Former Liberal MP found not guilty on breach of trust charges

Former Liberal MP Raj Grewal, left, speaks to reporters outside the Ottawa courthouse after he was found not guilty on breach of trust charges. His lawyer, Nader Hasan, right, looks on. (J.P. Tasker/CBC News - image credit)
Former Liberal MP Raj Grewal, left, speaks to reporters outside the Ottawa courthouse after he was found not guilty on breach of trust charges. His lawyer, Nader Hasan, right, looks on. (J.P. Tasker/CBC News - image credit)

Former Liberal MP Raj Grewal was found not guilty on breach of trust charges Friday after an Ottawa judge ruled there wasn't enough evidence to prove he used his political office to solicit loans from supporters to cover large gambling debts.

The Crown had argued that the Brampton-area MP racked up big losses at Gatineau, Que.'s Casino du Lac-Leamy and then traded access to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and help on immigration files for loans to cover his bad bets.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Sylvia Corthorn said the Crown's case wasn't persuasive.

"There is no evidence to support an inference of guilt," she said as part of her "directed verdict" — the legal term for a decision issued by a judge before the defence introduces evidence.

In other words, the judge concluded that the Crown's case was so poor, she was able to make a decision without hearing Grewal's defence.

Hugo Belanger/Radio-Canada
Hugo Belanger/Radio-Canada

Grewal, who is still working as an attorney after his brush with the law, spoke briefly to the assembled reporters.

He said he's grateful the five-year legal ordeal is over.

"In the nearly five years since this all began I've remained optimistic — even though vindication has been incredibly delayed," he said.

"There's a presumption of innocence in the criminal justice system. There is a resounding presumption of guilt in the court of public opinion."

The Crown attorneys in this case, Tim Wightman and Chantal Lefebvre, declined to speak to the media after the judge delivered her decision.

Grewal's lawyer, Nader Hasan, has argued that his client's actions were not criminal.

Speaking to reporters outside the Ottawa courthouse Friday, Hasan said Grewal, a rookie MP in a new city, developed a gambling problem and benevolent community members bailed him out when he got in over his head during a "regrettable period."

He said the Crown's case was "fatally flawed," adding 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.

Corthorn agreed. "I conclude that a reasonable jury, properly instructed, could not render a verdict of guilty," she said. "He is acquitted of the two charges of breach of trust before the court."

High-stakes blackjack

Grewal wasn't your average gambler — the former MP has conceded he risked millions of dollars while playing blackjack at Lac Leamy, a casino about 15 minutes from Parliament Hill.

The Crown alleged that when the bills came due, he turned to constituents to bail him out.

Grewal, a lawyer by training who was first elected in 2015, was alleged to have arranged meetings with prominent businessmen from his riding during Trudeau's ill-fated state visit to India — a trip that prompted derision at home after the prime minister donned Indian garb while touring the world's largest democracy.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press
Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Grewal was also alleged to have used his position as an MP to help constituents with their immigration cases in return for money.

Grewal's attorney, meanwhile, said he relied on friends and family to help him out of his financial bind and that he didn't trade favours for the cash.

Grewal's legal troubles started when the ethics commissioner opened an investigation into unreported loans. The RCMP then filed criminal charges in September 2020.

Hasan told reporters Friday that the police never should have brought charges, and claimed the RCMP has "blinders on" about the South Asian community.

"At the fragile core of this prosecution was a grave cultural misunderstanding," Hasan said.

"I hope that the RCMP and the Crown attorney's office treat today as a teachable moment and that future investigations into allegations of political corruption will follow the evidence with an understanding of the diverse cultures and values that make Canada a country we can all be proud of.

"The RCMP failed to ask why these people were lending money to Mr. Grewal. There was a perfectly good explanation for doing so but the assumption and the conclusion they jumped to was there must be something nefarious afoot. And that's what I take issue with — the tunnel vision."