June 22, 2005: Ethics Commisioner clears Grewal on visa bonds controversy
Ethics commissioner clears Gurmant Grewal in immigration case at 19:15 on June 22, 2005, EST.
OTTAWA (CP) - Gurmant Grewal's only sin was having a bad idea. The Tory MP was cleared Wednesday of ethical wrongdoing for setting up a parallel immigration system in his B.C. constituency office. People came to his office and posted bonds of up to $100,000 in exchange for visitors' visas for friends or family. At least 232 people signed written guarantees to make that payment if their loved ones lingered in Canada past the visa expiry date.
Parliament's ethics commissioner slammed the scheme as a misguided error in judgment that may have appeared like a conflict of interest. But Bernard Shapiro defended Grewal's character. He said the Tory MP had honest intentions, never planned to pocket any money, and in fact never collected a cent.
"There was no real conflict of interest," said Shapiro's report, released Wednesday. "No personal profit to Mr. Grewal was either intended or realized. . . . I believe that his actions were an error in judgment made in good faith."
It was the latest piece of good news in recent days for Grewal after a brutal month that forced him to take a stress leave. He is embroiled in a separate scandal after he released tapes of secret negotiations with two senior Liberals and the tapes were found to be partly altered.
Transport Canada has cleared Grewal following an incident at Vancouver airport that originally caused him to take his stress leave. He tried using other passengers to ship the controversial tapes back to Ottawa. Grewal has remained out of the public eye since then, and did not respond to a request for an interview Wednesday.
But he said in a statement that he had always maintained his innocence since the immigration allegations first surfaced.
His riding president now says Grewal's feeling well enough to return to work.
Immigration Minister Joe Volpe had asked the ethics commissioner and the RCMP to investigate the bond-posting scheme in April.
"I believe that the ethics commissioner's report speaks for itself," Grewal said in a statement.
"I am pleased that the ethics commissioner has looked into the matter and determined that the minister's allegations were baseless."
Grewal began his unusual practice in 2002, and has long lobbied for legislation that would allow Canadian residents to sponsor foreign visitors.
It was Grewal himself who revealed details of his scheme while promoting his own private member's bill to change immigration rules.
Shapiro said that the practice - "however innocently intended" - did not fall within the federal government's rules.
Volpe said he accepted Shapiro's findings. "I left it with the ethics commissioner to come up with a decision for us," he said in an interview. "He's done it and I'm going to respect that."
But he warned other MPs not to follow Grewal's example. "These things have the tendency to give off the appearance of conflict that's unhelpful to the parliamentary process."
It was the second high-profile ruling in Shapiro's brief tenure - and second in two days following months of silence from his office. The rookie commissioner faces a grilling before a parliamentary committee Thursday and the NDP is calling for his removal.
Critics jumped Shapiro's report this week on ex-immigration minister Judy Sgro, a piece of work that cost $170,000, took seven months to complete, and offered no clear verdict on how the government should have handled a scandal involving residence permits.