Thursday, June 02, 2005

June 2, 2005. Audio Expert finds gap in Tory tape

Audio expert finds gap in Tory tape

OTTAWA (CP) - One of Canada's top forensic-sound analysts says a conversation secretly taped by Tory MP Gurmant Grewal sounds like it was altered.

Stevan Pausak told The Canadian Press a 46-second segment of the recording now at the centre of a political storm has an abnormal break that indicates a portion may have been cut out. The gap occurs in a recorded phone chat between Grewal and Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh about the possibility of Grewal joining the Liberals in exchange for an unspecified reward.

"It appears to be altered," Pausak said.

"This brief segment at the beginning shows that it's not continuous, and it should be."

Pausak, a physicist, MIT-trained forensic scientist and former Ontario government expert, provides analysis for court trials through his Oakville-based company, Forensic Science Services Inc.

After defending the integrity of the tapes for days, the Conservatives conceded late Thursday that small gaps occurred when the master tapes were transferred to CD.

But the two examples they provided did not explain an entirely separate abnormality Pausak found.

Pausak examined just one segment of the tape Thursday at the request of The Canadian Press and raised questions about it.

He says there's a discontinuity in that audio file, what he calls a "zero-signal gap" - commonly known as dead air - of about 0.3 seconds. The signal goes abruptly to zero in that interval, and afterward it continues.

"I'm talking about alteration. I am trying to avoid the word tampering," Pausak said.

"When you are using the word tampering, that means intent, right? Most of the time there is no way to show intent through the examination of the recording. You just see that it's altered."

Several tapes surreptitiously recorded by Grewal have been turned over to the RCMP and could potentially be the subject of a criminal investigation.

He denied Thursday that he doctored the recordings, copies of which have been posted on his website.

"No, no, no," the Tory MP said when asked if he had tampered with any of the evidence.

"I can't answer any other questions simply because the RCMP is investigating. Let them do their job."

He added nothing else as he hurried away from a group of journalists following him.

The phone conversations and a meeting with Dosanjh and Tim Murphy, Prime Minister Paul Martin's chief of staff, took place on the eve of a confidence motion that could have spelled defeat for Martin's minority government.

The recordings suggest the Liberals tried to get the support of Grewal and his wife, fellow MP Nina, in exchange for future posts with the federal government.

Grewal has said he recorded two to four hours of audio, but barely 90 minutes were released earlier this week.

The RCMP, which has received the recordings, won't say whether it will launch a full investigation.

The Tories say questions about tampering are a distraction from the real story: that top Liberal officials were trying to bribe Tories on the eve of a crucial vote.

They say the Liberal tactics could violate Criminal Code anti-corruption laws that carry penalties of 14 years maximum in prison.

"(It's) an attempt to discredit what was said on the tapes," said Tory deputy leader Peter MacKay.

"For proof as to whether the prime minister and the government are capable of this he only has to swivel his head in his seat and take a look at his cabinet.

"And take a look at the number who have crossed the floor for either cabinet positions or parliamentary secretary positions."

Two former Tories - Belinda Stronach and Scott Brison - now sit in the Liberal cabinet.

The portion Pausak analysed contains a discussion of Brison's jump to the Liberals in late 2003.

Martin brushed off calls to dismiss Dosanjh and Murphy while the Mounties look into the matter.

"The fact is that it's not their credibility that's at stake," he said. "It's very clearly Mr. Grewal's."

All three opposition parties say Murphy should go.

Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe said the RCMP contacted the party to follow up on the Bloc's original complaint that there may have been criminal activity in the affair.

Martin repeated allegations Thursday that the tapes had been manipulated. He said that raises questions Grewal and Conservative Leader Stephen Harper must answer. "The allegations in terms of the tapes - the tapes have been doctored and this kind of thing - I think are actually very, very disturbing," he said. "And I think the questions really should be put to Mr. Harper and Mr. Grewal."

The prime minister said he authorized talks between the party and Grewal, but stressed that no job offers were made in exchange for votes.

Dosanjh said Wednesday that some portions of the tapes were altered to take out parts of conversations, and to move other parts to suggest wrongdoing. The tapes and subsequent allegations of tampering have the potential to trigger legal and political nightmares for both the Liberals and the Tories.

Pausak has been involved in political intrigue in the past. In 1977, a listening device was found in the Parliament Hill office of then-Tory MP Elmer MacKay - whose son, Peter, was leading the defence of the tapes' integrity Thursday. Pausak, then with the Ontario government's Centre of Forensic Sciences, was asked by police to examine the bug found near the elder MacKay's chair. "It was a small transmitter designed for surreptitious recordings, but it wasn't functional," Pausak recalled. Ironically, a detective who had been hired by the Conservatives was later convicted of planting the device.

For a discussion of this and other stories related to Gurmant Grewal, his tapes, and other scandals follow this link.