Wednesday, June 01, 2005

June 1, 2005: CP: Liberals claim Grewal tapes doctored

Canadian Press NewsWire
June 1, 2005
SECTION: Pg. n/a

ACC-NO: 852235951

LENGTH: 793 words

HEADLINE: Liberals claim Grewal tapes were doctored, defend beleaguered colleagues

BYLINE: Bueckert, Dennis; Panetta, Alex

OTTAWA (CP) - The Liberals claim that tapes of conversations with a British Columbia Tory were doctored, with phrases deleted and words from one conversation spliced into another to create false meanings.

The counterattack came as government members closed ranks around two Liberal colleagues who were caught trying to induce Tories to skip a crucial vote.

They shrugged off backroom discussions between Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh, prime ministerial aide Tim Murphy and Tory MP Gurmant Grewal as routine political horse-trading.

At a closed-door meeting Wednesday, Prime Minister Paul Martin led a cheer for Murphy, his chief of staff, even as opponents called for his dismissal.

And Dosanjh's office released a detailed list of alterations and omissions allegedly made to recordings of his conversations with Grewal.

For example, the Liberals dispute a sentence in which Dosanjh hinted at Grewal being rewarded if he crossed the floor. The released transcript said: "No one can forget such gestures but they require a certain degree of deniability."

But the Liberals say the word "deniability" was spliced into the sentence from another conversation not released by Grewal.

Speaking outside the Commons on Wednesday, Dosanjh stopped short of charging that the tapes - some of which record conversations in Punjabi - had been manipulated.

"From whatever we're able to hear, the Punjabi to English translation is inaccurate in places and it is in fact sometimes difficult to decipher the tapes."

When told that a Toronto newspaper had obtained its own translation of the tapes, and had found only minor glitches, Dosanjh said he was not able to hear all the words on the tape.

Dosanjh did not respond when asked to confirm that it was his voice on the tapes.

In a later interview with CBC, Dosanjh conceded he was trying to persuade Grewal to change parties, but denied offering an inducement, saying he was not in a position to make any promises.

"I was going to try to talk to anyone based on no promises, because I couldn't make any promises," he said.

Conservative Monte Solberg called on the Liberals to prove their allegations that the tapes had been doctored.

Opponents accused the Liberals of criminal corruption. Bloc Quebecois MP Michel Gauthier said they violated Section 119 of the Criminal Code, an offence punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

But the Liberals were determined to fend off such allegations.

Sources said the prime minister sprang to his feet at a weekly caucus meeting to lead a cheer for Murphy while Nova Scotia MP Rodger Cuzner was extolling his merits.

"I think the respect for Tim Murphy is universal in our caucus," Cuzner said in an interview.

"He's a man of honesty and he holds the support of our caucus."

A chorus of Liberals chimed out with the same spirited defence of their boss's top aide. But one suggested anonymously that MPs felt they couldn't criticize him publicly.

"Nobody believes a chief of staff should have acted the way he did," said the MP. "(But) they all live in fear."

The Bloc Quebecois and the New Democrats called for Dosanjh's resignation. Tory heavyweight John Reynolds said Wednesday that Murphy should be fired.

In case Liberals wondered how they should respond to the tapes' release, party officials e-mailed them a series of talking points with the headline: "Release of Grewal Tapes Confirm No Offer Was Made."

The Liberal spin machine produced a handful of messages:

_ The quality and accuracy of the tapes remains in doubt.

_ It was Grewal who approached the Liberals, not the other way around.

_ No job offer was ever explicitly made.

_ Grewal has at least twice in the past claimed he was lured and offered an appointment.

_ Given that the government's survival was at stake in a confidence vote, "it was only natural" that Liberals would speak with Grewal.

Another Liberal MP echoed that sentiment, saying the Grewal tapes now being broadcast in news bulletins are a banal occurrence in politics.

"Horse-trading happens every single day," said Toronto MP Jim Karygiannis.

"What you're seeing now is the intricate conversations. But conversations happen every single day."

He was more critical of Grewal, questioning why he would presume to speak for his wife in political negotiations.

The tapes include numerous references to Nina Grewal, also an MP from British Columbia, and how she could join her husband in skipping the vote in exchange for some later reward. She was not present during those discussions.

He accused the Indian-born Grewal of harbouring an "old-school mentality" toward his wife.

"You've come to Canada. You are a politician in Canada," Karygiannis said.

"Respect your wife. Respect your mate. She is an equal."