Friday, June 03, 2005

June 3, 2005:Edmonton Journal Reports: Tapes May Have Been Edited

Grewal recordings may have been edited, expert says
Edmonton Journal
Friday, June 3, 2005
Page: A3
Section: News
Byline: Grant Robertson, Anne Dawson and Allan Woods, with files from Jack Aubry, Ottawa Citizen
Dateline: OTTAWA
Source: CanWest News Service; with files from Ottawa Citizen

OTTAWA - Recordings of secret conversations in which senior Liberals discuss plum government postings with a Tory MP in exchange for his support in a crucial budget vote appear to contain irregularities, according to an analysis by an independent audio expert.

In reviewing some two hours of discussions between B.C. Conservative Gurmant Grewal and top Liberal officials, Randy Dash, a professor and sound engineer at Ottawa's Algonquin College, said: "It appears that on one of the recordings, an edit could have been done."

Dash's findings, provided exclusively to CanWest News Service, come after federal Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh and Prime Minister Paul Martin attacked the credibility of the recordings, which are now in the hands of Ethics Commissioner Bernard Shapiro and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

"It sounds like an audio edit," said Dash. "I'm saying that based on the millions of audio edits I've done."

But the government also faces a new challenge to its credibility after two prominent British Columbia Sikhs told CanWest News Service it was Dosanjh and the Liberals -- later joined by the prime minister's chief of staff Tim Murphy -- who initiated conversations with Grewal, the MP for Newton-North Delta.

Hardev Bal and Kushpal Gill said they visited the home of Sudesh Kalia, the man who brokered talks between the two sides, on April 30 and were told the Liberals were looking to lure a Tory MP.

They said Kalia raised the topic during a conversation about growing rumours in the tight-knit Indo-Canadian community that Grewal was up for a Senate posting.

"(Kalia) said, 'Ujjal asked me to get somebody across the floor, Gurmant is the guy, so I will talk to him,' " Bal said in an interview.

"I remember his words were in Punjabi," Gill said in a separate interview. "The literal translation is: 'Ujjal asked, Bring him to me once.' "

Kalia, who has issued a signed statement supporting Dosanjh's version of events, disputed the allegations, while the Grits questioned why it has taken weeks for someone to question the story. The Liberals contend it was Grewal who approached them looking for a diplomatic posting and a Senate seat for he and his wife, Nina, also a Tory MP.

"The minister gives this no credence whatsoever," Ken Polk, a spokesman for Dosanjh, said of the allegations by the two B.C. men. "It took the Tories two weeks to produce tapes that appear to have been doctored. And it has taken longer to produce people who will dispute the minister and Mr. Kalia."

Facing increased scrutiny over what role his top officials played in the affair, the prime minister flat-out refused Thursday to fire or demand the resignation of Dosanjh and Murphy, who are at the heart of the taped discussions.

"It is not their credibility that is at stake. It's the credibility of Mr. Grewal," Martin said Thursday after a cabinet meeting.

The ethics commissioner also told reporters Thursday he doesn't appreciate his office being "bandied about" during any inter-party negotiations.

Shapiro said Murphy, the prime minister's chief of staff, has been placed "under a cloud" by making a taped suggestion to Grewal that he could influence a report by the ethics commissioner.

When asked if he felt Murphy had put into question the integrity of his office by making the suggestion to Grewal, Shapiro responded: "Well, I think the cloud is (over) the person who makes the suggestion, not the office."

He has said no request was ever made by Murphy and it would have been unacceptable if he had received such a request because of the office's independence.

Angry Tories also said the Grits were merely throwing up a "smokescreen" to deflect the blame from the highest ranks of the government.

Deputy Conservative leader Peter MacKay accused the prime minister's inner circle of interfering in the work of the Mounties. He noted RCMP officials told a television network Wednesday a criminal investigation into the matter had already been launched.

The officials later changed their story after the network, prompted by the PMO, was put in contact with a senior police spokesperson that night.

"I'm suggesting it smacks of political interference," MacKay said. "Someone from the PMO contacts the network and says, 'There is no investigation and here's a phone number of someone from the RCMP who will confirm there is no investigation.' "

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper was not in the House of Commons on Thursday, but MacKay said the tapes submitted to the RCMP were "the original, only copy."

In his analysis, Dash ran digital files of the conversations made public on Grewal's website through sophisticated software applications used for audio recording and editing.

His probe discovered two irregularities -- a remark that appears to have been edited, and a preamble by someone with an "East Indian accent" that describes the ensuing conversation.

While he said the preamble could have been recorded before or after the discussions were taped, the edit may suggest a portion of the conversation was removed.

He was referring to a phrase in a conversation "cabinet is quick" in which Dosanjh appears to tell Grewal he could expect a quick cabinet appointment. Dash says the phrase "cuts off" in the middle and "then it jumps back as if it were cut and pasted. That could definitely be an edit."

Though his findings call into question MacKay's claim the recordings are "pristine," they also contradict Liberal allegations Wednesday that gross manipulations have taken place. Martin said the prospect the tapes were doctored is "very, very disturbing" and he urged the Tories to explain the discrepancies.

Asked point-blank if the tapes had been spliced, Harper spokesman Geoff Norquay said: "Of course not."

He added the Conservatives can account for the whereabouts of the recordings for the two weeks they were in Tory custody being translated and transcribed by party staffers and an outside agency in preparation for public distribution.