A man who was once a top adviser to former prime minister Stephen Harper had his conviction of influence peddling upheld Friday by the Supreme Court of Canada.
Bruce Carson tried to use his government contacts to line the pockets of his former fiancée, who was once an escort, by attempting to sell water filtration systems to First Nations with dirty drinking water.
Before any of that could happen APTN News found out and broke the story in March 2011.
APTN’s investigation triggered the RCMP investigation and Carson was charged in 2012 with influence peddling.
The Supreme Court heard arguments Nov. 3 on the influence peddling conviction against Carson after the three-member panel of the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned his 2015 acquittal on the charge, in a 2-1 ruling, and registered a conviction in February 2017.
At issue before the Supreme Court is whether Carson’s attempts to secure deals with First Nations was the same as doing business with the federal government.
The Supreme Court, in a 8-1 ruling, agreed it was the same and sent his case back to lower courts for sentencing. He faces up to five years in prison for influence peddling, which is a fraud on the government. Carson has numerous previous fraud convictions dating back several decades.
APTN began its investigation in February 2011 after a former business partner of Carson went to an APTN reporter with the allegations against Carson that he was trying to lobby federal ministers and bureaucrats on behalf of an Ottawa-based water company, known as H20 Pros, to sell water filtration systems to First Nations.
That sparked a meeting between the reporter and an unidentified man in Kingston, Ont. who provided a box wrapped completely in duct tape. Inside the box were dozens of emails that Carson sent to various people involved.
The emails outlined most of the operation.
But it would be Carson himself who would give up the rest in a series of interviews with APTN, including details of his meetings with federal ministers and his struggles with the former department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC).
He did so under the belief that APTN was doing a story on the water company and its so-called desire to solve historic drinking water issues on First Nations.
Before APTN published a word Harper called in the RCMP to investigate his former aide after APTN revealed a portion of its investigation with the Prime Minister’s Office.
What APTN also knew was that H2O Pros had a side contract with Carson’s then-fiancée Michele McPherson, a former escort who went by the name of Leanna VIP, guaranteeing her a cut of profits from any water filtration sales to First Nations.
Carson never disputed those facts in court.
The Ontario Court of Justice acquitted Carson Nov. 17, 2015, after Justice Bonnie Warkentin concluded doing business with First Nations was not the same as doing business with the federal government.
The Ontario Court of Appeal disagreed and ruled Warkentin took too narrow of a view on the law’s wording. In a split decision, the appellate court overturned the acquittal.
The Supreme Court ruled Warkentin erred in her interpretation of law.
“At the time of the offence, First Nations could have purchased decentralized systems such as H2O’s with INAC funds without obtaining INAC’s approval,” wrote Justice Andromache Karakatsanis for the majority in Friday’s ruling.
“However, INAC could have changed its mode of operations, modified its funding structure or terms and conditions, or created new pilot projects in a manner favourable to H2O.”
The pilot project was something Carson pushed for at the time.
First Nation bands under the Indian Act are almost completely funded by the federal government and their spending is overseen by federal bureaucrats.
Carson did all this from his Calgary perch as the head of the now defunct Canada School for Energy and Environment, which was created by a $15 million grant from Industry Canada.
Carson used his extensive gilded Rolodex and set out to convince the Harper government that water filtration systems were the cheap answer to dealing with the water crisis faced by First Nations across Canada.
Between January and March 2011, Carson met with John Duncan, minister of the then-named Aboriginal Affairs department, and Peter Kent, the former environment minister. He also met with the ministers’ staff to “discuss means by which H2O’s water treatment systems could be funded and placed in First Nations communities.”
After Carson was told by federal bureaucrats that the federal government couldn’t directly purchase systems from the Ottawa water company, he wrote the Aboriginal Affairs department in February 2011 about possibly setting up a project with Tyendinaga, a Mohawk community which sits about 200 km east of Toronto.
Carson was also trying to get H2O Pros on a list of vendors compiled by federal and Ontario officials developing a water filtration system pilot project for First Nations. The project was changed after the scandal erupted to make First Nations in charge of the vendor selection process and to exclude systems sold by H2O Pros.
Carson was also trying to leverage his relationship with former Assembly of First Nations national chief Shawn Atleo and the two famously had a Valentine’s Day dinner with their respective partners at Hy’s, a now shuttered steakhouse that was once a favorite of Ottawa’s political class.
It all came crashing down on Carson after APTN approached the PMO with documented and videotaped evidence that the former Harper aide was trying to use his extensive political contacts to help enrich his fiancée who was guaranteed between 15 and 20 per cent of gross revenues from any sales by H2O Pros to First Nations.
The Harper PMO moved swiftly to sever its ties with Carson. Ray Novak, Harper’s principal secretary, wrote the RCMP, the lobbying commissioner and the ethics commissioner to investigate Carson. A little over a week after the scandal broke the minority Conservative government fell and the country was plunged into an election.
The Harper Conservatives then went on to win a majority government.
Carson was also found guilty on three counts of illegal lobbying and fined $50,000 in 2016. The charges stemmed from an investigation launched by the RCMP after they seized 50,000 of Carson’s emails as part of the original influence peddling investigation.
– with APTN files