Shooting the Messenger
Till Death Do Us Part
Investigative Journalism Canadian Style
The type of investigative reporting done after the Watergate break-in by the Washington Post is an American tradition, not ours. Also, in the American tradition, it is the Davids, not the Goliaths, who get the benefit of the doubt.
The day after Ambassador Harris informed me that I had been found guilty of insubordination then had me escorted out of 125 Sussex, I went to see my Member of Parliament Michael Cassidy, NDP. It was a short meeting.
After hearing my story, he offered to help, but first I had to help him help me, and I could do that by getting my story in the papers and blaming the government. If I could get that done, he would raise the issue of my dismissal in the House of Commons. That was it. He returned to whatever he was doing when I walked in and wished me luck as I walked out.
I first went to the Ottawa offices of the iconic Globe and Mail not to blame the government—which, as far as I was concerned, had nothing to do with it, Clark’s letter praising his officials notwithstanding—but to tell my story. I was introduced to a young woman reporter. She was sitting in the middle of three or four rows of desks in what we have come to associate with a newsroom, albeit a small one. I was asked to take a seat next to her desk.
I waited. She was listening to that day’s Question Period in the House of Commons, which was piped into the newsroom over loudspeakers, while typing furiously. Her column, a recap of the previous day’s Question Period, was front page news the next day. Eventually we moved to a closed office.
The room had a glass wall opening up into the newsroom. The first thing she did after we sat down was point out who in the newsroom was having sex with whom. On some other day I might have been interested in the sexual peccadilloes of Globe and Mail reporters and editors, but not that day.
She stopped talking about the life and times of her colleagues long enough to listen to what I had to say. To the best of my recollection, she did not ask a single question. She thanked me for coming in; she would be getting back to me shortly.
She was a woman who kept her word. She got in touch with me the very next day. She had called Foreign Affairs, who told her that I had been dismissed "for cause" and she should not believe anything I had to say. She ended the conversation with, “Please don’t call us again.” She must have spent a whole five minutes investigating my story. That would be five minutes more than did the middle-aged gentleman from the Ottawa Citizen.
The Ottawa Citizen, the capital's leading newspaper, sent an editor to my home after getting my call. The Globe and Mail chose to believe Goliath, but at least they spent a few minutes listening to what I had to say and made a phone call to get the big guy’s reaction. The Ottawa Citizen could not even be bothered to do that. The Citizen’s man sat down in my living room and opened a notepad of sorts, getting ready to take notes.
I had just begun telling my story when he interrupted to enquire if I knew what Eric Neilson was up to at Foreign Affairs. For those old enough to remember, Eric Neilson had been tasked by the Mulroney government to review all government programs with a view to making cuts.
I told him that I did not know what Neilson was up to and even if I did, I would not be divulging any confidential information. What I wanted to talk about was a simple bookkeeping fraud involving millions of dollars. He promptly closed his notebook, got up and showed himself out; but it did not end there.
I would speculate that after getting that call from The Globe and Mail, Foreign Affairs, or someone acting on its behalf, anticipating where I would go next, got in touch with the then Editor-in-Chief of the Citizen, Keith Spicer, to obtain his cooperation.
The former Commissioner of Official Languages would have been be predisposed to go along if it meant protecting the reputation of the Office of the Commissioner of Languages and that of his successor Max Yalden who, in the midst of an investigation he was conducting into widespread breaches of the Official Languages Act at the department, traded places with the Canadian Ambassador to the Belgium Court, D’Iberville Fortier.
I submit that it was in the interest of all concerned that my allegations not be investigated and risk exposing Fortier’s and Yalden’s connection to my firing, let alone embarrassing Canada’s diplomats.
How else would you explain a newspaper—for which a government official dining at a fancy restaurant at the taxpayer’s expense (remember George Radwanski, Privacy Commissioner and gourmet) is front page news—not caring to hear about public servants helping themselves to millions of dollars to which they were not entitled? Why send to my home an ill-mannered editor who was obviously on a fishing expedition, and who reported directly to Spicer, instead of a regular reporter who might have conducted a proper interview?
I still wonder what they would have done if the editor (whose name I wish I could remember) had managed to get me to break my oath of secrecy.
The Citizen’s cooperation with those responsible for my dismissal did not end there. After reading Thomas W. Brown’s decision, I picked up the phone and called his boss. The head of the Public Service Staff Relations Board, the former House Leader of the NDP in Parliament, actually answered the phone: “Ian Deans here.”
“Mr. Deans,” I said “my name is Bernard Payeur.”
Click. He hung up, just like that! I immediately called back. Someone else answered. I was told that Mr. Deans was not available and would not be for some time.
I don’t remember how long it was after that phone call that the Ottawa Citizen published a puff piece about the Public Service Staff Relations Board in which it singled out the excellent work of one Thomas W. Brown. Should what had transpired at my hearing become public knowledge, the Ottawa Citizen made sure it would be the word of a nobody against that of an adjudicator it had publicly praised.