Volume 92, Issue 9

Thursday, September 17, 1998

service with a smile


Police turn their heads - for the moment

By Dave Yasvinski
Gazette Staff

The Public Complaints Commission investigating the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Vancouver could soon face the prospect of serving a subpoena to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien.

The PCC's inquiry into the actions of the RCMP working security detail at last November's Asia Pacific Economic Summit at the University of British Columbia has become more complicated amid rumours the prime minister's office may have been involved.

Aymen Nader, one of the lawyers representing student protestors at the inquiry, said the allegations centre around the belief that Indonesian President Suharto would not have participated in the conference if protestors created an embarrassing situation.

Nader said as a result of this concern, the RCMP moved the protest area back so far from the motorcade route it might have been a violation of freedom of speech rights. They also removed a banner from protestors stating it was a security risk. "There has to be an explanation as to why [the RCMP] behaved this way, this was not a security risk," he said.

The committee has stated they want to see all the evidence before they decide whether or not to subpoena Chrétien, added Nader.

The prime minister's press secretary, Jennifer Lang, said they were only concerned with safeguarding the conference. "We acted solely in the interests of security."

Lang also said that when Chrétien was recently asked whether or not he would testify if subpoenaed, his response was "that is a hypothetical question. We want the inquiry to proceed with its work."

Counsel for the PCC, Chris Constitine, said whether or not there was interference by the PMO they will look at what the RCMP did that day and determine if it was their decision or if it was decided for them. "If the prime minister has relevant evidence to give, he will be asked to testify," he said.

Constitine added two of Chrétien's senior staff have already received subpoenas to testify.

Sgt. Russell Grabb, spokesperson for the RCMP in Vancouver, said the information coming from the PMO was security related. "Our information is the nature of the input received from the prime minister's office was concerned with the safety of the leaders and planning a large conference," he said.

Whether or not the PMO crossed the boundary of safeguarding world leaders at APEC, is up to the commission to decide, said Grabb. "Whether or not the allegation is true is something they will determine – until everything is out nobody should be drawing any conclusions about anything," he said.

However, student protestor Alissa Westergard-Thorpe, said she has no doubt the PMO was involved. "The prime minister is implicated in political interference," she said.

The commission's inquiry has been suspended for three weeks until Oct. 5 at the request of the student protestors. Constitine said the inquiry was scheduled to last six weeks but will likely take much longer to settle.

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