Monday, February 28, 2005

On the Take, Take Two

A Secret Trial - Brian Mulroney, Stevie Cameron and the Public Trust
By William Kaplan, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 245 pages.

Author and lawyer William Kaplan’s latest book will be welcome to Canadian political junkies, who are bound to appreciate this expose of the soft underbelly of federal politics and big media during the reign of Brian Mulroney. It’s a meticulously crafted tale of offshore money, judicial lassitude, and the parochial and self protecting nature of Canadian political reporters.

The genesis for this book goes back to 1994, when Ottawa reporter Stevie Cameron published On the Take, an investigation into the former Prime Minister. Her book became a great success, in part due to an already established public perception that the man once dubbed “Lyin’ Brian” by the Toronto Sun’s Claire Hoy left office with a reputation on par with that of street hustlers. But it was later revealed, and finally admitted in a letter from Cameron’s lawyer, that she was actually a secret informant for the RCMP in their investigation into the $1.8-billion “Airbus Affair.” Mulroney decided this investigation had slandered him, sued, and won a $2-million settlement.

Then in 1998, Kaplan wrote a critical report of this investigation in his bestseller, Presumed Guilty: Brian Mulroney, the Airbus Affair and the Government of Canada. In this book, Kaplan went to bat in favour of Mulroney, attacking Cameron’s involvement and the work of the RCMP. But after its publication, he learned that lobbyist, businessman and deal-maker Karlheinz Schieber, who was a key player in the Airbus Affairs, met with Mulroney shortly after he left office, and in a series of furtive meetings in hotels apparently paid him $300,000 - in cash - for undetermined reasons. Kaplan could not reconcile this astonishing fact with his previous work exonerating Mulroney. So now Kaplan is back with another look at what really happened.

Secret Trial: Brian Mulroney, Stevie Cameron and the Public Trust
is a fascinating story about Mulroney, Cameron, and just how dysfunctional our justice system and fourth estate can be. In this second book, Kaplan tries hard to get to the truth of issues he now knows were not accurately portrayed in the first. For example, he documents how the National Post – which to this day continues to claim a moral leadership among the nation’s daily newspapers – inexplicably spiked the story of the $300,000 payment to Mulroney, even though its own reporter had thoroughly researched, verified and passed the article by lawyers for his editor. The Globe and Mail eventually ran this same story, but only after extensive re-research and re-verification, demonstrating how cautious major news organizations are with hard news that might annoy powerful people.

Worse still, Kaplan details how many in the journalistic community closed ranks around On the Take author Stevie Cameron, even after the news broke that she had been an RCMP informant for years and had misled both her peers and the public about it. In painstaking detail he catalogues her mendacity and the willingness of her prominent supporters to let her mislead them. The irony is that Kaplan’s recent work, revealing the $300,000 payment, gives more credibility to Cameron’s earlier inferences of wrongdoing by Mulroney.

This is a good read. By returning to the issues in this new book, Kaplan shows a conscientious rigour in pursuit of the truth, lifting the veil on a revealing episode in Canadian politics - one which questions the fundamental ability of our justice system to actually deliver justice.