Friday, December 06, 2013

Can you say Benjamin Perrin 24 times really fast? "Benjamin Perrin, Benjamin Perrin, Benjamin Perrin, ....."

RCMP court document mentions Benjamin Perrin's name 24 times

An RCMP court document filed in an investigation of the $90,000 payment former PMO Chief of Staff Nigel Wright gave to Senator Mike Duffy contains 24 references to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's former PMO legal counsel, Benjamin Perrin, dating from the time Mr. Wright began arranging a plan to end the controversy over Senator Duffy's expenses until it was completed.

Tim Naumetz
Thursday, December 5, 2013
Senator Mike Duffy and Nigel Wright, former Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. (The Hill Times photographs by Jake Wright)

PARLIAMENT HILL—An RCMP court document filed in an investigation of the $90,000 payment former PMO Chief of Staff Nigel Wright gave to Senator Mike Duffy contains 24 references to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former PMO legal counsel, Benjamin Perrin, dating from the time Mr. Wright began arranging a plan to end the controversy over Senator Duffy’s expenses until it was completed.

Mr. Perrin’s participation in the scheme came to the fore this week after Prime Minister Harper’s office revealed last Sunday that Mr. Perrin’s email accounts, previously thought to have been deleted from Privy Council Office data systems after his temporary employment with Mr. Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alberta) ended in March 2013, had been found in a separate cache where they were being held in relation to a court case over an unrelated issue Mr. Perrin had apparently been involved with while working for Mr. Harper.

Of all email accounts the RCMP requested from the PMO, only Mr. Perrin’s had not been provided up to last weekend, under what turned out to be an incorrect belief within the PCO that his email records had been deleted under existing protocol for departing employees.

The discovery of Mr. Perrin’s emails renewed opposition attacks over the PMO’s involvement in Senator Duffy’s case on Wednesday, and also rekindled Parliament Hill interest in an 80-page affidavit the lead RCMP investigator, Corporal Greg Horton, filed last month as he sought new court orders for the disclosure of even further email records from the Senate, and Senator Duffy’s bank records.

But Mr. Harper, reiterating that his office has cooperated with RCMP requests for information or documents in the Duffy case, said the “bureaucracy” was responsible for Mr. Perrin’s records.

“Of course, it is the bureaucracy that holds the records for departed employees,” Mr. Harper said in question period, responding to questions from Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair (Outremont, Quebec).

A senior PCO bureaucrat told MPs on Tuesday, at a meeting of the Commons Government Operations Committee, the office could say nothing further to a letter it wrote to the RCMP about the discovery of Mr. Perrin’s cached email accounts.

“I would draw your attention to the letter that the Privy Council Office sent to the RCMP on December 1, 2013,” said PCO Assistant Deputy Minister Michelle Doucet. “The letter speaks for itself, and I can’t comment further on that.”

Answering questions from NDP MP Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre, Manitoba), Ms. Doucet disclosed it is up to government employees to determine which emails should be preserved for government archives, and which should be destroyed.

“The only emails that remain are the residual emails that remain after the application of records management guidelines,” Ms. Doucet said.

"Employees have a responsibility to go through their records, make sure they keep those of archival value, if they're public servants, and have them to be able to be accessible pursuant to the Library and Archives Act, and what remains is residual and not required to be kept," she said.

"We delete those emails because servers have a finite capacity. To keep unnecessary residual emails that are not required by the government would actually do damage to our servers,” Ms. Doucet said.

The first reference to Mr. Perrin in Corporal Horton’s affidavit, made public on November 20, is in an entry identifying three PMO officials Mr. Wright had informed that he intended to repay Senator Duffy’s expenses, a central part of the investigation on which the allegations of bribery and breach of trust are based. Mr. Harper has insisted since last May he knew nothing about the $90,000 payment to Senator Duffy until Mr. Wright confirmed it following questions from CTV Ottawa bureau chief Robert Fife.

The affidavit says the RCMP learned through Mr. Wright’s lawyers last June that he told Mr. Perrin, David van Hemmen, then Mr. Wright’s Executive Assistant, and Chris Woodcock, Director of Issues Management in the PMO, that he “would personally provide funds to repay Senator Duffy’s claimed secondary residence expenses.”

