PORT AUX BASQUES – Nova Scotia RCMP are investigating MHA Andrew Parsons (Burgeo-La Poile), the current Attorney General for Newfoundland and Labrador and Minister of Industry, Energy and Technology. Prior to being moved to the Energy portfolio by Premier Andrew Furey shortly after he assumed office, Parsons was the Minister of Justice.
The investigation is looking into allegations of political interference in the criminal case of Joe Smyth, a former RNC officer who was charged with obstruction of justice over his handling of a traffic stop in 2017. Smyth was initially convicted in 2019, but that conviction was later overturned.
Parsons is alleged to have played a part in bringing about the original charges against Smyth.
The matter received provincial attention after a document on the VOCM website revealed a screenshot of a text message, supposedly between former Minister Sherry Gambin Walsh and Acting RNC Inspector Paul Didham, along with an opinion letter (“Smyth should never have been charged” published by The Telegram on Nov. 15, 2020).
In the leaked complaint, Smyth wrote, “I am advised that other persons close to Andrew Parsons have witnessed him express a personal animus towards me. I am advised that Andrew Parsons expressed anger at having to cover legal costs associated with the criminal charges laid against me and during a public inquiry. I am advised that Andrew Parsons was angered when presented with a Journey Authorization in 2017 for my Marine Unit Assignment in Labrador assisting the RCMP with an operation in Cartwright, NL, and that he destroyed the original JA that had to be quickly resent.”
Only hours later, RNC Chief Joe Boland and the province’s Director of Public Prosecutions, Lloyd Strickland, refuted the claims.
In a release, Strickland wrote, “Any allegation of political interference with the exercise of prosecutorial discretion is a serious accusation and an affront to the integrity of Public Prosecutions and the Crown attorneys that dutifully serve the public.”
Parsons called the allegations “ridiculous” and “beyond belief”.
Last Monday, Jan. 11, RCMP NL issued a statement advising that RCMP Nova Scotia will be reviewing the complaint “to determine investigative steps”. The review by RCMP Nova Scotia comes at the request of RCMP NL to keep the investigation independent and transparent.
“The leadership of the investigation and all investigative decisions rest with RCMP Nova Scotia. Police officers from RCMP NL may be tasked to support the investigation, as needed.”
According to the statement, no further comment will be forthcoming from either detachment while the investigation is underway. News that the RCMP Nova Scotia will look into the allegations didn’t seem to surprise Parsons, who spoke by phone later that evening.
“I’ve said all along that whenever there’s a situation like this that people have to see things are being done properly. What’s worse than a wrongful accusation is one that people say was not dealt with properly or appropriately. So I’ve got absolutely no issue with that, but I stick to what was said all along. This is an absolute political hack smear job orchestrated by (PC Opposition Leader) Ches Crosbie and others.”
Parsons says he is “absolutely confident” in his track record and decisions, and welcomes the investigation.
“I know what I know, and you want the public to be reassured of that, but there’s no doubt that there’s a sense of frustration,” said Parsons. “Even the fact that it’s reported leads people to believe that there’s truth to it.”
After the RCMP NL statement, the provincial Tories began calling on Premier Andrew Furey to remove Parsons from cabinet while the investigation is underway. Justice Critic Helen Conway Ottenheimer has stated that allowing Parsons to remain in cabinet smacks of a double standard, noting that Walsh had to step aside when she was being investigated by the RCMP, and that MHAs Eddie Joyce and Dale Kirby were removed during parliamentary investigations.
But a statement released by Furey’s office has made it clear that the Premier has no intention of asking Parsons to step aside.
“Nova Scotia RCMP is reviewing the complaint as is standard procedure to ensure an independent and transparent process. The Chief of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and the Director of Public Prosecutions have both already publicly confirmed there was no interference. Accordingly, this does not impede the Minister’s ability to serve and there will be no changes to cabinet.”