CTV News, Monday, December 1, 2008
The Canadian Press
OTTAWA – The NDP is calling for a police investigation of whether the governing Conservatives committed a criminal offence by recording a confidential New Democrat strategy session last weekend.
In a letter sent Monday to RCMP Commissioner William Elliott, the New Democrats identified John Duncan, the Tory MP for Vancouver Island North, as the person who “apparently” listened in and recorded the telephone conference call.
“I request that the RCMP initiate an investigation into a possible violation of the Criminal Code of Canada,” wrote Anne McGrath, chief of staff to NDP Leader Jack Layton.
She also asked Elliott to “advise me forthwith if you decline to investigate this matter.”
There was no immediate response from the federal police, and Duncan’s office said he was not available for comment.
Aides to Prime Minister Stephen Harper released excerpts from the NDP conference call on Sunday, a day after it was held.
The Tories claimed that comments made on the call indicated the New Democrats had been conspiring with the Bloc Quebecois to undermine Harper’s government even before Finance Minister Jim Flaherty delivered his much-criticized economic update last week.
The Conservatives said they dialled into the call after receiving an email that was sent to a Tory address. They contended that absolved them of any legal blame.
“We were invited,” Harper spokesman Dimitri Soudas said Sunday. “When you get invited somewhere you have the opportunity to choose to participate or not participate.”
Under the Criminal Code it is usually not an offence for one party to a conversation to record the discussion, even if other parties aren’t aware of the taping.
The NDP says, however, that any “reasonable” person who receives an invitation in error should realize he isn’t really invited.
Karl Belanger, a spokesman for Layton, said Monday the party zeroed in on Duncan after checking its email records and finding that a message intended for Linda Duncan, a newly elected New Democrat, had been sent by mistake to John Duncan.
Clayton Ruby, one of the country’s leading criminal lawyers, said that as a general rule the law allows any party to a phone conversation to record it.
But that assumes the party is either the initiator or an intended recipient of the call, said Ruby. “If they include you by mistake you’re not the intended recipient.”
Ruby noted, however, that proving a criminal offence requires evidence that the alleged perpetrator knew what he was doing was wrong. And even in cases where that can technically be proven, it’s rare to see charges laid for unauthorized recording.
“It’s a very minor offence,” said Ruby. “What’s the point of it? Privacy is important, but you can’t protect privacy once it’s gone.”
It’s not the first time recorded conversations — or simply overheard ones — have sparked a furor in Ottawa.,
In 2005, former Conservative MP Gurmant Grewal claimed the federal Liberals had promised him and his wife future government posts if they would bolt Tory ranks and side with the Liberals in a crucial Commons vote.
The claims were hotly contested by the Liberals, who contended that tape recordings produced by Grewal had been doctored.
Earlier this year, another storm broke over allegations that senior aides to Harper had offered now-deceased Independent MP Chuck Cadman a $1-million life insurance policy to side with the Conservatives and bring down Paul Martin’s Liberal government.
Harper has claimed the author of a Cadman biography edited tape-recorded remarks he made on the subject to distort his comments. He has also sued the Liberals for libel over the affair.
A decade ago, Liberal solicitor general Andy Scott was forced to resign after making ill-timed comments about RCMP actions against demonstrators at a 1997 Asia-Pacific summit in Vancouver.
There was no tape recorder present on that occasion, but then-NDP MP Dick Proctor overheard the remarks on a plane flight and went public with them.
No criminal charges were laid in any of those cases. But political eavesdropping does raise ethical questions, said Nelson Wiseman, a University of Toronto political scientist.
“This isn’t just me calling you and taping it, this goes right into Parliament,” said Wiseman.
“You’re getting right at the crux of our democratic system . . . The ethics, they stink.”
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