Thursday, March 29, 2007

Emergency meeting probes alleged RCMP cover-up

Emergency meeting probes alleged RCMP cover-up
Canadian Press

OTTAWA — A Liberal MP is calling for a public inquiry into what he calls a “culture of corruption” in senior RCMP ranks amid allegations of obstruction and cover-up and the resignation of one senior Mountie.

Borys Wrzesnewskyj, a member of the Commons public accounts committee, says a full probe is needed after RCMP officers alleged fraud and abuse in the management of their pension and insurance plans.

A senior Mountie has stepped down and the committee was holding an emergency meeting away from public eyes on Thursday morning to plan its next steps.

RCMP Sergeant Natalie Deschenes said the deputy commissioner in charge of human resources, Barb George, offered to quit her post and the resignation was accepted. Ms. George had yet to be reassigned.

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A House of Commons committee will consider a motion Thursday to force ex-RCMP commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli and other former senior and current RCMP officers to testify after some of their colleagues alleged fraud Wednesday in the management of their pension plans.

The hard-hitting accusations came in testimony before the committee Wednesday, as serving and retired officers alleged that senior Mounties tried to block probes into management of the RCMP's pension and insurance plans.

In a scathing report last fall, Auditor General Sheila Fraser found millions in inappropriate charges to the pension and insurance plans.

Conservative MP and public accounts committee member John Williams said the panel expects former commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli to testify within a week.

Mr. Wrzesnewskyj said Thursday “the lid's off” now and more meetings must be held to set the stage for a full public inquiry into the matter.

“And then hopefully a public inquiry will do the digging that's required,” he said.

“This culture of corruption at the top echelons of the RCMP has to be addressed.”

Mr. Zaccardelli resigned as commissioner in December after delivering contradictory testimony to another Commons committee about the Maher Arar affair.

The former top Mountie was harshly criticized before the public accounts committee Wednesday.

“While trying to expose these wrongdoings, which were both criminal and code-of-conduct violations, I had face-to-face meetings and complaints up to and including Commissioner Zaccardelli,” Ron Lewis, a retired RCMP staff sergeant told the MPs.

“I was met with inaction, delays, roadblocks, obstruction and lies. The person who orchestrated most of this cover-up was Commissioner Zaccardelli.”

Mr. Zaccardelli told CBC News that the allegations were baseless, and that no money was missing from the RCMP funds.

The Mounties had asked Ottawa municipal police to conduct a criminal investigation of possible fraud, but Crown attorneys concluded in 2005 there was no point in laying charges because the evidence was likely too weak to obtain convictions.

Ms. Fraser said she was assured by the municipal police that there was no interference from the RCMP. But she also observed that the lead investigator reported directly to a senior RCMP officer, raising a potential public perception of bias.

At the public accounts committee, several officers testified they were stonewalled by more than one senior executive, including Mr. Zaccardelli, when they tried to raise questions about the pension and insurance plans with RCMP leadership.

“The RCMP has had a small groups of managers who, through their actions and inactions, are responsible for serious breaches in our core values, the RCMP code of conduct and even the criminal code,” said Chief Superintendent Fraser Macaulay.

He testified that he was transferred to work with the Defence Department for two years after he asked too many questions.

Sergeant Steve Walker said: “Every core value and rule of ethical conduct that I held to be true and dear as a rank-and-file member of the RCMP has been decimated and defiled by employees at the highest levels of the RCMP.”

Members of the committee appeared shocked by the allegations against the high-ranking members of the force.

“I'm a lawyer and I tell you they would be in court if it was anyone else, and packing a tooth brush for prison,” said Conservative MP Brian Fitzpatrick.

Said Liberal Shawn Murphy: “The cover-up is worse than the crime.”

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