Inquiry into police abuse of power relaunched

Canadian Prime Minister's role ruled off limits

By Keith Jones
24 December 1998

After weeks of turmoil and suspended hearings, an inquiry into the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's treatment of protesters at last year's Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vancouver has been relaunched. But in announcing that Ted Hughes, a former judge and deputy Attorney General of British Columbia, will now have sole responsibility for conducting the inquiry, RCMP Public Complaints Commission Chairwoman Shirley Heafey stipulated that the inquiry will not probe the role Prime Minister Jean Chretien, his aides and other Liberal government officials played in directing the RCMP's actions.

"The prime minister is not my mandate," declared Heafey. "I'm not going to pretend anything else. My mandate is RCMP conduct." Heafey's remarks directly contradict statements by former Solicitor-General Andy Scott. In answer to calls by the Liberals' parliamentary opponents for a parliamentary inquiry or a royal commission into the APEC affair, Scott said that the RCMP Complaints Commission would have free rein to consider the government's role.

According to Heafey, Hughes will be able to hear evidence that RCMP officers acted on government orders, but he is not empowered to make any comment on the propriety of the government's conduct. Although Heafey did not say so explicitly, her remarks all but rule out Hughes's acting on the complainants' demand that Chretien himself be called before the inquiry.

Documents given to the Complaints Commission--some by the RCMP and some obtained by the complainants under Canada's Freedom of Information legislation--show that the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) ordered the police to run roughshod over the anti-APEC protesters' civil rights, so as to ensure that the APEC dignitaries never came in contact with any opposition to the summit, even posters. PMO and External Affairs Department correspondence indicates that the Chretien government ordered the repression, because it feared Indonesian dictator Suharto might otherwise not attend the summit. There are also allegations that the brutal pepper spray attack the RCMP mounted on anti-APEC demonstrators, without warning, was commanded by a top aide in the Prime Minister's Office.

Heafey's redefining of the inquiry's mandate sheds new light on the conflict between her and the three commissioners she previously charged with investigating the APEC affair. On December 4, Gerald Morin, the head of the APEC inquiry, resigned charging Heafey with "interference." The following week the other two commissioners also quit, saying their work had been compromised, a gesture widely interpreted as a show of support for Morin.

Morin has never explained his differences with Heafey, other than to say that she had objected to his request that the commission pay his legal expenses in fighting a court action aimed at shutting the inquiry down that was launched by 39 RCMP officers named in the APEC protesters' complaint. The RCMP officers charged Morin was biased against them, on the basis of a conversation another RCMP officer allegedly overheard while he and Morin were in a Saskatchewan casino.

Morin's actions, however, indicate that he thought himself the target of a "dirty tricks" operation. After his car and office were broken into, Morin ordered a sweep of the inquiry's offices for electronic listening devices.

Given the facts now in the public domain, it is impossible to sort out exactly where all the players line up in the APEC affair. For whatever reasons, the government and RCMP both appear to have wanted Morin sacked. Morin was a small town lawyer and aboriginal. His successor, by contrast, is well known in both government and police circles, and, according to press reports, "wide[ly] respected for his handling of politically sensitive issues."

Certain important points, nonetheless, can be made.

See Also:
Reporter disciplined under pressure from Canadian Prime Minister's Office
Exposed Chretien government's role in suppression of APEC protests

[13 November 1998]
To please Suharto, Canadian government suppressed protests
What's behind the APEC furor?

[29 October 1998]