Saturday, January 28, 2006

Ethics Commissioner's report seriously flawed (2): documentary evidence ignored

Andrew Coyne discusses Ethics Commissioner Shapiro's decision today in the National Post, which he reprints in his blog (here). I hope to get time to engage with his piece in a little more detail later.

One point that Coyne rightly skewers Shapiro is on his handling, or non-handliing, of the 'tapes'. We wonders how Shapiro can come to the conclusions he does
when it is not even clear that he listened to the tapes. “[F]rom the outset of this inquiry,” he writes, “I wished to proceed on the basis of obtaining the direct testimony of all of the parties involved before deciding whether it would be necessary to rely on the tapes as primary evidence.” In the event, he “did not consider it necessary … to rely on the contents of the tapes in reaching my conclusions.”
This was the second problem I had with Shapiro's discussion: he seems to happily comment on the testimony of Grewal and Dosanjh about a conversation and pass judgement on that testimony without reference to a complete recording of the whole conversation. This is methodologically perverse. There are rules of evidence. One of the most important of them is that primary evidence trumps secondary--that a recording of a conversation will be more reliable than the participants' memory of it. If he'd bothered to listen to the recording of May 17th's meeting, he'd know that Grewal had lied to him when he said that a diplomatic appointment was discussed (see here), or that it had been Dosanjh who had suggested a cabinet post and senate seat (Grewal had clearly asked for both: here and here.)

Instead, Shapiro engages in a series of one-said-t'other-said and forms his judgement about the reliability or significance of different parties' versions. Now, as it happens, I think he accidentally came to some right conclusions--it is fairly clear from his report that he doesn't believe much of what Grewal has told him. But his report's intellectual and moral authority is undermined by the bizarre decision to treat the tapes.


Blogger Budd Campbell said...

Surely you're not attempting to suggest that Paul Martin's handpicked Ethics Commissioner is a joke, are you???

5:05 PM  
Blogger buckets said...

No, I don't know enough about him that I'd feel comfortable passing that judgment. What I'm saying is that his report about the Grewal negotiations (which I know quite well) is flawed. Hence the title and the post.

5:32 PM  

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