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RCMP head ducks serious questions

|Written By Richard Cleroux

RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli has never been elected to anything. But "Zacc the Man," who has been running "the force" for half a dozen years, has more staying power than all the politicians in Ottawa.

The Hill by Richard Cleroux

No matter how much dirt the Mounties get on their boots, how much trouble they get into, or how closely they flirt with politics, Zaccardelli with his charming smile and "aw shucks" approach manages to stay in good with the powers that be and survive another day.

A week ago, he was before the Senate committee on national security. There were a lot of questions about a lot of things that he could have answered.

What about the mysterious RCMP investigation into the income trust leak out of former Finance minister Ralph Goodale's office, announced by the Mounties on Dec. 23 in reply to a complaint by New Democrat Judy Wasylycia-Leis?

Was it on purpose? Did the Mounties not realize that news of an investigation into Goodale, the most honest man in the Liberal cabinet, smack in the middle of an election campaign would salt away the Liberals for good? Just as they were sticking their heads out of the coffin, the lid was slammed back down on them.

If it was so important back in mid-election, why have no charges been laid? Is there still an investigation? Are we waiting for the fall, about the time of the Liberal leadership convention?

What about last year's sponsorship scandal? Why have no more charges been laid? Is it no longer important? Has the evidence disappeared? Did the Liberals eat it?

What about $500,000 in sponsorship money the Mounties got to buy new uniforms and horses for their 125th anniversary? Who lost the cancelled cheque at RCMP headquarters? Looking for leads? Try reading the Gomery Report.

Zaccardelli was never asked any of these questions because he quickly took the lead before the senators and dropped a bombshell about organized crime that eclipsed everything else.

". . . our best guess is that we're able to tackle maybe a third of what we know is out there, in terms of serious organized crime," he said. "And remember, when I say one-third, that's of what we know."

Wow. And we thought the Mounties always got their man. Hey, they don't even nab one in three.

If that wasn't enough, Zaccardelli added that terrorists are in cahoots with organized crime. Wow. Talk about something to make you forget whether anybody got e-mail from Scott Brison.

Italian, Russian, and Asian organized crime gangs have taken over our airports, seaports and the U.S.-Canada border, he added. Headlines for the next day, to be sure.

But the commissioner said he was "very pleased" with the money Conservatives bestowed on him in this month's budget ? $161 million more to recruit and train 1,000 police officers over the next 10 years, and $37 million more to expand the RCMP training school in Regina.

It's enough to restore the swimming pool, Zaccardelli said, even though, he added, he doesn't swim. (But he rides.)

But not a word from Zaccardelli about the $200 million in the budget to arm border guards, a scheme that last year he likened to "having a customs officer run out of his hut and shoot after" criminals. A big joke back then. But this year, nothing to declare from Zaccardelli.

Before he faced the senators, Zaccardelli had his assistant Paul Marsh write down reporters' questions to answer after the meeting. But after he finished, Zaccardelli rushed out past reporters, refusing to speak and without offering an explanation.

The questions persist. What about the damning evidence that came out of Justice Dennis O'Connor's Inquiry into the Arar affair last summer?

In October 2002, the assistant commissioner of the RCMP instructed his staff to hold back vital information about how the Mounties helped the U.S. government ship Maher Arar off for interrogation and torture in Syria.

Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham was left in the dark, telling everybody that the Mounties had not been involved.

When the Mounties lie to their own political superiors to protect themselves and their friends in the U.S. government, one might expect an explanation somewhere along the line.

Arar, a 34-year old telecommunications engineer, was held by the Americans for 12 days in New York, then secretly flown to Jordan and then Syria, where he was tortured into making false confessions, all of which have proven completely useless for intelligence purposes.

It was not the Mounties' finest hour, to say nothing of the performance of their American friends.

Later it came out that in April 2002, a secret group known as Project A-O Canada, operating within the RCMP, had sent their entire security database to the Americans, with no provisos or restrictions and without telling the Canadian government, setting the stage for the Americans to decide which Canadians they should arrest and send overseas to the Middle East for incarceration and questioning.

Things got even further out of hand at one point. The Mounties wanted to send the Syrians a list of questions to ask Canadians under interrogation in Syrian jails.

The request worked its way up to Zaccardelli who had the good sense to veto the plan. O'Connor's report is due this summer.

Last week it came out that the Mounties will be moving soon to a $625-million new headquarters in a vacant complex of high-tech buildings. The property was bought last summer by a developer for $60 million. Talk about a nice deal.

Zaccardelli had nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with the choice. Don't blame him. It was Public Works, headed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's appointed senator from Montreal, friend and fund-raiser Michael Fortier.

In the meantime, don't worry, Stephen, the force is still with you.

Richard Cleroux is a freelance reporter and columnist on Parliament Hill.

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