Friday, March 12, 2010

Are the courts soft on politicians?

Or is it that we don’t understand how the justice system works?

“At the time (early ’50s) it was still widely held, as analysis of the local scene have disclosed, that ‘a person who got something out of the government’ was not really doing anything wrong; and if he was actually in the government, but did not gain financially from it, then ‘there must be something wrong with him.’ The notion of ‘to the victor go the spoils’ was generally accepted as right and just by politicians and people alike.”
— A passage from the 2000 book, Alfred Valdmanis and the Politics of Survival by Gerard P. Bassler.
Latvian-born Alfred Valdmanis was Joey Smallwood’s director of economic development in the early days of Confederation. Valdmanis — who was later accused of being a Nazi collaborator during the Second World War — was charged in April 1954 with two counts of defrauding the Newfoundland government of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In a surprise move in September of that year, Valdmanis pleaded guilty to one of the charges (the other was dropped in a plea bargain), and asked for a lighter sentence.
He was sentenced to four years “hard labour.”
Back then hard labour meant any work assigned to prisoners.
Valdmanis served just over two years and was released.
Upon pleading guilty, Valdmanis also turned over assets that he valued at $568,750.80.
The subsequent sales of the assets netted only $13,450.

How much has changed since then?

Rahim Jaffer
The former Tory MP from Alberta had been charged with drunk driving, cocaine possession and careless driving, but a plea-bargain deal earlier this week let him off with a careless driving conviction and $500 fine.
Jaffer was stopped at 2 a.m. by an Ontario police officer for speeding. He blew over the legal limit, meaning he was drunk. Police also found a bag of cocaine in his vehicle.
Joe Comartin, the NDP justice critic and long-time trial lawyer, tells The Globe and Mail he doesn’t believe Jaffer received favourable treatment for his driving conviction, but he wants the federal and Ontario governments to tell Canadians that.
Comartin believes there's a risk that the Jaffer case will shake the integrity of the judicial system. Questions were immediately raised about political interference as Jaffer is married to a Tory MP — Helena Guergis, Stephen Harper’s minister of state for the status of women.

Ed Byrne
The former NL Tory cabinet minister was sentenced in April 2009 to two years, less a day (meaning time at a provincial jail) after he admitted to forging documents and faking signatures while stealing more than $117,000 through his tax-free constituency allowances.
Byrne was granted day parole, with electronic monitoring, that summer. He was granted full parole in December 2009.

Wally Andersen
The former NL Liberal cabinet minister was sentenced to 15 months in jail in early October 2009 on convictions of forgery and breach of trust in connection with the spending scandal. He also admitted to taking almost $90,000 in public money he wasn’t entitled to. Andersen was released before Christmas on an electronic monitoring program. He was granted full parole last month.

Randy Collins
The former New Democrat was sentenced in January to 21 months for fraud over $5,000, and 18 months for bribery. The sentences run concurrently. Collins was also ordered to pay restitution of nearly $140,000 – the amount he admitted to criminally bilking from taxpayers. In a June 2006 report, Auditor General John Noseworthy alleged that Collins overspent hundreds of thousands of dollars from his taxpayer-funded constituency allowance. The final tab came in at $358,598. Collins has agreed to repay $300,000.

Jim Walsh
The former Liberal cabinet minister who overspent his expense accounts by nearly $160,000 between 1999 and 2004 was found guilty in December on charges of fraud and breach of trust.
He was sentenced in early January to 22 months in jail, and ordered to repay $144,000. Restitution apparently isn’t an issue — $2,500 a month is being deducted from Walsh’s MHA pension.

Bill Murray
He wasn’t a politician, but a public servant, the former bureaucrat at the center of the House of Assembly spending scandal. The House of Assembly’s one-time financial director was sentenced in February to two years — federal time — after pleading guilty to one count of fraud against the government and three counts of illegally accepting rewards. He will also serve two years probation and must pay restitution of $177,000. Murray was also ordered to write a letter of apology to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and publish it in a province-wide newspaper.

I don’t get why the four former MHAs weren’t ordered to write apologies?

One last case to mention on our history of political corruption:

Joey Smallwood
"Graft was rampant," Smallwood biographer Richard Gwyn wrote. Never concealing his admiration for the corrupt Newfoundland leader Richard Squires (of the 1932 Colonial Building riot fame), Smallwood 'didn't object to people using their positions to gain special privilege,' Harold Horwood recalled.
John Crosbie's memoirs accuse even Smallwood of frequent conflicts of interest.
In one case Smallwood hid for years his secret co-ownership of seven liquor stores leased to the Newfoundland government until an exposé by a royal commission. Smallwood's elaborate residence on Roache's Line was paid for by friends and associates.

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