Tories pressed for answers on Jaffer sentence
Opposition critics are pressing the Harper government to comment on the plea deal former Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer entered into for a careless driving offence, after he had charges of cocaine possession and drunk driving dropped against him.
Rahim Jaffer served as an elected MP for the riding of Edmonton-Strathcona from June 1997 until he lost his seat in the October 2008 federal election. He is married to junior federal cabinet minister Helena Guergis, the Conservative MP for Simcoe-Grey.
Last September, Jaffer was stopped for speeding when he was driving in Palgrave, Ont., a town about 60 kilometres north of Toronto.
Jaffer was heading to his home in Angus, Ont., at the time that he was stopped.
The court heard that Jaffer told police that he drank two beers earlier that evening. Jaffer failed a breathalyzer test and was arrested.
Initially charged with speeding, as well as with cocaine possession and drunk driving, Crown prosecutor Marie Balogh told an Ontario court judge Tuesday that there was no reasonable possibility of conviction on the latter charges.
As a result, those charges were withdrawn and Jaffer pleaded guilty to careless driving, a provincial offence, and was fined $500.
"I'm sure you can recognize a break when you see one," Judge Doug Maund said to Jaffer during his Tuesday court appearance.
His lawyer, Howard Rubel, told reporters that the Jaffer always "refuted" the drunk driving and possession charges.
"The withdrawal of those charges vindicates that refutation," said Rubel.
Margaret Miller, the naional president of MADD Canada, said the plea deal involving Jaffer was a typical one and had gained attention only because of his prior involvement in politics.
"This happens every day in our Canadian courts," Miller said Tuesday.
Following his appearance in court, the 38-year-old Jaffer publicly apologized for the incident. But he would not discuss his guilty plea under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act.
"I should have been more careful. I'm sorry. I know this is a serious matter," he said. "Once again I apologize for that and I take full responsibility for my careless driving."
But opposition critics say an apology is not enough and they have charged the government with staying silent on a matter it would normally be outspoken on.
Liberal strategist Warren Kinsella said the public deserves to know more about the reasons behind Jaffer's arrest.
"Rahim Jaffer, when he was an MP in Edmonton got elected on a tough-on-crime platform," Kinsella told CTV's Canada AM from Toronto on Wednesday morning.
Kinsella said he and other Liberals are "concerned" about the "hypocrisy" of Conservative members, who are supposed to be tough on crime, but appear to be avoiding commenting on a justice-related controversy involving one of their own.
"When these guys were in opposition -- from Harper on down -- every time there was a sentence they didn't like, they'd weigh in on it and say: ‘This is a disgrace and we're going to get tough on crime, and so on,'" Kinsella said.
"But the lesson here seems to be … that there is a different set of rules that apply to Rahim Jaffer because he is one of us."
Citing the fact that the matter occurred in Ontario, Conservative strategist Tim Powers denied that the matter had anything to do with the federal government.
"This is an issue in Ontario and I don't think it reflects on the federal justice system," Powers told CTV's Canada AM from Ottawa.
Powers acknowledged that some members of the public appear to be questioning if Jaffer received special treatment in his court case -- though there is no evidence to suggest that.
But he said it is a matter for the Ontario government to clarify.
"Let's be clear: This happened in the province of Ontario, the Ontario justice system. The government of Ontario needs to explain this particular process, it is separate from the federal government in that regard," Powers said.
The controversy over Jaffer's sentence was brought up in the House of Commons Tuesday by Liberal MP Anita Neville who said the ex-MP had suffered only a "slap on the wrist."
"The Conservatives are conspicuously silent only when the law's being flouted by one of their own," Neville said.
"Does this government really believe that the punishment fits the crime?"
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said Neville's remarks were "about as low as you can go."
With files from The Canadian Press