APTN National News
OTTAWA – Bruce Carson certainly used his influence to help an Ottawa water treatment company attempt to secure lucrative contracts with First Nations but in doing so never did business with the federal government a judge ruled Tuesday finding the former senior aide to Stephen Harper not guilty of influence-peddling.
Carson wasn’t successful in securing funding for the company but if he had it would have been with First Nation communities and not the federal government, therefore there would be no fraud on the government.
“I disagree with Crown counsel that because INAC was the funding agency and served as an advisor to First Nations, that a three-way business relationship was created between the government, First Nations communities and third party suppliers such as H20 (Professionals Inc.),” said Justice Bonnie Warkentin.
Warkentin said that view would be “paternalistic” and “most unwelcomed by First Nations communities. They have long asserted their right to autonomy and indeed this is enshrined in our Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
She said it would be like comparing First Nations to charities that receive money from the federal government.
The RCMP charged Carson with influence peddling in 2012 after a 2011 APTN National News investigation sparked former Prime Minister Stephen Harper to call in the Mounties to investigate.
The APTN investigation uncovered Carson had been trying to use his contacts in the federal government and Harper’s cabinet to land an Ottawa water company funding to supply First Nations, plagued by toxic drinking water, treatment systems.
He did so for his fiancée Michele McPherson, who was connected to the company.
“It is abundantly clear from his conduct that Mr. Carson was attempting to influence government officials within INAC, Cabinet Ministers and their staff as well as high ranking members of the AFN to promote H20’s water treatment systems,” said Warkentin.
But Carson was told any business would have to be with the communities themselves, and not the government.
Warkentin said she would have found Carson guilty if the government had authority to “approve or purchase” H20’s water treatment systems.
“The evidence supports only one conclusion and that is that First Nations communities were autonomous from the government with respect to any business transactions with H20,” she said.
The Crown and RCMP politely declined to comment on the case. Crown attorney Jason Nicol said he had to review the judge’s decision.
Carson also didn’t want to comment but when was told it’s been a long five years he said “we’ll agree on that.”
Outside the court, Carson’s lawyer Pat McCann said it was the right decision.
“It’s what we’ve been advancing all along,” said McCann, adding the Crown was trying to put a square peg in a round hole.
Carson still faces illegal lobbying and influence peddling charges in a spin-off RCMP investigation that alleges he was trying to lobby the government for organizations looking to profit from the tar sands.
That case is still making its way through the court.