Like many Canadians, I waited with great interest for Justice Jeffrey Oliphant’s report on “certain dealings” between arms dealer Karlheinz Schreiber and Brian Mulroney. And when it appeared on May 31, 2010, I was surprised by its severity towards our former prime minister. I expected a slap on the wrist, not a shellacking behind the woodshed.
My interest in Judge Oliphant’s findings of the “inappropriate” relationship between Mulroney and Schreiber were very personal because I, too, had been subpoenaed by the Oliphant Commission more than a year earlier.
As far as I know I was the only journalist to receive a subpoena and the demands of the Commission shocked me.
They required all my research for my 2001 book, The Last Amigo: Karlheinz Schreiber and the Anatomy of a Scandal. And they defined this research to include everything in digital form, all interviews — regardless of confidentiality –and anything I may have stored in archives. The subpoena also included research for other books that covered the same subject. The research still in my possession, some of which came from the CBC in my collaboration with producer Harvey Cashore, filled fifty binders. The rest, done for On the Take and Blue Trust, is now in university archives and access to this remains restricted.
Managing this subpoena would have been a nightmare but I was aided by the extraordinary generosity and kindness of lawyers at Stockwoods, a top civil litigation firm based in Toronto led by Paul Le Vay. Paul and his partners, including Brendan Van Niejenhuis, who worked with me for months, offered to help me pro bono, knowing I could never afford to fight a sweeping federal subpoena like this one.
We all agreed, however, that we would ask the Commission to pay for my lawyers’ legal bills. After all, the government was paying for Brian Mulroney’s lawyers. They also agreed to pay the legal costs for Mulroney’s friend, Fred Doucet, after he was also subpoenaed; Doucet had argued that the value of his assets had dropped during the recent banking crisis. But when I applied for financial assistance for my own lawyers, the Commission turned me down. They did not explain why.
Stockwoods stood by me. The partners agreed to continue the pro bono agreement. We met with two lawyers from the Commission and when I asked why me, why not other journalists, they replied that The Last Amigo was their “road map.”
It made no sense to me that they did not subpoena Harvey Cashore — unless they didn’t want to take on the mighty CBC — but the Commission lawyers, who were courteous and pleasant despite the difficult circumstances, offered no explanation for this.
It took nearly a year but the final outcome was extraordinary: My research was safe. The Commission accepted the arguments put forward by Brendan Van Niejenhuis. Nothing except one access to information request I’d made many years earlier as well as the government response to it went to the Commission. Confidential sources and information remained confidential.