Friday, April 18, 2014

The Unconscionable Nuttiness of Michael Harris

iPolitics columnist Michael Harris is bitter. Very bitter. And because the RCMP have elected not to take any prisoners in l'affaire Nigel Wright, neither will he, apparently.

This week, the RCMP cleared Wright of any criminal wrongdoing. It had been alleged that Wright had committed "frauds upon the government" by giving now-suspended Senator Mike Duffy $90,000 to repay expenses that have been alleged to have been improperly claimed. A decision by the RCMP on whether or not Duffy has committed any crime is said to be forthcoming. It sounds like charges might be laid.

About the RCMP's decision, Harris is apparently furious. Furious enough that he and his left-wing cohorts haven't gotten their way that he's taken it upon himself to impugn the RCMP's independence.

"The other night on television, Stephen Harper’s former communications manager, Geoff Norquay, said that since the RCMP has assured Nigel Wright he will not be charged, nobody cares about the whole stinking mess any longer.

Well, I do. As the saying goes, justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done.

In order for that to happen in the case of Nigel Wright, we deserve a full explanation of how this decision was made — and who ultimately made it."

Apparently for Harris -- who openly chafes at any suggestion that he holds a cavalier attitude toward the law -- justice being done and being seen to be done precludes the RCMP declining to charge someone who hasn't actually broken the law. An impressive leap of logic, that.

And now that the RCMP have declined to press charges against Wright apparently everyone within the RCMP must suddenly account for where they stand, and what role they had -- if any -- in the decision to not charge Wright with fraud.

Corporal Greg Horton? Commissioner Bob Paulson? Only one is known (Horton) to have played any role whatsoever in the investigation, but apparently both must answer to Michael Harris, apparently.

But here's the thing: the RCMP's decision not to charge Wright is far from surprising, and not for the reasons that Harris insinuates.

To reach this conclusion, it's worthwhile to take measure of just what Harris is alleging makes Wright's cheque to Duffy criminal:

"Even though the RCMP investigation into Nigel Wright has been dropped, what about the Parliament of Canada Act? Under Section 16 of that statute, it is an indictable offence to give a senator compensation for services rendered with respect to 'any claim, controversy, arrest, or other matter before the Senate'."

Harris' reading of the Parliament of Canada act reads with all the expertise of someone whose doctorate of laws is honourary. It seems that Wright's and Duffy's financial arrangement lacks a key component: any services rendered.

Awkward, that.

But let's take a look at what some legal experts had to say about l'affaire Wright. As it just so happens, Harris loves experts. He could listen to and defer to them all day. Or so he says.

But what did the experts say?

Well, Canada's top expert on fraud law, David Debenham, had this to say:

"'Some of us are not convinced that [Mr Wright] did break the law, actually,' said David Debenham, a partner at the Ottawa-based law firm of McMillan. Even if all the details of the document were proven true, Mr Debenham believes they offer thin proof of any wrongdoing.

'[Mr Wright appears to be] basically trying to help Mr. Duffy to do the right thing. There doesn’t seem to be a personal motive. He’s not trying to persuade Mr Duffy to break the law, he’s offering the money so Mr Duffy can comply with the law.'
Further, Mr. Debenham said he remains perplexed as to whether the ITO is even offering evidence that condemns Mr Wright’s actions. 'What, exactly, is the corruption element here? There doesn’t seem to be any influence peddling,' he said."

For the record, Mr Debenham doesn't have an honourary doctorate of laws. He just has 25 years of experience in the field as an actual lawyer (not merely as an activist). Oh, and he also co-chairs the Supreme Court Practice Group. No biggie. Certainly no reason why Harris, with his honourary doctorate in law, would want to defer to an expert.

There's two reasons why Mr Harris would discard Mr Debenham's actual expertise in favour of his own honourary (read: not actual) expertise. One reason is that he is simply unaware of it -- that in writing this column he simply failed to do his research. It wouldn't be the first time. The second is that it wasn't sufficiently political enough for Mr Harris, and so he discarded it.

Even while he tries to ascribe it to others, this is Harris' modus operandi. He politicizes everything. Now he's out to politicize the RCMP.

This is the basest form of political iconoclasm: nothing that disputes Harris' position can be acknowledged, and any institution that declines to act as his personal political enforcers must apparently be razed to the ground. Never mind that the facts do not, and never have, justified charging Wright with fraud. That doesn't matter. Harris is determined to see conservative scalps taken, and any institution that doesn't gleefully go along with it must be horribly corrupted.

But sadly Harris has played a mean trick on himself that he doesn't seem to have comprehended: in declaring his non-confidence in the RCMP simply because he didn't get his way, Harris has precluded confidence in the RCMP period. Had the RCMP charged Wright -- in clear contradiction of the requisite legal principles -- Harris could have feigned confidence in the RCMP, but it could not have been legitimate. His confidence -- or lack thereof -- in the RCMP is entirely flippant, the hallmark of a cavalier attitude toward the law. And now everyone knows it.

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