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Are the federal Liberals a 'gang'? If the shoe fits... Print E-mail
Written by Link Byfield   
Monday, 11 April 2005

Gilles Duceppe, leader of the Bloc Quebecois, charged last Tuesday that a "parallel" group operated at the highest levels inside the Liberal party during the years of the sponsorship scandal (1997 to 2001).

On Thursday, Conservative Peter McKay called it a "criminal conspiracy."

Paul Martin replied to Duceppe, "If there is an isolated group who did wrong, it will be punished. No one in this country is above the law."

It would be nice to think so.

We should divide the cast of characters in the sponsorship drama into "Higher-ups" (ministers, ex-ministers and mandarins) and "Lower-downs" (mid-level bureaucrats and ad agency executives).

It is now beyond dispute that Liberal government Higher-ups "broke every rule in the book" (to quote our auditor general).

For example, they suspended the standard anti-fraud policy which requires that payments for services not be approved by the same person who ordered the services.

The program operated for four years before the government reported its existence to Parliament, and then only after the scandal broke.

Almost no records were kept of sponsorship spending details. Large fees and commissions totalling $100 million were paid for services of little or no value. Detailed contract awards were made by ministers and political staff. The normal civil service line-of-command was routinely by-passed. No written goals for the sponsorship program were ever written, and no value-for-money audits ever performed.

(For a well-documented survey of the Chretien government's many, many scandals, read the book by Paul Tuns, "Jean Chretien, Legacy of Scandal," available from

However, even though various Higher-ups did all of the above, none of it is necessarily criminal. Breaking government guidelines does not amount to breaking the Criminal Code.

Three of the "Lower-downs"--one bureaucrat and two ad execs--were criminally charged last year with multiple counts of fraud and conspiracy.

It is very difficult to prove criminal fraud. Nonetheless, the police think they can convict three of the Lower-downs. The first trial, that of ad agency executive Jean Brault, is set to begin in June.

You need so many details to prove a fraud charge, however, I doubt the police could ever get the Higher-ups with anything like that.

Fortunately, they don't need to.

Section 467 of the Criminal Code says that any three or more people who cooperate to break the law constitute a "criminal organization." It's called the "gang law."

They don't need a group name. They don't even need to know each other. They just need to be working a system together which has as one of its objects commission of crime.

Anyone who knowingly allows or helps a "criminal organization" to commit a crime commits a crime himself, punishable by five years' prison (section 467.11[1]).

The Code states that the Crown need not prove that the accused knew of the specific nature of the crime or who did it.

If any Lower-downs are convicted of fraud, then charging some of the Higher-ups under this new section of the Criminal Code should be like shooting fish in a barrel. All that matters is that they knew what was going on, and (by act or omission) allowed it to proceed.

Keep section 467 in mind as more sordid testimony spills out at the Gomery inquiry.

Attorney-general Irwin Cotler may soon face a hard choice between loyalty to his friends and loyalty to his oath of office.

- Link Byfield

Link Byfield is chairman of the Edmonton-based Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy, and an Alberta senator-elect.
"Just Between Us" is a feature service of the Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy. The purpose of the Citizens Centre is to enhance freedom and democracy by enabling ordinary citizens to become active and effective on important issues outside the normal processes of party politics.

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