At the time this article was
written John Reimer was the Member of Parliament for Kitchener
In 1985, I was under RCMP
investigation for "spending irregularities" pertaining to the Federal
election of 1984. I first became aware that I was under investigation on May 3,
1985, through a Canadian Press wire story carried in the Globe and Mail
and in my local newspaper, the Kitchener-Waterloo Record. The Election
Commissioner had not notified me of the investigation. If the article had not
appeared in the press I would not have known that an investigation was being
I contacted Joseph Gorman, the
Elections Commissioner, who confirmed that I was under investigation, however,
he could not tell me what the specific allegations were. He could only say that
a complaint had been lodged with him by someone in Kitchener. He mentioned that
either I or my Official Agent, Dick Pedlar, would be contacted by the RCMP.
On August 29, 1985, an RCMP officer
went to Mr. Pedlar and reviewed the complaint and related details of our
election expenses. The accusation was that we had overspent by not reporting
all election expenses. Five areas were raised: The party leader's
letter-campaign from Progressive Conservative Headquarters in Ottawa; alleged
payment of telephone canvassers; lawn signs; brochures; print media
Members of Parliament, though
clearly not above the law, should at least receive the protection of the law
and the presumption of innocence granted to all other citizens.
I was never directly informed when
the investigation was completed nor that I was cleared. In late September,
1985, there was a press report that a Minister was also under investigation.
When Progressive Conservative Party Headquarters contacted the Election
Commissioner's Office for further details, Headquarters was informed, as an
aside, that another investigation had just been completed.
When pressed further, the
Commissioner's Office revealed that it was my investigation that had been
completed. Headquarters relayed this information to me. I called the
Commissioner for confirmation. Indeed, he told me that I had been exonerated:
there were no spending irregularities, everything was in order, and the matter
was closed as far as the Election Commissioner was concerned. I requested the
Commissioner to put this in writing. With some reluctance, he agreed. My
experience illustrates five points:
The Member of Parliament is not informed that he is under investigation,
unless he learns of it in the press.
He is not informed of the specific nature of the allegations until an
RCMP officer contacts him or his Official Agent.
The process is quite slow. After I first heard of it, the investigation
took 15 more weeks to complete. It takes another month after the conclusion of the
investigation before the result is available.
The Member of Parliament is not even then informed that the
investigation has concluded.
He must pursue the matter himself and coax a letter to that effect from
Although I was glad to be exonerated,
I must question a process in which anyone, for whatever reasons, can trigger an
investigation merely by registering a complaint. Secondly, I question why the
Election Commissioner's Office discloses the names of people under
investigation if the media simply inquires. This creates a situation where one
is made to appear guilty by a complainant who, knowing the process, may be
playing political games to smear the winner.
Surely, common courtesy should
dictate that the Member of Parliament be informed of the fact of the
investigation before it is made public by disclosure to the media. Better
still, and far more importantly, the investigation should first be conducted
privately by the RCMP and the Commissioner for Elections. Then, only if charges
are to be laid, should the charges and the fact of the investigation be made
The democratic process would be
enhanced by reducing the number of frivolous allegations, and by removing the
deterrent to decent people seeking political office caused by the threat of
unwarranted damaging publicity.
In normal legal procedure, the
police first do a private, thorough investigation to be certain that they have
grounds to support a charge before they charge someone and publicly state the
nature of the charge. In the case of an alleged violation of the Canada
Elections Act, the fact of the investigation is made public before either
the Election Commissioner or the RCMP know whether they in fact will lay a
charge. That process is wrong. It creates a situation of conviction by innuendo
in the media. Further, it presumes one is guilty without any charges being
laid. This is especially true given the present low regard in which politicians
are held by the public in North America.
I have no quarrel with the need for
the RCMP and the Elections Commissioner to look into every possible spending
irregularity. That is totally correct. However, they should do so in private,
and then only make the issue public if charges are going to be laid. Therefore,
I propose that the Canada Elections Act be amended to include provisions
similar to the relevant sections of Bill C-79 (An Act to amend the Canada
Elections Act and other acts in relation thereto which received first
reading, June 30, 1987).
I also recommend that a provision
be added to require that a Member of Parliament be notified in writing that an
investigation of him has been completed and that he has been exonerated. These
changes would correct the present procedure to protect the innocent from
wrongful and totally unjustified accusation and conviction in the media.