By RYAN KING
– with files from Rosalyn Roy
PORT AUX BASQUES – In December 2020, the province’s former Attorney General, MHA Andrew Parsons (Burgeo-La Poile) faced accusations of interfering with a police investigation. This month that inquiry found the allegations to be without any basis and Parsons has been cleared of any wrongdoing.
The accusations came about after a criminal investigation into Sherry Gambin-Walsh for a breach of trust in leaking cabinet information. The investigation found texts between Walsh and Paul Didham, a RNC officer, regarding charges against Joe Smyth, another RNC officer who was charged with obstruction of justice in 2019 over a traffic stop in 2017. The texts implied Parsons played a role in Smyth being charged.
During a phone interview last week, Parsons said that he would not have found out about the charges against Smyth until after the fact.
“I didn’t find out about any of this until it was all done, because I don’t usually hear these things when I was in that role. You know, I’m not actively involved in that. That’s not how the Attorney General role works. I wouldn’t have been involved. I would hear it after, but more as an ‘FYI, this is what’s going on,’” explained Parsons.
After the investigation into Walsh and the texts were made public, Smyth made a complaint.
“When this information became public, Joe Smyth saw it, and then said, ‘Well, he politically interfered in the charges against me,’ and made a complaint to the RCMP. That complaint was referred out of province for obvious reasons, given the fact that I was Attorney General at that point. So that’s generally what they do is, just to avoid any possible evidence or I guess, accusation of impropriety, they referred out of province. It was not a criminal complaint. It was just a complaint,” noted Parsons.
In the end, the independent ruling found Parsons innocent.
“Nine months later, the RCMP in Nova Scotia report back that there is absolutely no evidence. There’s nothing to substantiate anything, let alone a criminal charge, and the matter is now officially over,” noted Parsons.
Parsons understood the need for an impartial investigation into the accusations and the need for transparency. What Parsons found disturbing about the events was the apparent political agenda behind the accusations.
“The frustrating part is that this complaint was made on a Friday. The Monday in the House of Assembly, the PCs asked a question about an unnamed cabinet minister being investigated. We had no knowledge of anything. We were all shocked, especially me, like ‘Who’s he talking about?’ That Wednesday morning, I wake up to VOCM saying I was the cabinet minister,” said Parsons.
How that unfolded led Parsons to believe that the accusations were used to politically damage him.
“So what had happened was, this was obviously A: leaked to the media, and B: leaked to the PC opposition in an attempt to get me,” stated Parsons. “So, this was not like if you made a complaint against, you know, Joe Blow, Joe Smith. You would make that (complaint) to the police and wait to hear back, but in this case the complaints made, two days later, I’m getting asked about it in the House of Assembly, which indicates that there was an intent to politically, you know, cause political harm.”
While Parsons has been cleared of any wrongdoing, the process was a long one.
“It substantiates what I’ve said all along – that this was nothing more than a foolish attempt to smear me, that it had no basis in reality, and that at the end of the day, I have to see the process through because people need to see transparency. But that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a long and frustrating nine months waiting to have my name cleared, because it does matter. It is important to me as a public figure, you know, where integrity matters. That this is something that, even look at the timing, the timing was such that we were literally about to go into an election, and so this was an attempt to get me,” said Parsons.
While Parsons believes that most see the accusations for what they were, there may still be political damage done to his image.
“It was really, really frustrating. You know, at least it’s over now, and the good news is that I think people, generally speaking, saw it for what it was. But that doesn’t matter when something is made public. There’s always people, you know, generally there are people that say ‘Well, there must be something there,’” said Parsons.
While the process was an arduous one, Parsons knew he had the truth on his side.
“It wasn’t stressful in the sense that like, I literally never had to worry, because I knew I did nothing wrong. It was bogus from the start. I mean, the Chief of Police, the Director of Public Prosecutions, all came out and said ‘There’s nothing to this. This is not true.’ Like there is no evidence. What’s stressful, is that it’s a public story and it could interfere with people’s perception. It interferes with your reputation. Your family thinks about it, like, ‘What does my family think about this?’”
Then the accusations spilled over into Parsons social life as well.
“I’ve said this before, like I might be out watching the game with the guys having beer, and somebody would say ‘Well, where’s that police thing now?’ So like you know, it would come up at times, people saying ‘Hey, where’s that to? What’s going on?’ And again, these are your buddies. They believe you. They trust you. But it still doesn’t mean that they’re not still wondering what’s going on.”
Parsons has received much support at home during the inquiry and for that he is thankful.
“The other thing too is it just took so long. It was nine months and you just wonder, you’re like ‘Can you get this done?’ But, you know, you have no control over that. That’s out of your hands, but you know, better late than never type deal. It’s done. And the amount of support I’ve received since then for people saying, ‘We all knew it was garbage,’ you know, ‘Stay strong, good for you,’ well, that means a lot,” said Parsons. “And I’m glad that it’s official.”
He also received support from the Premier during the investigation, who did not waver in his trust in Parsons.
“This is the funny thing again,” said Parsons. “The opposition used this as an attempt to get me out of cabinet. They weaponized it. They took a complaint with absolutely no veracity, no substance, and tried to get it so that they would get someone like me shuffled to the side, and the Premier, and I’m forever grateful that the premier said, ‘No, I believe in him, and I trust in him and this will all be shown to be not there.”
While Parsons may not feel relieved exactly, he is glad it’s finally over.
“I don’t even like to use the term relieved, because it indicates that you were worried about the outcome. I’m more trying to figure what the term is. I absolutely feel vindicated, that I was shown to be right, and that the people involved in this were shown to be wrong, and you know, guided by malice, as opposed to guided by an official complaint, guided by anything in reality. There was none.”