There was sound and fury in Ottawa last week, as the opposition parties and the press tried to uncover the sagas of Helena Guergis and Afghan prisoners of war. The sagas were based on the testimony of two very different sources. The charges against Guergis came from a private investigator named Derrick Snowdy, who is -- The Globe and Mail reported -- "a flamboyant character who [drives] a Porche 911 Turbo" and is $13 million in debt. The charges of prisoner abuse came (again) from Richard Colvin, a career Canadian diplomat, who was posted to Afghanistan and is now stationed at the Canadian Embassy in Washington.
When Snowdy brought his information to Arthur Hamilton, a Toronto lawyer and member of the Conservative Party, it went immediately up the chain of command, directly to the prime minister, who characterized the information as "serious and credible."
Colvin, on the other hand, experienced repeated road blocks when trying to reach those at the top of the government pyramid -- even though soldiers in the field were complaining that, as Provost Marshall Captain Steve Moore wrote on February 27, 2008, "There is a disturbing tendency to keep information within and to resist MP [Military Police] advice and oversight."
On the one hand, there was immediate action on information which some might have questioned as less than reliable. On the other, there were repeated attempts -- from those at the top -- to remain blissfully ignorant, even though the source in the past had been deemed unimpeachable.
If there is a common thread that ties these starkly different stories together, it is the government's attempt to sit on the information surrounding each case. The information which Snowdy provided the prime minister was ferreted out by the press. The unredacted files on the transfer of Afghan prisoners remain under lock and key -- even though Alain Prefontaine, the government lawyer appearing before the Military Police Complaints Commission, admitted having seen the files, a privilege the commission itself has been denied.
How did we come to such an impasse? Murray Dobbins wrote this week that "it could not have happened except for the broader context of a corrupted democracy:
For twenty years we have witnessed the inexorable transformation of government, from one that really did base itself on moral imperatives, democratic principles and political integrity (for the most part) to the corporate model of governance. We are not a country anymore, we are an economy; we are not citizens, we are clients; public services are not the things we do together for each other, they are products (the easier to privatize them.)
The goal of economic man is self preservation. Ms. Geurgis, the government and the prime minister share the same goal. Any attempt to get at the truth behind both stories is a threat to self preservation. Mr. Snowdy is essential to Mr. Harper's political survival. Mr. Colvin is a threat to his survival. It should come as no surprise that both men have been treated so differently.