minister for Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre responded in English by reading from the PCO’s letter from Sunday.
“It says here, and I quote, ‘it is the operating protocol of the Privy Council Office to close and delete email accounts of departing employees of the PCO and the PMO as a matter of course. Consistent with this protocol, upon Mr. Perrin’s departure at the end of his employment in late March 2013, the PMO was provided with notice that his emails had been deleted from the computer server.’”
According to the letter issued Sunday, the PMO asked the PCO to make available to police “the emails of certain individuals requested by the RCMP” in September 2013. It was at that time the PCO “advised” the PMO that Perrin’s emails had been deleted from a server “and were no longer available.”
But Sunday’s letter explained that the PCO was wrong in making that claim.
According to the PCO, the email account came to light in recent days, after the RCMP sought further confirmation from the PMO’s counsel that Perrin’s emails were not available from any other source.
“In response to this inquiry, on November 29, 2013 we found that Mr. Perrin’s emails had in fact been retained due to a litigation hold in an unrelated matter. On learning that Mr. Perrin’s emails were in fact available, we informed the PMO on November 30, 2013.”
The PCO apologized for any inconvenience “it may have caused.”
“We regret that we previously failed, even if inadvertently, to accurately inform you and the PMO about the availability of Mr. Perrin’s emails.”
Perrin is currently the subject of a complaint filed by a University of Ottawa law professor, who claims that Perrin and Duffy lawyer Janice Payne violated professional ethics for their alleged roles in a secret deal that saw Wright, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff, give Duffy a $90,000 cheque to cover the senator’s ineligible expenses.
The RCMP is investigating the transaction. In an affidavit filed last month, Cpl. Greg Horton alleges that Wright broke the law by giving Duffy the money.
None of the allegations has been tested or proven in court.
When Mulcair asked what “unrelated litigation” Perrin was involved in, Poilievre replied that he “cannot answer that question,” noting that the PMO has instructed the PCO to hand over to the RCMP all emails that the force requests.
Liberal House Leader Dominic Leblanc asked if any PMO staffers had access to Perrin’s emails between the time of the original RCMP request and when they were discovered.
Poilievre did not directly reply, pointing only to the PCO’s apology in the letter.
Kinsella 'not happy about' Senate scandal
Meanwhile, Senate Speaker Noel Kinsella held a rare news conference Monday morning in which he told reporters that he is “embarrassed” by the ongoing expenses scandal, but left many direct questions unanswered about what reforms might be coming to the upper chamber to prevent such events in the future.
Reporters gathered in the red chamber at 11 a.m., hopeful that Kinsella would have a lot to say about the scandal that has led to multiple RCMP investigations and three senators suspended without pay.
Instead, Kinsella opened with a history lesson about the upper chamber before opening the floor to reporters’ questions.
When asked whether he feels the need to repair the Senate’s image, Kinsella replied: “I do.” But he’s less concerned about image, he said, and more interested that there “be public trust, public engagement in the work done by members of the House of Commons, as well as work done by members of the Senate.”
“I’m not happy about it,” he said of the scandal, but later said: “We’ve got to learn from this experience.”
He also said that the Senate is complying with a request from the RCMP that it turn over all emails by Senators Marjory LeBreton, David Tkachuk, Carolyn Stewart Olsen and Mike Duffy that relate to Duffy's audit and the alleged Wright-Duffy deal.
The Senate clerk said IT staff are compiling those records and will hand them over within a 30-day deadline.
The Senate “is co-operating 100 per cent,” with the RCMP investigation, Kinsella said.
“Parliamentary privilege cannot be used as a shield to inhibit a police investigation,” he said.
Kinsella’s news conference came days after the Senate’s internal economy committee heard from the team that audited Duffy’s expenses, after an RCMP affidavit alleged attempted interference in the process by the PMO and Sen. Irving Gerstein, chair of the Conservative Fund.
The affidavit, filed recently in an Ottawa court, suggested Gerstein called a partner at auditing firm Deloitte, Michael Runia, to inquire about the audit of Duffy’s expenses. One of the auditors confirmed before the Senate committee last week that Runia called to inquire about their work, but said he cut the call short and the process remained independent.
When asked if he would like to see Gerstein appear before the committee to explain why he called the firm, Kinsella did not provide a yes-or-no answer.
“If the matter comes up in committee or chambers, it will be dealt with by the members of that committee,” Kinsella said. Kinsella became chair of the committee last week.
Senators will debate a motion beginning Tuesday that, if passed, would compel Runia to appear before the committee.
When asked if the Senate will ultimately open its own investigation or hold an inquiry, Kinsella said “I’m not going to predict the future.”
With a report from CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife and files from Karolyn Coorsh