Tuesday 13 November 2012

“Everybody knows”

[Please note: things are moving so quickly on the Charbonneau Commission inquiry and fallout that this column is already out of date...but I put it here because...I guess I just had to!]

Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay at a press conference at City Hall where he announced his resignation.
Photograph by: Dario Ayala , THE GAZETTE  Read more: http://bit.ly/X4b5Bo

The recent resignations of the mayors of Montreal and Laval, Gerald Tremblay and Gilles Vaillancourt, have left me wondering whether, sometime when I wasn’t quite paying attention, Quebec’s regularly scheduled legal system was substituted with “Survivor: Quebec Politics,” a system of public bullying of those “everybody knows” are guilty. 

It’s as though we’ve decided to skip over all that legal mumbo jumbo we used to call a trial in favour of public shaming, metaphorical tarring and feathering, and the throwing of the bums out.

The Charbonneau Commission into the granting and management of construction contracts, and its associated sideshows, is as close to a legal lynching as anything I’ve ever seen. 

Quebecers are desperate to end these recurring episodes of corruption, and sooner, rather than later. But how does anyone prove to the court of public opinion that he or she DIDN’T do something, when “everybody knows” something nefarious has been going on? 

Messrs. Tremblay and Vaillancourt’s situations became increasingly untenable as time—and innuendo—mounted. But once Martin Dumont alleged Mr. Tremblay knew about dirty versions of municipal campaign expenses, it appeared a line was crossed.

And yet…

Within days of Dumont’s allegation, the Commission’s earlier songbird, Lino Zambito, was disputing Dumont’s version of some facts. Dumont said he met Zambito twice in 2004 in the offices of Union Montreal chief party fundraiser Bernard Trepanier. Zambito denies ever having been in the party offices. He denies even knowing where they are.

Somebody has some ‘splaining to do.

This is why we’re supposed to have a measured, dispassionate, and independent justice system. Instead, it seems we’re bent on satisfying a pack of jackals baying for blood.

If Mr. Duchesneau, former anti-collusion investigation head and current Coalition Avenir Quebec MNA, amassed these allegations, why didn’t he act on them? If he had evidence, why weren’t there charges? 

Jean Charest was vilified for arguing against the public inquiry. He warned that revealing names in public would tar those named as guilty, all without due process. Just mention a monicker and that person immediately loses the presumption of innocence, no matter who, exactly, is shooting off his mouth. But the presumption of innocence is the foundation of our system of laws and we tamper with it at our peril.

If someone accused you of malfeasance--diddling your boss’s accounts years back, say--how easily could you prove your innocence? Even if you were innocent? Especially if you were innocent.
Take, as an object lesson, another case in the news, that of former RCMP deputy commissioner Barbara George. After a distinguished 30-year career with the Mounties, she tackled a high-profile 2007 inquiry into an RCMP pension fund scandal. 

Barbara George
RCMP Staff Sergeant Mike Frizzell accused her of stifling his investigation into the pension fund imbroglio. MPs of the Public Accounts Committee bought Frizzell’s account and held George in contempt of Parliament

By the time it was over, according to Global news, members of the House of Commons committee said she lied during testimony before them, Liberal then-MP Borys Wrzesnewsky alleged outside the House that she committed perjury and, finally, her reputation destroyed, George was forced to resign from the RCMP.

There was only one small problem: Barbara George was innocent. She was actually exonerated by the RCMP and the Ontario Provincial Police, in separate investigations. But the truth didn’t matter and her career was destroyed.

Is it wise to put all this faith in the words of men like Zambito and Dumont? Why are they coming forward now? I understand the media and political opposition are going to town on this dog and pony show, but seriously: were these men suddenly having trouble sleeping nights? 
Who’s to say they aren’t settling a few scores with their accusations? Drive-by shooting of reputations, as it were.

The Charbonneau Commission hasn’t even hit its stride and already has the heads of two of our mayors. I sure hope all the accused are guilty. And, failing that, I hope they, like Barbara George, can take action against those who slander them. Recently, former Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewsky publicly apologized to Ms. George as part of the $4 million libel action settlement.

I have no sympathy for liars, fraudsters, mobsters, or corruption. But naming people in the absence of corroborating evidence and without their being able to mount a defence is more like McCarthyism than a sober, dispassionate investigation. Which is what is meant by that blindfold on those statues of Lady Justice. 

Not that Mr. Tremblay’s or Mr. Vallaincourt’s refutations would have made much difference in this climate. Because, as Leonard Cohen might have said, “everybody knows” the jig is up.


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