OTTAWA (Reuters) - A federal judge has delivered a scathing rebuke of a 2005 official inquiry that found former Prime Minister Jean Chretien was partly responsible for a kickbacks scandal that helped knock the Liberal government from power.
The inquiry’s head, former Judge John Gomery, was biased and was too concerned with keeping media attention on the public hearings to deliver a fair report, Federal Court Judge Max Teitelbaum said on Thursday in a ruling on a lawsuit filed by Chretien.
“This preoccupation with the media outside the hearing room had a detrimental impact on the fairness of the proceedings,” Teitelbaum wrote, blasting Gomery for comments he made in interviews and during the hearings.
“The comments made by the commissioner (Gomery), viewed cumulatively, not only indicate that he prejudged issues but also that the commissioner was not impartial toward (Chretien),” Teitelbaum said.
Gomery’s report pointed to greed, incompetence, carelessness and venality in a deeply flawed government advertising program that was designed to promote Canadian unity in the French-speaking province of Quebec.
The program ran from 1996 to 2003 and saw millions of dollars improperly channeled to pro-Liberal advertising firms.
Gomery’s 2005 report put some of the blame on Chretien and his chief of staff, Jean Pelletier, but also found there was no evidence that either man was directly involved in any kickbacks.
Chretien and Pelletier both rejected the findings and asked the Federal Court to overturn the portions of Gomery’s report that blamed them. In a separate ruling on Thursday, Teitelbaum also upheld Pelletier’s complaint.
Chretien, while accepting overall responsibility for what happened when he was prime minister, said Gomery had relied on the testimony of people who could not be trusted.
Gomery said on Thursday he was disappointed by the ruling, and admitted it was not pleasant to read the scathing criticism.
“I always thought I was an unbiased judge,” he told CBC television.
Federal lawyers had argued before Teitelbaum that Gomery had no control over how the media reported his comments during the inquiry.
Chretien was in Sweden on Thursday but his supporters praised the ruling at an Ottawa news conference.
“He (Chretien) is obviously very gratified and very happy. It’s a total vindication of Mr. Chretien and of Mr. Pelletier,” said Eddie Goldenberg, former senior political adviser to Chretien.
Public anger over the sponsorship scandal knocked the Liberals, then led by Chretien’s successor, Paul Martin, to minority government status in 2004, before publication of the Gomery report. They lost the 2006 election to the Conservatives.
Reporting by Allan Dowd and Louise Egan, writing by Allan Dowd, editing by Rob Wilson