Cornwall crusade irked ex-premier

Garry Guzzo tells sex abuse inquiry of ‘war of words’ at Queen’s Park

Ottawa Citizen

22 November 2007


CORNWALL . Garry Guzzo‘s efforts between 1997 and 1999 to draw attention to allegations about a pedophile ring or conspiracy in Cornwall led then-premier Mike Harris to label him “far more trouble than you’re worth,” the former Tory backbencher told a public inquiry yesterday. Mr. Guzzo offered the inquiry intimate details of his struggles at Queen’s Park to lobby Conservative colleagues on the file, including three Eastern Ontario ministers, brandishing notes he later wrote to paraphrase conversations.

That included tense moments between his aides and the premier’s office, and between Mr. Guzzo and Mr. Harris himself, in late 1998.

“There’s a war of words going on between my office and the premier’s office at the time,” the one-time Ottawa West-Nepean MPP told the inquiry, saying one of his staff had been berated by a Harris aide about a letter Mr. Guzzo had written.

The first letter, dated Sept. 18, 1998, and copied to Solicitor General Bob Runciman and Attorney General Charles Harnick, asked for a private meeting with the premier to discuss a matter that “cries out for a judicial inquiry … something is dreadfully out of whack.”

Mr. Guzzo was told by the premier’s staff three months later at a Christmas party to “mind your own business” and that Mr. Harris is “royally pissed off with you” about the letter, according to the notes filed as official exhibits.

Mr. Harris, who was premier from 1995 to 2002, publicly maintained that an inquiry was inappropriate while the matter remained before the courts.

The two men also exchanged words during a gathering in the government whip’s office at around the same time, Mr. Guzzo said.

“We both got a couple drinks in us, and (Mr. Harris) said, ‘you’re causing a lot of trouble, and you’re far more trouble than you’re worth’,” he testified.

That letter, and one written in February 1999, were eventually leaked to the media, providing an early glimpse into Mr. Guzzo’s role as a critic within the Harris government.

The Ontario Provincial Police launched Project Truth in 1997 after three previous investigations ruled there was no Cornwall pedophile ring or conspiracy dating to the late-1950s. After four years, more than 120 sex crime charges had been filed against 15 men, but the OPP reaffirmed there was no evidence of conspiracy.

Mr. Guzzo wasn’t satisfied with the new developments. The lawyer and former provincial court judge lobbied Mr. Harnick and Mr. Runciman, the longtime Leeds-Grenville MPP, for a wider investigation as early as May 1997, according to his notes.

Mr. Guzzo’s notes indicate that by the fall of 1997, he was getting the “brush-off” from Norm Sterling, a cabinet minister and Carleton MPP, while Mr. Harnick “said he knows zero and I believe him.”

Noble Villeneuve, the minister responsible for agriculture and francophone affairs, was listed as telling Mr. Guzzo to find another issue, since the abuse claims preceded the Progressive Conservatives’ 1995 victory.

“This is not our problem,” according to Mr. Guzzo’s paraphrased comments made by Mr. Villeneuve, who represented nearby Stormont-Dundas-Glengarry and East Grenville.Mr. Guzzo continued to press for action, even though Mr. Harnick and Mr. Runciman were reportedly avoiding him in caucus by the fall of 1998. His notes also allege that Mr. Villeneuve said, “some of these (people) are our supporters and friends” during a March 1999 conversation at Queen’s Park.

The remarks left Mr. Guzzo “stunned,” according to his testimony. He assumed the reference was to alleged perpetrators in Cornwall.

A terse letter was sent around this time to Ron McLaughlin, the premier’s chief of staff, arguing that: “It is time now for our government to take its head out of the sand and show some leadership.

“If our government is not prepared to be part of the solution, then it may be deemed to be part of the problem.”

Mr. Guzzo’s notes also alleged that during the spring of 1999, Harris staffers told him the Cornwall issue couldn’t be touched, even if the Conservatives lost Mr. Villeneuve’s riding in the upcoming election.

Mr. Guzzo eventually tabled a private member’s bill seeking an independent board of inquiry into the original police investigation. And in 2001, he gained national attention by threatening to name five prominent Cornwall citizens in the Ontario legislature, thereby avoiding libel suits through parliamentary privilege.

Earlier yesterday, Mr. Guzzo told the public inquiry that a 1999 break-in at his Ottawa law and constituency offices forced extra security precautions with the documents he had compiled – including the use of coded names.

The May 1999 incident left several files compromised, and Mr. Guzzo made a stronger resolution to protect sensitive names and events over the course of his investigation.

“I made it abundantly clear (in prior testimony) that under no circumstances people who had given me information would be outed by me,” he told lead commission counsel Peter Engelmann during a lengthy morning exchange.

A forensic document examiner testified Tuesday that blacked-out names on Mr. Guzzo’s notes from 2000 and 2003 don’t correspond with penciled-in names he later wrote on the sheets.

Mr. Guzzo was ordered last week to provide original copies of the documents. Asked to account for discrepancies in the names, he said he used the codes, kept on a separate list, in case his notes fell into the wrong hands. He couldn’t recall when exactly he blacked out names; perhaps in late 2004 or early 2005, he testified.

“I’m a bit of a doodler,” he said. “I may have continued to do it on more than one occasion.

Mr. Guzzo said he likely penciled in the real names once the inquiry was announced in the autumn of 2004, one year after his election loss to Liberal Jim Watson.

He admitted he should have kept his original notes and the names unaltered, stored them in a safe location, and worked from photocopies.

Mr. Guzzo also discussed his personal work to unearth allegations of widespread sexual abuse, including a 1997 visit to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to investigate connections to that city’s infamous Birch Street “strip” popular with pedophiles. A hotel owner purported to have incriminating room receipts, but Mr. Guzzo “got the message” that obtaining copies would come with a price and he soon left. Mr. Guzzo’s inquiry testimony continues today.

“We both got a couple drinks in us, and (Mr. Harris) said, ‘you’re causing a lot of trouble, and you’re far more trouble than you’re worth.'”

Garry Guzzo, former Ottawa West-Nepean MPP,from his notes on a conversation wit ex-premier Mike Harris

© Ottawa Citizen 2007