(CBC News) – MPs voted Thursday to find the RCMP’s deputy commissionerin contempt of Parliament, accusing her of misleading the House of Commons with the testimony she provided into the so-called pension scandal.
The motion to find Barbara George in contempt was introduced by Liberal Shawn Murphy, who heads the public accounts committee that heard her testimony.
“I move … that the House of Commons find Barbara George in contempt of Parliament for providing false and misleading testimony to the House of Commons standing committee of public accounts on Feb. 21, 2007,” Murphy said.
While MPs voted to pass the motion, they will not take any additional action against George. Murphy has said there is no need to punish her further because the finding of contempt itself is a very serious sanction.
It implies that a person offended the authority or dignity of the House of Commons. Those found in contempt could be jailed, but in past cases, most have been simply handed a stern rebuke or asked to apologize.
RCMP mulls the ruling
Liberal MP Mark Holland, who is also a member of the public accounts committee, said it’s now up to the Mounties to look into George’s testimony.
“It is quite a condemnation by Parliament,” he wrote in an email statement. “It is a very rare move.”
Commissioner William Elliott is considering the finding and will eventually decide how to proceed, according to RCMP spokeswoman Const. Pat Flood. She said George is presently on leave, but is still an employee of the national police force.
“We take this … action by the House of Commons very seriously,” she said. “This is unprecedented in recent history of the organization.”
The CBC’s Allison Crawford, reporting from Ottawa, said if the RCMP decided it wants to launch its own investigation, it would be hampered because George’s testimony is protected by parliamentary privilege and can’t be used as evidence.
George said she wasn’t involved in officer’s removal
George, testifying before the public accounts committee in February 2007, and again in December, insisted she wasn’t involved in Staff-Sgt. Mike Frizzell’s removal from an RCMP-Ottawa police probe into the management of the Mounties’ $12-billion pension and insurance plans.
But Frizzell told the committee George engineered his removal from the joint probe into how RCMP pension and insurance plans were run. Documents indicate George was involved in e-mail traffic about Frizzell’s move.
The pension flap dates back to 2003, with whistleblower allegations of mismanagement, nepotism, questionable expense claims, and contracts given to consultants who did little or no work for their money.
An independent investigation into the scandal concluded in June that former RCMP commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli shook public trust in the police force by permitting the controversy to drag on for years.
Toronto lawyer David Brown, who led the federally appointed investigation, described the RCMP corporate culture as “horribly broken.”
He said the force’s management had mishandled the employee pension fund, but found no evidence to support allegations of a coverup by top RCMP officials.
Elizabeth May pushes for inquiry
Meanwhile, the leader of Canada’s Green Party was calling for an inquiry into another RCMP matter — the income trust scandal.
Elizabeth May said Zaccardelli’s motives during the fiasco must be probed, and his reasons for not testifying to investigators about the matter need to be examined.
“For the RCMP to retain its credibility and the public trust, and for democracy to function, we can’t turn a blind eye to this,” May said Thursday. “We need to make sure Canadians realize that this little story that went by very quickly … is not the end of the day.”
She said she would urge other parties to support her call for an inquiry.
The income trust fiasco began in November 2005, when there was an unusual spike in stock market trading just hours before the reigning Liberals announced their government would not impose a tax on income trusts. Many suspected the announcement had been leaked to Bay Street.
Zaccardelli declared the RCMP was launching a full-fledged criminal investigation into the matter, but he made the announcement during the height of the federal election campaign in December.
Days later, the Conservatives took the lead from the Liberals in the polls, and ultimately won the January 2006 election. Critics have accused Zaccardelli and the RCMP of influencing the election.
The independent Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP led a probe into the matter in March and ruled that no wrongdoing had taken place. However, the commission noted that Zaccardelli had refused to answer any questions or participate in the probe.
Only one charge was ever laid in the income-trust case; Serge Nadeau, a Finance Department bureaucrat, was accused of using inside information to personally profit from trades in income trust shares. He was charged with breach of trust and has yet to face trial.