Saturday, May 28, 2005

May 28th: Edmonton Journal Background on Grewal

Is he telling the truth? Doubts linger about Gurmant Grewal: Conservative MP says the Liberals tried to recruit his vote, a charge they deny. However, his past is checkered with other incidents of conflicting stories
Edmonton Journal
Saturday, May 28, 2005
Page: A17
Section: Insight
Byline: Peter O'Neil
Dateline: OTTAWA
Source: Vancouver Sun; CanWest News Service

OTTAWA - Conservative MP Gurmant Grewal, who sparked a national furor and a possible police investigation by secretly taping his talks with senior Liberals about joining the government, has been a media magnet since he arrived in Canada and began aggressively seeking political office in the 1990s.

He does boast a number of achievements

He was the only member of the former Canadian Alliance caucus to get a private member's bill passed, and he's part of the first husband-and-wife team in Canadian history to sit in the House of Commons. He helped his wife Nina get elected in a B.C. riding adjoining his last year.

But Grewal, who arrived in Canada with Nina in 1991, has also been the target of harsh criticism from political opponents and even supposed political allies since the mid-1990s.

A year ago, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper's office openly questioned his judgment, and this week caucus colleague Randy White said: "I don't know who to believe" regarding the Grewal tape controversy.

Grewal has said he engaged in a deliberate sting operation to prove the Liberals were unethically offering him a bribe, while the Liberals say it was Grewal who sought patronage plums in return for his and Nina's votes.

Both allegations, if proven in court, would result in conviction under the Criminal Code's bribery section, which allows a hefty maximum sentence of 14 years.

Grewal, in an interview with the Vancouver Sun, said he's a victim of inaccurate media coverage and unfair attacks by opponents. He also says he isn't recognized for his strong stands on policy issues, which include his sponsorship of a private bill that passed in 2003, giving members of Parliament greater ability to scrutinize federal regulations

He cites his opposition to gay marriage, his positions on foreign affairs issues, and his recent proposal to require Canadians to post bonds if they want visas for visitors from abroad.

"People should not be afraid of making tough and controversial decisions," he said. "The media will only talk about things which are creating controversy."


Grewal's first brush with political notoriety came during an incident in B.C. during the mid-1990s that bears remarkable similarities to his current predicament.

In 1995, Grewal decided he wanted to run as a candidate for Gordon Campbell's B.C. Liberals, who it was widely assumed would defeat the New Democratic Party government.

Grewal, with the help of political organizer Prem Vinning, signed up so many members from the Indo-Canadian community he appeared sure to secure the nomination in a riding that Campbell and his top aides wanted for Reni Masi -- the party president at the time.

An apparent truce was reached when Campbell, Vinning, Grewal, and dozens of community leaders met in Vinning's house. Grewal was photographed raising the hand of the anointed candidate.

But Grewal said he was trapped, had no idea what the meeting was about, and didn't plan on stepping aside. He soon quit the Liberal party and later ran, and lost badly, as a candidate of the former B.C. Reform party.

"I never agreed, but they held my hand and raised it up," he recollected Thursday. "There were so many people, it would really look stupid in front of people if you say no, no, I'm not withdrawing. They are making me, forcing me. ... I thought the pressure is so much around here, so I held my hand and raised it."

Grewal then went to the media, claiming publicly Sandy Powar, the B.C. Liberal party secretary, tried prior to that meeting to bribe him by saying he could be named a deputy minister in a Campbell government if he stepped aside. Grewal said he believes he still might have a tape of that conversation.

Vinning, when told about Grewal's comments, said they were "disgusting."


Grewal was born in India and studied agriculture at a university in the Punjab. He married Nina in 1982 after spotting her in a matrimonial want ad.

A year later they moved to Liberia, where Nina's parents once lived. The country had been ruled since 1980 by Samuel Doe, who had assumed power in a bloody coup.

Grewal taught business at the University of Liberia, and he and his brother ran a company selling agricultural supplies and importing telecommunications equipment.

They left in 1990 after Doe was overthrown and savagely executed. The Grewals landed in Canada a year later as economic immigrants.

It was in 1995, when Grewal first ran for political office, that he found himself having to deal with his supposed link to Doe, the Liberian despot known as one of Africa's worst human rights violators.

A reporter learned Grewal was rejected as a provincial Liberal candidate because he was supposedly not well known in the community. Grewal responded by sending out a resume that stated he "recommended to and then helped the president of Liberia to launch Green Revolution in the country."

He also claimed to be honorary vice-consul of Liberia in Canada, the Vancouver Province reported in 1997, citing a copy of the resume obtained by the newspaper in May 1995.

Grewal confirmed Friday he sought the post, but never became a Liberian representative in Canada.

The Liberian government "asked me if I would like to be vice-consul or honorary consul and they were considering it, but it never happened," he said.

When media reports began suggesting he was an actual adviser to a ruthless African dictator, Grewal complained he was a victim of inaccurate media reporting.

He said this week his link to Doe wasn't much different than a Canadian citizen writing to the health minister complaining about a local hospital's inadequate services.

"If someone will try to label me with president of Liberia in any form or shape that would be ... a misrepresentation of the association."


Grewal had another brush with notoriety last year, shortly before the federal election, when the Vancouver Sun revealed outspoken right-wing commentator Rachel Marsden, who was then facing a criminal charge, was working in his office using the name Elle Henderson.

Marsden pleaded guilty to a stalking charge against a Vancouver radio personality after her employment with Grewal ended.

Grewal acknowledged Harper's office objected to Marsden's hiring, but he went ahead anyway because he believed she was talented and "innocent until proven guilty" of the harassment charge.

Jim Armour, then Harper's director of communications, confirmed at the time Grewal hired Marsden "against the express wishes" of Harper and the party.

Though Grewal denied at the time Marsden was hired on his taxpayer-funded office budget to help on party matters, the MP was hit with a token $75 fine by the House of Commons after it was discovered Marsden improperly used the office e-mail to recruit party members for Grewal's nomination.

Grewal, who said Marsden used the e-mail for party purposes without his knowledge and was told to stop, defended his decision to hire Marsden.

He also said he didn't believe anyone was trying to hide her identity.