(Bruce Carson enters the Ottawa courthouse Monday morning. Jason Leroux/APTN)
APTN National News
After leaving the Prime Minister’s Office, from his perch in Calgary, Bruce Carson still had direct access to Harper government ministers and their senior staff who gladly entertained his attempts to promote an Ottawa company’s water filtration system as a quick fix for First Nation communities hard hit by water woes, evidence submitted during his criminal trial shows.
Carson, who was once part of Stephen Harper’s inner circle, is facing trial on a charge of influence peddling stemming from his efforts to promote an Ottawa-based water filtration company looking to cash in on the water problems plaguing First Nations across the country.
The water company, known as H2O Pros and H2O Global, had also signed a deal with Carson’s escort-turned fiancée guaranteeing her a cut of all sales to First Nation communities.
Carson said little during the first day of his judge-only trial in an Ottawa courtroom Monday and spent most of the day scribbling notes on a large notepad. The man who once strolled through the corridors of power in Ottawa and supped with the titans of the oil patch in Alberta was clearly diminished as he walked with shoulders hunched into courtroom 20 for his date with justice.
The trial continues Tuesday.
Crown prosecutor Jason Nicol told Justice Bonnie Warkentin that Carson “had actual influence” in the Harper government despite leaving the PMO and moving to Calgary to head an energy think tank created by a $15 million investment from Industry Canada.
Nicol spent most of the day arguing that Carson was trying to influence and receive benefit from “business relating to the government of Canada” by trying to pull all the levers he could at both the bureaucratic level with Aboriginal Affairs and at the ministerial level.
Carson’s lawyer Patrick McCann is expected to argue that Carson was simply helping a company sign deals directly with First Nations which had no connection to business relating to the government.
The trial, which will not see any witnesses testify, hinges on that question.
Carson could face up to five years in prison if convicted of influence peddling.
He has pleaded not guilty and none of the allegations have been proven in court.
Nicol submitted several emails as evidence showing that Carson had easy access to Harper government cabinet ministers and their chiefs of staff. Carson also claimed in the emails to have discussed the water company’s products with John Duncan, the former minister of Aboriginal affairs, and Peter Kent, the former environment minister.
The emails show that Duncan’s deputy chief of staff Ted Yeomans sent Carson the government’s planned media talking points on dealing with the brewing scandal two days before APTN National News reported that Harper’s principal secretary Ray Novak wrote the RCMP requesting a probe into Carson’s activities.
‘APTN and you’
The March 14, 2011, email was marked “high priority” and came with a personal message from Yeomans “heads up.”
Carson forwarded the email the next day to Christine McPherson, the mother of Michele McPherson, who was Carson’s fiancée at the time.
The media lines tried to downplay Carson’s interactions with the minister’s office, saying only that ministerial staff was “informally briefed” about the water filtration products.
Carson, however, claimed in a Jan. 13, 2011, email that he discussed the project personally with Duncan who he said was in on the meeting via telephone from his British Columbia riding.
“Minister Duncan’s office is to track down three bands who have water quality issues in Ontario and money to pay for the (filtration systems),” wrote Carson.
Carson later denied Duncan was involved in the call during an interview with the RCMP, court heard.
Duncan’s staff, however, did give Carson some leads to chase. Yeomans emailed Carson on Jan. 20, 2011, telling him to contact the department’s “very strong and trusted” Ontario regional director general.
“He would be best to help find what you are looking for,” wrote Yeomans. “Because this is a business related issue, the department didn’t want to lock down any recommendations. I wish we could be more helpful.”
Kent and his office also appear to have been more helpful than was initially claimed shortly after the scandal blew up in the spring of 2011.
In a Feb. 7, 2011, email to Shawn Atleo, who was national chief of the Assembly of First Nations at the time, Carson said that he discussed “the project” with Kent in an email which included the then-environment minister’s name in the subject line.
“Just met with him…he raised the issue of water and waste water on reserves so I talked to him about frustrations with INAC on the project with point of use-he wants to meet with you so I will set it up,” wrote Carson.
“Point of use” was code for the water filtration system peddled by H2O Pros.
Carson wrote several emails to Kent’s chief of staff Stephanie Machel and commiserated with her over a scandal that had recently hit former international Co-operation minister Bev Oda over a decision to cut funding to a Christian aid group.
“Have really felt for you and Bev through all of this nonsense…Look forward to seeing you and Minister in Calgary,” wrote Carson in a Feb. 28, 2011, email.
“Thanks, it has been such a tempest in a teapot but unfortunately decisions to not respond directly to this from the get go have resulted in this mess,” wrote Machel, in reply two minutes after receiving Carson’s email.
“Neither you nor Bev deserve this—say hi to her for me,” wrote Carson.
“Will do,” wrote Machel.
Then Carson got down to business and he proposed holding a meeting between Kent, Duncan and Atleo to “push bureaucrats into some action.” He warned that a looming report on the status of water and waste water systems on reserves would show things had gotten worse since the Harper government took over.
“When I met with Minister Kent we discussed a matter I have been working on for some time, that is clean drinking water on reservations—drinking water and waste water seem to be of great interest to him,” wrote Carson. “I have been working with Shawn Atleo, national chief of the AFN and INAC (now known as Aboriginal Affairs) to try to implement their new policy wherein point of use water purification systems are eligible for government funding. These systems, which are installed in the individual houses are cheaper than municipal systems and immediately effective.”
Fwd: Peter Kent
While Aboriginal Affairs bureaucrats were proving difficult for Carson to deal with, the AFN was another matter.
The emails show that Atleo directed his most senior staff, including his chief executive officer Richard Jacques and his senior strategist Roger Jones to work with Carson.
On Oct. 12, 2010, Jones sent Carson the names of four communities along with their current chiefs and contact information that he could target to sell water filtration systems. Jones also said he would review any draft letters they planned to send the communities.
“My suggestion is for a letter to be prepared and sent to the chiefs of these communities setting the proposed pilot project approach to introducing water purification systems into homes in their communities,” wrote Jones. “I will arrange for the chiefs to be informed that a follow-up phone call will be made by H2O. I will let you know when the call should be made. Let me know when the letters have been sent. If you want me to review a draft letter before sending it out I will be happy do so.”
The four communities were Slate Falls First Nation, Lac Seul First Nation, Marten Falls First Nation and the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte.
During his interview with the RCMP, Carson told investigators he was pushing the water filtration systems out of altruism, to help First Nation communities.
The Crown said Carson was motivated by something else.
“It certainly was all about a pretty girl,” said Nicol.
And it wasn’t supposed to end up in a courtroom.
‘The start of your fortune’
Carson was hoping sales of water filtration systems to First Nations would create a “fortune” for Michele McPherson, who went by the working girl name of Leanna VIP, so she could leave her escort life behind, according to emails filed as evidence.
The emails show that Carson pushed to ensure that she was paid a stipend. Carson also hired a lawyer to draft the contract guaranteeing she would get up to 20 per cent of revenues from the sale of water filtration systems to First Nations. The contract was later change to give her a 15 per cent cut.
The evidence also shows that H2O Pros president Patrick Hill cut Carson a cheque for $5,000 which was supposed to buy a table at the AFN Christmas party. That money, however, was redirected to McPherson.
“The start of your fortune-love bc,” wrote Carson to McPherson’s escort email firstname.lastname@example.org on Sept. 10, 2010.
Below, in the body of the email, were messages to and from Atleo and his senior staff.
Carson, who was senior adviser to Harper from 2006 to 2009, received his security clearance to work in the PMO despite five previous criminal convictions. He was also disbarred by the Law Society of Ontario.