OTTAWA – The lawyer for Bruce Carson says the former top aide to the prime minister was working in 2010 and 2011 to help an Ottawa company sell water treatment systems for First Nations communities.
“There’s no question about that,” Patrick McCann told an Ottawa court Tuesday on the second day of Carson’s trial on a charge of influence peddling.
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But nothing in the Criminal Code prevented Carson from doing that, said McCann. He stressed that his client was lobbying First Nations communities, not the federal government, to purchase water purification equipment from a firm known as H2O Pros and H2O Global, where his girlfriend at the time, a former escort, was employed.
McCann also conceded that Carson clearly held sway with the Harper government. Carson had been a senior adviser to the prime minister from the time the Conservatives first took office in 2006, until he left the post in 2008.
“There’s no question that my client was motivated to help H2O and, by extension, his girlfriend,” McCann told Ontario Superior Court Justice Bonnie Warkentin.
READ MORE: Former Harper aide Bruce Carson pleads not guilty to influence peddling
But that, McCann said, was irrelevant.
He pointed to a protocol for procurement of goods by First Nations, developed in 2009, which he said made clear that aboriginal communities exercise control over what they buy and how they buy.
“It was entirely up to the aboriginal bands” to determine whether to buy water purification systems and from whom to buy, he said.
Testimony provided at Carson’s preliminary hearing, made public in this week’s trial, showed Carson first went to Shawn Atleo, then the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, to seek guidance about who to approach about helping H2O Pros sell their treatment systems.
Carson told investigators that Atleo advised him to speak with two officials in the Aboriginal Affairs department.
READ MORE: Former PMO aide faces more illegal lobbying charges
But Crown prosecutor Jason Nicol told the court any suggestions that the AFN was in control of procuring water treatment devices would be false.
And he countered that Carson returned repeatedly to officials in the Aboriginal Affairs Department, known at the time as Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, or INAC, even offering to pay for officials to travel to Saskatchewan for demonstrations of the water systems.
The AFN made clear it was a “peripheral player,” said Nicol.
“INAC isn’t just holding the purse strings, they were heavily involved,” he said.
Court also learned Tuesday that Carson sent emails in early 2011 to the owner of H2O Water Professionals Inc., saying the government was considering several pilot projects that could provide business to the firm.
But Nicol said communications from INAC showed no such pilot projects existed.
Carson has pleaded not guilty to a charge under Section 121 of the Criminal Code, which prohibits anyone from using their influence with the government to obtain benefits for themselves or someone else.
The trial has provided more fodder for Stephen Harper’s opponents who question the prime minister’s judgment when it comes to appointing the people around him.
Harper asked the RCMP to investigate Carson after media reports surfaced about his involvement with H2O.
The prime minister avoided commenting directly about the trial on Monday, saying the case involves accusations about a private citizen who had long ago left his employ.
But evidence produced at the trial shows Carson still had direct access to cabinet ministers and senior staff in the Harper government, who appeared willing to entertain his attempts to promote H2O Pro’s products as a way to help First Nation communities fix their water quality problems.
After Carson left the PMO, he moved to Calgary to head an energy think tank which was given $15 million in funding from Industry Canada.