Friday, September 26, 2008

George Radwanski Will Walk

For two weeks, a judge has heard how the Privacy Commission was a disorganized snakepit when George Radwanski took over. Saddled with a mess-in-progress, Radwanski was also handed all the problems that came with the new Privacy Act and, within a few months, 9-11.
The most troubling of the charges, that Radwanski was involved in a kiting fraud, was given a backhand today by the trial judge. The more minor charge, that Radwanski padded his expenses, had pretty much fallen apart during the trial.
Today's question: was Radwanski screwed by the RCMP for his opposition to closed-circuit cameras in cities and his criticism of the anti-terrorism law? Did the RCMP pull a Maher Arar on the privacy commissioner by feeding dirt on him to the press?

Sep 26, 2008 05:44 PM
Tim Naumetz

OTTAWA–Former privacy commissioner George Radwanski's fraud trial ended today with the presiding judge questioning key points the prosecutor attempted to make as he wrapped up the Crown case.

Justice Paul Belanger of the Ontario Court of Justice told Crown attorney Robert Wadden a key part of his case against Radwanski was a "red herring."

Belanger also indicated acceptable standards and federal policy for public servants extending hospitality at the expense of taxpayers will play a crucial role in his eventual decision.

He questioned at one point whether Wadden could demonstrate that regular weekly lunches Radwanski wrote off as hospitality for working sessions with a top aide were not held for "legitimate business."

Belanger also implied on two occasions that witnesses who could have bolstered the Crown case had not been called, including a former manager in the privacy office and other public servants who might have testified about hospitality practices in the government at large.

The charges centre on thousands of dollars in hospitality expenses Radwanski billed the government for the lunches with Donna Vallieres, his director of communications, policy and research, a $15,000 travel advance Radwanski kept outstanding for more than a year and $16,000 in cash he took out in unearned vacation leave.

Belanger made the "red herring" comment as Wadden was turning his attention to a loan Radwanski obtained from his former chief of staff during a bookkeeping transaction that involved the travel advance. Radwanski took out the advance in May 2002 to pay down his American Express government travel card.

Chief of staff Art Lamarche, also charged with fraud and breach of trust, loaned Radwanski that amount in March 2003, allowing Radwanski to pay down the due advance before the end of the fiscal year. Radwanski took out another $15,000 advance the next month to repay Lamarche.

Radwanski has testified he believed someone in the office made an accounting error over his reimbursements and claims for earlier travel, and he did not intend to pay the advance down until he received a formal accounting of his past claims, expenses and reimbursements.

Wadden was attempting to establish the loan from Lamarche was a key part of the fraud charges against the pair when Belanger essentially brushed the argument aside.

"I think it's a red herring," he told Wadden, adding Radwanski could have borrowed the money from his "mother-in-law." Belanger added he did not put "very much weight on it."

Wadden acknowledged the loan might be "somewhat of a side issue" but countered that the transaction meant both Lamarche and Radwanski had a personal financial interest in Lamarche authorizing the second advance.

The Crown prosecutor forged ahead, arguing the travel advance itself was a fraudulent act because it was not intended for travel even though the form Radwanski and Lamarche used to obtain it was specifically intended for public servants to take out travel advances for planned trips.

"It's actually a fraudulent act," said Wadden. "It's using a travel advance when there is no indication of using it for travel."

Radwanski's lawyer, Michael Crystal, earlier pointed to evidence that showed virtually everyone in the upper echelons of the privacy office was aware what the initial advance was for, while the advance itself contained only one explanatory line, which was a reference to the outstanding Amex card.

Wadden noted the loan Lamarche advanced to Radwanski was repaid through the second advance, which Lamarche authorized, and in that way he stood to benefit personally from the advance.

Lamarche's lawyer, Norman Boxall, argued that throughout all the transactions, his client was responding to Radwanski's instructions and dealing with others in the office on Radwanski's behalf.

When Belanger questioned whether Radwanski and Vallieres might have been legitimately working over their weekly lunches, Wadden replied: "You simply can't do it that often."

Belanger rejoined: "Error in judgment, but fraud, breach of trust?"

Evidence in the trial included government policy that allows senior public servants to extend hospitality to staff for work over mealtimes. But one of the questions facing Belanger is whether Radwanski abused the policy compared with others in the government in similar positions.

Wadden acknowledged the rules allow working lunches, but he said ``for a full year, year after year?"

Belanger said he would require transcripts of the testimony to weigh the evidence and would not have a verdict until November.

1 comment:

JA Goneaux said...

Very interesting question. Although Radawanski isn't exactly a poster boy for due diligence and transparent accountability, I've never got a "bad smell" about him. Business as usual, and he deserves a slap on the hand, but privacy legislation is something that everyone, from libertarians to TRUE conservatives to anarchists should be agreeing on.

For my job I have to know PHIPPA (Personal Health Information Protection Act) like the back of my hand, and you'd be surprised (or not) with the loopholes a smart programmer can find...

Hope you keep up with this, would be interesting to watch.