Talk to Ex-Premier, Senior Ontario Tories, Cornwall Inquiry Told

December 1, 2007

By: William Lin, Ottawa Citizen

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Former MPP Garry Guzzo said hearing testimony from senior provincial officials would help a Cornwall inquiry into allegations of sexual abuse of youths, after he was asked Friday whether the inquiry should hear from former premier Mike Harris.

"Sir, do you believe it's important for this inquiry to hear from Mr. Harris?" Dallas Lee, a lawyer who represents about 50 alleged victims, asked during cross-examination.

"I think it might be important to hear from some other people higher up in government than Garry Guzzo between 1995 to 2003," Mr. Guzzo responded, although he did not go so far as to name specific politicians.

Mr. Harris's Conservative government was in power between 1995 and 2002.

Over five days of testimony spaced out over three weeks, Mr. Guzzo detailed his efforts, from the beginnings of his call for an inquiry to when he left his position as Ottawa West-Nepean MPP.

During examination Friday, Mr. Guzzo said about 90 alleged victims of sexual abuse had approached him over the span of a decade.

In previous testimony, Mr. Guzzo said that when he lobbied Progressive Conservative officials about launching an inquiry into the police response to abuse allegations, "a war of words" began between his office and the premier's.

In a letter dated Sept. 18, 1998, Mr. Guzzo asked for a private meeting with Mr. Harris to discuss a matter that "cries out for a judicial inquiry." He carbon-copied the letter to then-solicitor general Bob Runciman and former attorney general Charles Harnick.

According to Mr. Guzzo's own notes that he filed with the inquiry, the premier's staff responded by telling him to "mind your own business."

Mr. Harris has said that holding an inquiry was inappropriate while the file was in the courts.

Noble Villeneuve, the then-minister of Agriculture who was also responsible for Francophone Affairs, was listed as telling Mr. Guzzo to find another issue to champion, since the abuse allegations preceded the Progressive Conservatives' 1995 victory.

Mr. Runciman and Mr. Harnick were apparently avoiding Mr. Guzzo by late 1998, Mr. Guzzo's notes said.

On Friday, Mr. Lee also asked Mr. Guzzo: "Sir, is it your belief that Premier Harris played a role in subverting justice in Cornwall?"

After a pause, Mr. Guzzo said: "I'm not prepared to conclude that."

At one point, lead commission counsel Peter Engelmann asked Mr. Guzzo for recommendations to improve future responses to such incidents.

"All I ever asked for was this inquiry. I have no recommendations. I think the thoroughness you have demonstrated will serve the city well, and the victims and alleged victims well," Mr. Guzzo said. "I feel quite relieved ... as far as I'm concerned, my job is over and I wish you well."

The inquiry was set up to examine the events surrounding allegations of abuse among youths in Cornwall and the response of institutions to the claims.

Cross-examination of Mr. Guzzo will continue on Monday and Tuesday.

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