The escalation of unproven allegations against Helena Guergis and Rahim Jaffer has Rex wondering what happened to the presumption of innocence in Canada.

 

Read the transcript of this Point of View

Rex Murphy

April 15, 2010

 

The element that outraged most people about the Jaffer case was the plea bargain.  But the Crown lawyer interviewed here on Wednesday night pointed out 95% of cases in Ontario are dealt with via plea bargains.  We mightn't like it.  But, in this one, vital particular, Jaffer wasn't being "singled out for special treatment".   He was, in fact, being treated like almost – 95% - everyone else.

In other words, knowledge of the facts might have taken some wind out of the universal outrage.

His wife, Helena Guergis, got placed into a grinder – metaphorically speaking – for her performance in a PEI airport.  Public response and editorial commentary blasted her. 

Rightly so. Powerful people shouldn't pick on the so-called "little people." They surely shouldn't feel they have a right to pick on them, browbeat them, treat them as nuisances.  As just said, she was made to pay for that.

But now with both Guergis and Jaffer, we're in a whole new exploding universe.  We have the Toronto Star's world of "busty hookers" and reports from a private investigator talking of cocaine and romps, involving both with "high-priced hookers," cellphone pictures, and talk of offshore accounts in both their names in Belize, chatter about Hells Angels, and anecdotes of death threats.

It's one huge swirl of allegation and speculation and titillation - all of this without a single charge having been laid by anyone with law enforcement authority.  The ever-so-sexy story is, in Canadian terms, at Tiger Woods volume, and a little like the Tiger Woods story, very much of the fascination with it is the raw gossipy tabloid element.

The famous presumption of innocence in this matter is like a dying fish on land, gasping desperately for its last gulp of life.  The presumption of innocence, none of us should need reminding, is not for people we like or instinctively admire: it's meant to tame the leap to judgement which is so much easier when people, not popular, are in the crosshairs of public scorn.

We don't know, in the post-Jaffer arrest, or second round, of the Guergis -Jaffer story, which, of all this mess of allegation and innuendo they might be guilty of.  We don't even know what, of any of all of this, they might be charged with.

But we do know, from the volume of Parliamentary noise, and the remorseless media coverage, that Guergis and Jaffer are bearing a weight of speculation and opprobrium that is almost unimaginable - all of it, I repeat, before we have seen a charge sheet.

It's quite simply and plainly desperately unfair.  Should they, in the long run, prove innocent of not romping with busty hookers, or of not having accounts in Belize, it will make precious little difference. They will have become cliché examples of politicians who took the wrong turn, stock jokes around the office, their reputations a beach ball for lazy comedians.

It's far too early for any of this, and far far too early for retailing suggestive details from a single spying eye that will devastate the lives of these two people before they have so much as a minute in court.

For The National, I’m Rex Murphy.