Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Ann Lord Affair Reeks of Political Interference

NDP needs to prove lack of political interference in fraud case

Apparently, Saskatchewan NDP justice minister Frank Quennell believes in a funny definition of “political interference”.

Saskatchewan party Justice critic Don Morgan has called for prosecutors from outside of Saskatchewan to examine the case of Ann Lord, who, as the NDP caucus’ director of administration. In 1992, Lord submitted a letter to caucus chair Glenn Hagel and chief of staff Jim Fodey admitting she had inflated cheques payable to her to the tune of $6,000.

She promptly left the province, and, despite claims by the Saskatchewan NDP to the contrary, the case was never pursued any further. The Saskatchewan NDP claims they immediately turned the letter over to the Regina Police Department. Regina police chief Cal Johnston, however, has revealed that Regina’s finest didn’t actually receive the letter until 1994.

Whatever happened in the interceding 13 years remains a mystery.

The coming days, however, may bring some insight. A report on an RCMP review of the case is due within the next few days. However, that report will apparently be directed toward the Saskatchewan Justice Department for review before anything is done, spawning requests from the Saskatchewan party that prosecutors from outside Saskatchewan review the report and make recommendations.

"I've got enormous faith in our Crown prosecutors," Morgan says. "I think [this] just puts them into an incredibly difficult position. But more importantly, it's the appearance of justice being done and that we look like we've been absolutely arms-length and absolutely impeccable with the scrutiny. I wouldn't want the accusation to be made that either it was biased one way or the other.”

Frank Quennell, for his part, has a different view of the Saskatchewan party’s take on the issue.

"Mr. Morgan and (Saskatchewan Party Leader) Brad Wall are trying to politicize a criminal prosecution. They try to do this every time there's something in the media, they play politics with decisions of independent prosecutors and I'm not going to play along with them," he insisted.

At first glimpse, it seems fair enough. Yet, when one considers that this case has been ongoing for 15 years, 13 of which it had been brought to the attention of law enforcement officials, it becomes immediately apparent that this case has never crossed an independent prosecutor’s desk. It seems that no effort has been made to pursue Ann Lord, or recover the money she has admitted to stealing from the public purse.

Yet Quennell seems to believe this is a case that should be reserved for the Saskatchewan Justice department that has at best bungled and at worst covered up this case of fraud for 15 years.

The fact that 15 years has passed with no significant action appearing to have taken place is reason enough to suspect political interference – real, actual political interference (the kind that prevents the NDP from accounting for an embarrassing, if relatively minor, scandal), not the fictional political interference that Quennell is alleging.

The people of Saskatchewan deserve some answers regarding the Ann Lord affair. Frank Quennell should consider himself duty-bound to provide those answers in the most assured way possible – in the form of an out-of-province review.

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