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Former Liberal MP Raj Grewal seeks dismissal of charges due to lack of evidence

OTTAWA — A former Liberal MP is seeking the dismissal of two criminal charges connected to his time in office.
Former Liberal MP Raj Grewal makes his way to court, Monday, July 18, 2022 in Ottawa. Grewal is in an Ottawa courtroom today to seek the dismissal of two criminal charges connected to his time in office. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA — A former Liberal MP is seeking the dismissal of two criminal charges connected to his time in office. 

Raj Grewal's lawyer argues that prosecutors have not presented enough evidence to find him guilty of the two breach of trust charges, and the Crown has failed to establish essential elements required for such a finding. 

The Crown has sought to prove that Grewal used his political office for personal gain, offering access to events with the prime minister and help with immigration files in exchange for large loans that went toward his gambling debt. 

But speaking before a judge Monday, defence lawyer Nader Hasan argued that the prosecution "wants you to ignore a whole range of facts and evidence that have emerged during the course of these proceedings."

Grewal appeared in court via videoconference as Hasan put forward his motion for a directed verdict and an acquittal on all charges. 

In written arguments filed in Ontario Superior Court, the defence says Grewal's conduct falls squarely within the non-criminal category, and the prosecution's case doesn't hold water.

Hasan says in the document there is a difference between misusing one's official status for a corrupt purpose and making a mistake — or even acting dishonourably — while serving in office. 

"The latter is not a breach of trust," the document says. "It may be an error in judgment deserving of administrative sanction, or it may simply be a personal failing that has no sufficient nexus to merit sanction at all. Either way, it is not criminal."

Grewal, who was first elected to represent the Ontario riding of Brampton East in 2015 and is himself a lawyer, did not disclose a series of large loans to the federal ethics commissioner. 

An analysis of Grewal's bank accounts offered during the prosecution's evidence found that he had taken in some $6 million worth of deposits larger than $10,000 in the time after he was elected as an MP, and that significant amounts of that money went to payments at the Casino Lac-Leamy. 

The most politically salient allegations against Grewal are that he offered lenders face time with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in exchange for their financial help.

Two Brampton-area businessmen who each provided a $200,000 loan to Grewal also attended events during Trudeau’s storied trip to India in 2018. 

A former Liberal staffer testified that both Yusuf Yenilmez and Andy Dhugga were on a shortlist of people whom Grewal invited to a private meet-and-greet with Trudeau.

But neither stated that they expected such access in exchange for the loans — and Hasan argues that the evidence at trial "flatly contradicts" the notion. 

Both businessmen described themselves as friends with Grewal and testified that they were unaware their names had been put forward for an exclusive event. Moreover, neither described the opportunity for a photo-op with Trudeau as "particularly valuable,"the defence submission recounts. 

Crown prosecutor Tim Wightman suggested in court on Monday that that doesn't negate the idea that Grewal offered them invitations because they gave him money. 

"He can't erase the fact that he is indebted to them at the time," he said.

The prosecution has also alleged that seven other lenders received immigration-related assistance from Grewal's office, most commonly in the form of letters supporting applications for temporary resident visas. 

Hasan noted that MPs' offices regularly provide such letters to constituents, and they are not a necessary part of the application packages. 

The idea that loans were provided in exchange for the letters as a quid pro quo is "completely implausible," he said Monday. 

He went on to suggest that if such letters — and even invitations to meet-and-greets — are standard activities for an MP's office, it would have been more problematic if Grewal had refused to offer such things. 

"These people weren’t singled out for special treatment. They got the treatment everyone was getting," he said in court on Monday, adding that if Wightman had nailed down that any of the lenders gave a loan in exchange for immigration services, "we would be hearing endlessly about it." 

To meet the standard for a breach of trust charge, the Crown must have presented evidence that Grewal was acting in connection with the duties of his office, that his conduct represented a serious and marked departure from the standards expected of someone in his position or that he acted with the intention to use his public office for a purpose other than the public good. 

The Crown has not succeeded in that, the defence insists. 

But Wightman argued in court that the breach of trust offence is designed to capture a wide variety of inappropriate activities, which cover, in this case, an MP soliciting money from an individual knowing that his office will be providing them some kind of support. 

"It is a broadly worded offence, and the Supreme Court has articulated why it is so. And that is because it is designed to cover conduct that, as the court says, defies precise definition," he said. 

Wightman boiled down the Crown's case to this: "A public official should not benefit from the provision of services that are made as part of his duties. Nor should a public official use his office or his duties to provide benefits to someone he’s indebted to."

Grewal resigned as a member of the Liberal caucus in 2018 after his gambling problem came to public attention, and he did not run in the 2019 federal election.

In 2020, the RCMP charged him with four counts of breach of trust and one count of fraud over $5,000, but only two breach of trust charges remain.

His trial began last summer, and only the prosecution has wrapped up its case after nine weeks' worth of evidence. 

If the defence does not succeed in obtaining a directed verdict from the judge, a decision that will not be rendered until late February or early March at the earliest, the trial could continue into the spring. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 6, 2023.

Marie-Danielle Smith, The Canadian Press