Mr. Wright’s lawyers also told the RCMP, on Mr. Wright’s behalf, that he informed Conservative Irving Gerstein, the head of the Conservative party’s fundraising arm and its official election agency, before he gave the money to Senator Duffy.

Senator Gerstein would later attempt to obtain information about a forensic investigation into Senator Duffy’s expenses that was being conducted by accounting firm Deloitte, which is the Conservative Party of Canada’s auditor for electoral purposes as well as annual financial reports to Elections Canada. Deloitte auditors told a Senate committee that Senator Gerstein was only informed about available public information on expense allowances available to all senators.

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Mr. Perrin’s involvement in Mr. Wright’s efforts to settle Senator Duffy’s expense problems began February 15, 2013, according to Corporal Horton’s affidavit, when Mr. Wright was orchestrating the management of Conservative Senators over a new policy the Senate was preparing to define primary residency qualifications, the source of challenges to Senator Duffy’s expense claims.

Mr. Wright emailed Mr. Perrin to criticize the Senate plan and said Conservative Senators’ approval of a different strategy “is all that stands in the way” of Senator Duffy repaying his expenses and “closing out his situation….”

“We cannot rely on the Senate Leader’s (Conservative Senator Marjory LeBreton’s) office to get this right …. Have to do this in a way that does not lead to the Chinese water torture of new facts in the public domain, that the PM does not want ….”

“I think we should lay out the approach in in a brief memo to the PM….” Mr. Wright says in the email to Mr. Perrin.

On February 19, after Mr. Wright and Senator Duffy began discussing ways to extract Senator Duffy from the controversy, possibly with repayment of expenses, Senator Duffy asked Mr. Wright for the name of a “legal representative” his lawyer, prominent Ottawa labour law specialist Janice Payne, could talk to.

“Thereinafter, Janice Payne and Benjamin Perrin communicated on this matter,” Corporal Horton’s affidavit says.

“Mr. Perrin was aware of Mr. Wright’s personal decision to pay the money, but was in no way involved in the decision,” says the affidavit, a summary of statements Mr. Wright made in an interview on July 18, 2013, to Corporal Horton and Superintendent Biage Carrese, Head of the Sensitive and International Investigations branch at RCMP National Division.

On February 21, as the tempo of negotiations was increasing to reach a deal where Senator Duffy’s expense problems could be solved, his lawyer, Ms. Payne, emailed Mr. Perrin with a list of five conditions under which Senator Duffy would agree to repay his expenses while at the same time trying to avoid any admission he had done anything wrong by claiming them. The Senate Internal Economy Committee was also to withdraw Senator Duffy from the Deloitte review, a proposal that eventually failed.

“As his apparent ineligibility for the housing allowance stems from his time on the road on behalf of the party, there will be an arrangement to keep him whole on the repayment. His legal fees will also be reimbursed,” Ms. Payne says in her email to Mr. Perrin.

Corporal Horton explains at this point in his affidavit: “I believe that the term ‘keep him whole’ means that Senator Duffy would not be financially out of pocket. Therefore, any arrangement to keep him whole would require someone else to incur the cost of repayment.”

A day later, Mr. Perrin is among PMO recipients of an email from Mr. Wright advising them it was “good to go from the PM” for an agreement on Ms. Payne’s conditions to settle Senator Duffy’s expenses with funds from the Conservative Party. Later, when the total amount became clear, it was Mr. Wright who paid instead of the party.

Virtually all of the references to Mr. Perrin in the affidavit are excerpts from emails he wrote as the scheme unfolded, or references to him in emails between Mr. Wright and others.

The final reference to Mr. Perrin involves an email that he received near the end of March from Ms. Payne, following a tightly-controlled sequence of events involving money.

On March 25, Mr. van Hemmen, Mr. Wright’s Executive Assistant, emailed Ms. Payne to say he had a bank draft to deliver from Mr. Wright.

The next day, March 26, Mr. Perrin received an email from Ms. Payne’s office stating: “We have just sent the cheque to Senator Tkachuk by courier."

Senator Duffy's expenses of four years $90,172.24 including interest, had been paid back.

tnaumetz@hilltimes.com

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