Guergis unfairly targeted, says Liberal party president
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Sunday, May 16, 2010 2:12PM EDT
Ousted Conservative cabinet minister Helena Guergis is getting some sympathy from an unlikely quarter: the president of the Liberal party.
Alfred Apps, the federal party president and lawyer, told CTV's Question Period Sunday that he believes Guergis was treated unfairly by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
"This whole Guergis situation is what I hope will become a big wakeup call to Canadians," he said. "We treat our public servants … with just horrific disrespect these days and then we go on and treat our members (of Parliament), we don't give them the natural justice that we would expect to give to ordinary Canadians."
Guergis was forced last month to resign as a junior cabinet minister, but Harper also kicked her out of the Conservative caucus for what he called serious allegations and announced he was turning the matter over to the parliamentary ethics commissioner and the RCMP.
Last week, the prime minister revoked her status as the Tory candidate in the Ontario riding of Simcoe-Grey, which Guergis has held since 2004.
Apps said that while the prime minister has every right to choose his cabinet ministers, to kick Guergis out of the Conservative party and her riding based on allegations is unfair.
"He's basically taken onto himself, on the basis of serious and credible allegations -- and there's no evidence yet that they were either serious or credible … her effective demonization; her ostracization; her vilification; the complete destruction of her political career," Apps said.
"And he's pre-empted the fact that she was voted in by the constituents of her riding."
Harper has consistently refused to detail the allegations that led to Guergis's ouster, but Apps said that isn't right either.
"She has the right to know specifically the allegations against her; she has the right to be heard and answer to those allegations."
New Democrat MP Pat Martin, a member of the parliamentary committee probing the allegations around Guergis and her husband, former Tory MP Rahim Jaffer, acknowledged that it may be that "guilt by association is the worst of her offences."
But Conservative Shelly Glover said the prime minister had no choice but to fire Guergis.
"These were serious allegations that were brought forward to the prime minister and frankly he did the right thing," she said. "He is the prime minister of the country and we need to maintain confidence in all the people working for him."
Apps said that the Guergis affair is just the latest example of how Parliament has become a forum for "drive-by slams," where reputations can be smeared under the protection of parliamentary immunity from libel or slander lawsuits.
"Testimony occurs with complete parliamentary immunity, behind closed doors," he said. "So therefore those who are members of the committee have a responsibility to make sure that the issues raised are germane and they're appropriate to the process."
Apps said he nearly became a casualty of such a "drive-by slam" when the Commons committee probing the Guergis-Jaffer case heard from a private investigator who testified that the Liberal party president helped a businessman with ties to Jaffer evade a fraud charge.
"Needless to say, it wasn't a great moment in my life," Apps told Question Period. "Fortunately, there was some braggadocio on the other side that tipped us off ahead of time."
Private investigator Derrick Snowdy testified that Apps was "the getaway driver" for the businessman, now accused of fraud.
In fact, Apps' law firm took a retainer from the man in 2006, as they would with any potential client, but quickly returned it when they decided not to represent him.
"What worried me … was that if we hadn't been made aware in advance that this allegation was going to surface … there would've been a full news cycle where the Liberal party president was described as the getaway driver for someone that was an alleged fraudster."
"It was only because we were actually in a position to know that and to respond with the facts that I avoided what I would consider very serious damage to my reputation."