Jessica Leeder, Ottawa (Globe and Mail) – A high-ranking Mountie who could be cited for contempt of Parliament says she has been misunderstood by a parliamentary committee that has been misled by RCMP whistleblowers.
Deputy Commissioner Barbara George testified under oath before the House of Commons public accounts committee three times last year in an effort to counter allegations she tried to block an investigator looking into the force’s pension scandal from probing her department and exploring whether she herself was involved.
Ms. George said once she learned of the close relationship between the Mounties who blew the whistle and committee members (Staff Sergeant Ron Lewis, for example, told The Globe and Mail he wrote the questions Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj used to grill Ms. George at committee hearings) she began to feel attempts to clear her name at subsequent hearings would be futile.
“I thought my God, I have no chance of anybody listening to this truth,” said the 29-year RCMP veteran. “I have no chance of anybody accepting it. I am absolutely judged and condemned and executed before I even walked into that room.”
Ms. George, who insists her story has yet to be fully told, has become the most high-profile casualty of the pension and insurance fund scandal that unfolded at the RCMP’s Ottawa headquarters between 2000 and 2005. The scandal centred on the unauthorized transfers of several million dollars from the RCMP pension and insurance funds to pay for contracts of little value and wages of employees’ relatives hired as temporary workers.
The scandal became public last year when Staff Sgt. Lewis appealed to Mr. Wrzesnewskyj, and the public accounts committee launched its own investigation. The RCMP’s credibility was shaken after five whistleblowers, led by Staff Sgt. Lewis, testified they suspected high-level members of the force attempted to cover up wrongdoing. Their revelations contributed to Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day’s decision to launch an independent investigation into how to restore accountability to the RCMP.
The committee recently concluded its probe by recommending Ms. George be cited for contempt of Parliament for “inconsistencies” in her testimony, a decision Ms. George said has thrown her life and career into limbo.
When the committee’s investigation began in February of 2007, Ms. George was the head of human resources for the RCMP, the force’s highest-ranking female officer and a contender for the Commissioner’s post.
On her first day of testimony, Feb. 21, 2007, Mr. Wrzesnewskyj asked Ms. George whether she was involved in having Sergeant Mike Frizzell, an investigator probing her department, removed from that assignment. Ms. George, who was not involved in the investigation due to the fact it had been turned over to the Ottawa Police force to avoid conflicts of interest, testified she did not.
Ms. George told The Globe that at the time she testified, she had never had any direct dealings with Sgt. Frizzell.
She said one of her employees had complained in June, 2005, that Sgt. Frizzell’s investigative techniques seemed harassing. As a federal employee, Ms. George said she was compelled to notify Sgt. Frizzell’s superiors. This was complicated by the fact Sgt. Frizzell had been seconded to Ottawa Police to assist the investigation.
Ultimately, Ms. George placed calls or e-mails to three of Sgt. Frizzell’s supervisors.
“I didn’t actually ask for his head on a platter,” she said. “I just wanted to have him taken aside, respectfully, quietly, to say ‘can you tone it down.’ ”
Ms. George said Sgt. Frizzell’s supervisors told her days later that he had been served with a cease and desist order. Around the same time, Ms. George said she also learned the broader pension investigation had been concluded, so she figured the harassment issue was “a moot point.”
Ms. George said she had no idea that when he was served with the order, Sgt. Frizzell had been investigating a letter she signed that caused him to consider her a suspect and therefore viewed her handling of the harassment case as interference with his work. Ms. George said she still didn’t know that, two years later in February of 2007, when she gave her first testimony to the committee.
At that time, Sgt. Frizzell had not yet spoken publicly about his perception of Ms. George’s interference. But his feelings that Ms. George had pulled him off the investigation had been conveyed privately via Staff Sgt. Lewis to Mr. Wrzesnewskyj. (Ms. George said if Sgt. Frizzell had been allowed to continue his investigation, he would have seen the trail to her was cold).
And so, when Ms. George failed to offer any details of her involvement with the harassment issue during her first appearance before the committee, Mr. Wrzesnewskyj became suspicious of her, and ultimately accused Ms. George of perjuring herself.
“Everyone understands that when they appear before a parliamentary committee, it’s explained to them that they’re covered by parliamentary privilege,” he said in a recent interview, referring to the fact that witnesses cannot be prosecuted for their testimony. “The standard is quite different than evidence witnesses have to provide in court. The answers are to be truthful but fulsome.”
Ms. George told The Globe that had she known on her first day of testimony that Sgt. Frizzell had suspected her, and that committee members had been told of his suspicions, she would have offered details of the harassment issue to help clear the air.
At the time, she was under the impression the harassment complaint “had no relevance whatsoever … to the investigation. It was only an allegation,” she said.
“Why would I muddy his name?
“We’re sitting here today talking about this 13 months later because I didn’t say ‘Oh, and by the way, Frizzell was accused of harassment.’ “